The other day, my unruly 6th grade class made a big ol' mess in their classroom with some overturned water bottles. True to rich-kid form, rather than cleaning it themselves, they summoned the nearest janitor. While waiting, they ignored my plea for order and turned the puddle into makeshift slip-n-slide. The janitor came and looked in at the chaos, a sour expression on her face. "Don't you have a teacher this period?"
One student looked up from the melee long enough to nod my way and answer. "No, no teacher, just the foreigner."
It's an attitude I've met before in the classroom. On one hand, your foreign-ness is a thrilling novelty for the students, especially children and teens. They marvel at the physical parts of you that make you different; blue eyes, forearm hair, a piece of jewelry or clothing that they find wonderfully exotic. They grill you on bits of movie slang and brands they see only in magazines. An anomalous teacher in the school can make students curious, inquisitive, and hospitably polite. But, there's a flip side.
As a foreigner, sometimes, they just don't take you that seriously.
For a group of nice, perfectly respectful students, it might be the fact that a foreign language can be easily tuned out. For a group of students a bit lacking in self-motivation, the cultural barrier might make it hard to relate. For the naughty students, it can be the defiant attitude of "you can't tell me what to do, you're just passing through my country."
In Turkey, the relationships between student and teacher strike me as looser than in the set social hierarchies of, say, Korea or Japan. Here, I watch my colleagues joke with students and trade compliments on each others' cellphones. I wonder whether they have the same challenges in managing the students when the bell rings, joke time is over, and the students need to sit and pay attention. But during the odd free period when I walk through the corridors of the school, the only noise I hear from the classrooms are teachers' calm voices. If someone walked past my classroom door during a lesson, they would hear the murmur of chatting students, the shuffling of kids getting in and out of their seats, and my tired voice calling "quiet, please! sit down please!" every few minutes. This isn't the case with all my lessons, thankfully, but it's a recurring pattern.
What's the easiest way to hold students' attention without using their native language? (something I would do pretty choppily anyway). I know that engaging content is part of the answer, but we can't have Edward vs Jacob discussions every lesson.
If anyone out there has tips, send 'em my way!