September 14, 2008

In Which She Learns How to Effectively Herd Cats

I've learned the secret, friends. Herding cats isn't all that hard. You just gotta know how (and by cats, I mean junior highers, of course).

The secret? One little word: Starbucks.

Friday night was business as usual with my students. Two of them were out on a school trip until late. Of the other four, not one came to class on time. When we eventually did get started around 7:20 pm (and that's early for us, friends. Never mind that class is supposed to start at 7pm prompt), I began preaching TOEFL reading strategies to four kids who proved it is possible to sleep with your eyes open. That is, when they weren't whispering to each other in Korean.

As I said, business as usual.

Now to be fair, these kids have already had a full day of school and a two hour homework session with another tutor. By the time I get them, I can almost smell the smoke coming from their tired, overworked brains. And of the four TOEFL sections I teach, reading is the most boring.

But you should have seen their eyes light up when someone mentioned "Starbucks." Instantly, I was flooded with various variations of the question: "Teacher, can we go to Starbucks?"

For about five seconds I had their complete attention. Silence, a rarity in my classroom, reigned uninterrupted. That's when my own personal light bulb went on.

"I'll make you a deal," I said. "We can go to Starbucks tonight if you guys work hard and finish your questions. And we can make Starbucks a regular thing, if you guys come to class on time, and work hard at your lessons. But going will entirely depend on your behavior."

After the cheering and the parade in which I was enshrined as the local goddess of hope and compassion, my students' heads bent busily over their books. That rare Silence continued. And if one of the students dared to speak, in either English or Korean, the other four hurriedly hushed him.

"Shhhhh," they'd say. "Starbucks." Then the Silence would ensue once again.

Visions of frappuchinos dancing in their heads must be a powerful motivator, because their work was exemplary. Most of them answered the questions correctly, and I had no more behavior issues for the rest of the class.

Hmmmm, Starbucks. Who would have thought? And all this time I thought I needed a good sheepdog.

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