I’m a part-time EFL teacher (English as a Foreign Language) – it’s a job I love, which allows me to be creative, as well as meet and learn about new cultures. Recently, I started teaching pre-teens, an age group I’m not really familiar with.


On my first day, I was overwhelmed by the number of students, but mostly, by their very different levels. I had students who picked up on what I was trying to say immediately, while others just kept staring blankly at me. There was one particular boy who looked taken aback whenever I asked him a question, sometimes even physically moving back from me. And he would just say nothing. Eventually he just cocooned himself in his hoodie… hiding. He refused to participate, and he refused to complete the written exercises, by putting the paper I would have just given him on the floor.


The other boys told me he doesn’t understand or speak English – and my thought was “well, how am I going to teach him, when I have another 14 students who need attention?”. After the lesson, I went to speak to this class’ previous teacher – and she told me that the does understand English, but he is incredibly shy.


And things started falling in place! From his fear every time I asked him a question, to his cocoon.


And I realised that I was to blame for his shyness – I was a new person, and he was not comfortable with me. And I had to acknowledge how my presence affected him, instead of trying to pin the blame on him ‘not knowing English well’.


So the following day I was ready. He sat down closer to me, and knowing that he really loved animals, I did a lesson with lots of videos and animals. The idea worked – he was more engaged in the lesson (despite not saying a word) and his face was brighter. What’s best is that he actually did the exercises whenever I gave him the paper.


During one of the lessons they had to imagine what a monster’s timetable / daily routine would look like. An exercise he loved. Since he still wasn’t speaking to me, he would turn the paper round to show it to me, silently asking me if what he was writing was correct. Whenever he did not know a word, he would draw it, and I would tell him what the word is – and then he would write it (and usually, write it perfectly).


And every day, this boy is improving, not just his English, but also his comfort with me. So much so, that the day following this exercise, I asked him a simple “this or that” question and he actually spoke to me. He only speaks in one or two word sentences, but the communication works, and the message gets across.


So the moral of the story is – don’t shirk off responsibility. Before being told that he’s very shy (more than the usual amount which one would expect), I was ready to blame him for not understanding English, instead of realising that I, as a new face in his life, was not someone he was comfortable with.


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