The dreaded demo lesson
How to make sure your demo lesson goes as smoothly as possible
Thank you very much for your application for the vacant position of English teacher. We have looked over your resume and would like to invite you to our school to give a 30-minute demo lesson on Friday at 2pm. Please ask for Ajarn Somsak at reception.
Many teachers fear the dreaded demo lesson, but it's become an integral part of the application and interview process. Some employers ask for a demo lesson because they genuinely know what they are looking for and can spot a poor teacher a mile off. Some employers request a demo lesson simply because everyone else does and it feels like the right thing to do. The employers in the second group haven't got a clue what they are looking for. They just want to make sure the teacher looks nice.
The demo lesson is the chance for a teacher to show a potential employer that they are the right person for the job. No one is expecting you to put on the finest 30-minute performance of your life and leave the room to rapturous applause but it's certainly the opportunity to show that you know your subject matter and you are comfortable with standing up in front of a group of students and presenting a lesson in which hopefully everyone learns something. If they actually enjoy it, then that's a real bonus. In short, you are there to show everyone that you are an English teacher.
But the responsibility for the success of a demo lesson isn't just down to the teacher. Certainly not. The onus is on the school as well to make sure that the demo lesson goes both smoothly and professionally. The employer needs to provide a suitable environment for the demo lesson, arrange qualified evaluators (at least one person anyway) and organize an appropriate bunch of students or ‘guinea pigs' who are all at reasonably the same level of English ability.
I've done several demo lessons over the course of my teaching career and most of them have been forgettable. There's nothing more soul-destroying than standing in front of a group of ‘students' who have been plucked out of thin air by the recruitment manager simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and have found themselves press-ganged into the whole charade.
So as the teacher, the respected ‘ajarn', you end up teaching the fierce-looking head of recruitment who hasn't smiled since 1974, the nervous skinny girl from the accounting department who positively hates sitting in on demo lessons, and completing the trio is a bloke who looks like the security guard. Hang on! - it is the security guard. And of course in terms of English ability, the frowning academic is virtually native-speaker fluent, the number cruncher normally runs and hides the moment a foreigner opens his mouth and the security guard communicates with a system of grunts that only he truly understands. It is an appalling mismatch of judges.
A few years ago, I was working for a corporate training provider selling two-day presentation skills and e-mail writing seminars. The job involved the usual getting on the phone and making appointments with training managers and then meeting with them to try and sell training courses - never an easy job at the best of times. However, the difference this time around was that I would be the instructor actually conducting the courses. If truth be told, the opportunity to earn commissions as well as a teacher's hourly wage was the only reason I took the job in the first place.
Because I had far too much time on my hands and because I was desperate for some sales, I offered companies a two-hour demo lesson - completely free. "I want to show you how great I am" I boasted. "Give me a training room and a bunch of employees and I'll entertain you all with an hour of presentation techniques and an hour on how to improve your e-mail communication. Absolutely free"
Surprisingly very few companies took me up on the offer. Perhaps they thought the offer was just too good to be true. However, one German pharmaceutical company knew a bargain when they saw one and invited me along to their offices for a 1.00pm start.
I arrived to find a flustered-looking training manager. "Khun Philip. I totally forgot you were coming"
I have to admit it wasn't the best of starts.
"Give me ten minutes to organize the training room and then I'll make a few calls to find some volunteers"
"I'll give you a hand with the training room" I said cheerfully for I was eager to get things started. This was an enormous mistake on my part. It wasn't the company training room at all. Not the training room with the modern furniture, the electronic whiteboard and the jugs of iced water. Oh no. This was more of a storage-room the size of a small aircraft hangar. When the training manager said "we can have the demo lesson in here" I thought it was part of some evil corporate prank. But she was serious.
The training manager and I then spent the next half hour pushing desks, stacking tables and rearranging heavy box files. I was knackered. The sweat started to seep through the jacket of my navy blue suit. That's how hot I was.
The training manager then made frantic attempts to rustle up a few volunteers and half an hour later, three women from the admin department shuffled into the room with all the enthusiasm of a turkey on Christmas Eve.
I can't remember how well or how badly the demo lesson went. Who cares? The only lesson learnt was if the Bangkok office of a multinational German company can't get things right and organize a demo lesson properly, what hope is there for a Thai government school in Lopburi?
Seriously though, if an employer invites you to the school to do a demo lesson, what questions should you be asking? Here are a few questions to start you off - along with the reasons why you should be asking them. For me, these questions are essential and I ain't doing no demo lesson until they are answered. No way Jose.
How long do you want the demo lesson to be?
Thirty minutes? Fine. Then I will prepare a 45-minute lesson to be on the safe side (but I won't tell you that). And after thirty minutes, I shall look at my watch, nod my head in the direction of the most important-looking person in the room and thank everyone for coming. Time is money. Thirty minutes is what you asked for and thirty minutes is what you are going to get.
How many ‘evaluators' will be present?
Hopefully someone in the room will be scribbling down notes and writing "this is possibly the greatest teacher that ever walked the earth' Will that evaluator be part of the student group or will there be one solitary evaluator sitting in a corner of the room, shaking her head, muttering incoherently to herself and compiling her weekend shopping list. Heaven forbid, will there be an evaluation panel? Four individuals with faces that could turn milk sour, sitting behind a long table and passing notes to each other and wondering if this demo lesson is ever going to end. You need to know.
Will the ‘decision-maker' be present or will the result of my demo lesson need to be reported to someone else?
Imagine giving the performance of your life only to have someone tell you that they need to report the results of the demo lesson to someone else - someone who wasn't even in the room. I mean how annoying is that?
How many ‘students' will be present or rather what is the size of the group I'm expected to teach?
You might have 50 students in your demo class. You might have two. You need to know because the whole group dynamic changes accordingly. Certain subject matter will work better with larger groups. And you won't be able to do basic introductions with a class of fifty students. Not if you truly want the job. Nuff said.
What level will the students be?
Arguably the most important question. You don't want the students to gaze at you with a mixture of bewilderment and fear at the first basic question because if that happens, you've nowhere left to go. You may as well put the board marker in your pocket, locate the nearest fire exit and leg it.
What kind of lesson should I prepare?
Many employers will answer this question with the annoyingly vague "up to you". Sorry that just won't cut it. Give me some parameters here. What structures are the students already familiar with? What age group are they? What are their interests? What could be deemed as an ‘appropriate' topic? When push comes to shove, let's face it - it always makes sense to teach something you enjoy teaching. I never ever did a demo lesson based around direct and indirect pronouns. I bloody hate teaching direct and indirect pronouns.
How many demos will I be expected to give before a decision is made?
Listen, I don't mind giving you one demo lesson but I honestly think that's enough for you to be able to make a fair evaluation of my ability. I got on the wrong bus and ended up on the Thonburi side of the river. I even took a motorcycle taxi the length of the soi to get here. I'm not going through all that again. No, really I'm not.
By having a potential employer answer all of the above questions, you've bought yourself some insurance. If things don't go to plan; if the group turns out to be far more advanced than you anticipated, then it's not your fault. You can only prepare based on the information you've been given. And if that information turns out to be misleading, then have a good moan about it and I will support you 100%.