Why I’ve Been Coming to Class 5 Minutes Late

For the past few weeks, I’ve been coming to class five minutes late. It’s not because I’m lazy. In fact, my tardiness is purely pedagogical. I have been teaching my students to start class without me.

A few weeks ago, I read Kevin Stein’s blog post “Shaken not stirred: 8 ways to start your class different“, which got me thinking about how I start my class and how I could do better. Typically, I go to class early and take attendance as students come in. I might chit chat with students, but usually I’m setting up my computer and getting papers ready. I watch the clock and the minute the minute hand reaches 12, game’s on. I greet the class and do some friendly chit chat. Usually I ask about their past weekends or weekend plans and get mostly blank stares. This is not because my student’s don’t want to speak English – they are a talkative bunch; it’s because they either don’t have anything to say (except “study” or “drink”) or they are simply not mentally ready to start class.

So, for the past few weeks, I’ve been saving activities I usually reserve for the end of class – fluency-based speaking activities either of my own creation or adapted from the book – and giving it to them as homework. Students prepare or review whatever is needed for the activity and then when they and their friends/partners enter class, they should begin the activity. I will also send them a reminder via KakaoTalk to start talking BEFORE I come to class. I use the ploy of “it would make me very happy to come into class and everyone is chatting in English” which works because we have good rapport and my students do care if I’m happy too.

I’ve been doing this for two or three weeks and for the most part, it’s working. I don’t actually come to class five minutes late. Right now, since I am “training” them to speak English without my prescence, I usually come 1 minute before or after, set-up my stuff, check to see if they actually are talking (not everyone is on board yet), and then walk out of the classroom. My plan, once they are more used to this, is to come more or less on time and listen in, taking notes for class and individual feedback.

It’s going well. My students seem to like it. As a teacher, it feels good to walk into a classroom where students are already working. They are already mentally prepared for class by the time I start. And, unless I have something really interesting to say (like my story last week of how my daughter threw all our clean laundry off our 18th story balcony), I can skip the chit chat unpleasantness and move on to the fun stuff.