Cool People I’ve Met Via TEFL: Some VIPs
Arriving at our first class – or our first “meeting” as I called it so they didn’t feel like high school students – I knew only that they were four VIPs at “intermediate something” level. Talk about reconnaissance! I arrived with a variety of activities, but it’s always hard: you don’t want to insult people by giving them something way below their level, but it’s even worse to give them a task that’s too hard. However, these four had steadfastly refused a placement test – and said they only wanted speaking anyway, so it was understandable that I knew little about them.
I was also aware that there can also be an odd dynamic with business classes, especially with small groups. In cases where they are rather high status – the roles may be reversed when you as the English teacher know more than they do … about English anyway. You are also an outsider to their own group dynamic. Who likes who? Who is annoying to who? Who takes charge? Who intimidates who? You don’t know and they do.
I found out in the first meeting that their level was actually quite advanced. In the second meeting I learned that three of them were CEOs and members of various boards. The fourth one was not…and remained a bit quieter for many of our meetings, until his interest in online betting came up.
The most interesting thing, though, was that they were quite willing to discuss and read about a variety of topics. We worked out a system to discuss even financial advice from the Motley Fool – something I never looked at or thought about understanding before this. But they would give me a background so I could follow their explanations and then I would moderate a discussion among them with broad questions they could expand upon (What do you think about this? Do you agree with the advice? Can you add anything to that explanation?) I understood some of it and was alright being open about it when I didn’t.
We found a happy medium between talking about finance and general topics and often read and discussed articles from Newsweek, The Guardian or other news sources… like the Onion and Cutting Edge Advanced. It’s always striking to me to realize as an English teacher, I can interact on a more level playing field with people who, at home, I would probably not cross paths with.
For additional thoughts on dealing with VIPs, have a look at An ELT Notebook.: Teaching VIPs.