Richard McCully

Teaching very young learners

Whatever your gender you should feel confident to teach students of any age.

When I started my new job I was scheduled to teach a class of five and six year old children. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t nervous about doing it but those classes were some of the most rewarding classes I’ve taught. 

I’ve found some people reluctant to teach young students, especially male teachers, so I want to share my experience to encourage others to try teaching younger learners, especially when there may be bias against this.

I’ve heard some schools will try to get women to teach the youngest students and assign men older children and teenagers. I think this is an outdated practice. Teaching young students can also help you to improve as a teacher which is beneficial for everyone.   

Teacher reactions

As the new teacher in the office, the rest of the team smirked at me having to do this undesirable class. All of the teaching staff, male and female, were as keen as possible to stay away from students that age. My ex-colleagues couldn’t imagine me teaching young children having come from an adults-only school previously. 

Some people even mentioned that it would probably be better if a woman taught kids that young and it seemed strange that a man would do it. Thankfully not everyone is as out of touch when it comes to men teaching younger age groups. In fact the female teachers even told me they were glad they weren’t stereotyped by management and forced to take young learner classes whilst men took teenagers and adults. 

I think I actually gained a lot of respect in the staff room for volunteering to teach that level for a second term as nobody else wanted to try teaching the youngest students. Teachers all have preferences for age groups and classes, that’s understandable. 

Is it strange for a man to teach very young learners?

At that point I hadn’t thought it was strange for a male teacher to teach any age group. However, I remember I only had one male teacher before I went to secondary school. This was around 20 years ago so hopefully things have changed in the UK since. Perhaps not everyone’s attitudes have caught up though which is a shame. 

Someone even mentioned to me that here parents have a lot of power in Thai schools and how would they feel about men teaching their young children? In all honesty I’ve had zero comments or issues from parents that they would not want a man teaching their children. As I said some people might just have conservative views of gender roles in the classroom and the upbringing of children. 

There are also lots of men who are highly qualified in early years development. There are a number of courses open to both male and female teachers who wish to specialize in teaching very young learners. If you are following the TEFL route then look at the TYLEC or CELTYL. If you are teaching in a traditional school then look at degrees in early years development. 

Should you encounter management who insist women should teach young learners then perhaps question why this is the case. All staff members should be subject to the same hiring requirements regarding training, development and security checks. There is no reason why any teacher should be shoehorned into teaching a specific age group. 

Concerns and worries I had

I had a number of concerns about teaching such young students. 

Firstly I don’t have kids myself or any family of that age. I thought it would be hard to relate to kids that young. In the end I learned that they loved things that I knew. Pokemon were huge when I taught them so we had Pokemon team names, Pokemon stickers for all students and showed the cartoons during break time. 

The kids also loved technology. I use Class Dojo with them which is a fantastic resource and requires input and feedback from the class which is great.

I also thought it would be hard to communicate with students that young but it was shockingly easy for them to improve and understand me. Young learners pick up new words and phrases very easily. Often during parents’ day it’s the students who translate to their parents! 

I give huge thanks to the previous teacher who had started the school year with the class and set things off on the right foot. I must say that there were some words that the kids didn’t understand but they knew their routines and a lot of words – more so than most beginner adult students. I often find myself having pretty advanced conversations with five and six year old students. 

Teaching young learners, I was worried that I wouldn’t have fun and the kids would find me too serious.   My previous adult students had said I was very serious and looked a little scary sometimes. Now the kids I teach bring out something different in me. I find myself laughing, joking and communicating better than when I was teaching adult students. 

Five and Six year old students are honest in how they react, you know how they feel. You can also react easily to their emotions and plan classes accordingly.

Opportunities to learn and develop as a teacher

I was lucky to take over from a teacher who had re-assured me that teaching young children was a breeze and would probably be more fun than other age groups. I observed him a week before I was due to start and was amazed at what I saw. The mixture of learning and games certainly made things fun. 

The Thai teaching assistant also helped with behavior and any translating (there wasn’t much needed). The routines set up for the class helped and that would be a key theme running through my lessons with that group. 

I quickly learned that teaching very young learners requires a lot of energy but it also energizes you at the same time. I also worked out that if you taught back to back classes of students under 8 years old you would be exhausted! These classes can be great fun but they certainly require a lot of preparation, concentration and determination. 

I was lucky enough that my school had seven teachers in our branches teaching the same age group. Four were female, three male. We got together and shared materials, experiences and techniques. It certainly made my job easier. 

These were proper classes where students learned a lot, it certainly wasn’t a creche or babysitting service. I honestly feel that the teachers I worked with at the level were the most creative and dynamic I've ever collaborated with. I use some of the techniques now with the slightly older students I teach (aged 7-9). From these teachers I’ve improved and learned more about arts and crafts, grading language and using online resources. 

Take a chance

I think that anyone who gets the chance to teach a different age group will find something they can learn. I was pretty nervous about teaching five and six year old students but in the end I have found something which I really enjoy. 

Whatever your gender you should feel confident to teach students of any age. 

 If you enjoyed this blog, check out my website - Life in a New Country  

Richard is co-author of a great new book on planning a life in Thailand. 

Planning your new life in Thailand isn’t easy. There are many hurdles to jump and potential frustrations galore. From practicalities through to cultural issues, from finances to fitting in and making friends, there is so much to learn. Luckily, you will find all the basics explained in this 282 page book. 

Settling in Thailand takes a broad, insightful and balanced approach – neither too cynical nor evangelical, this book sets a precedent in terms of presenting a positive but realistic and non-judgemental description of Thailand life for foreign residents. 

Written by two British expats in Thailand, and with interviews with another 13 expats from around the world, you will get first-hand experience, advice and explanations of expat life in Thailand. With a combined 150 years of Thai experience this book is the ultimate guide to making sure your move and settling in Thailand goes smoothly.

Order now in e-book or paperback format.


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