Shy Away

Guest Article by Katie Schmittauer
Ohio University

Retiring (adj): Reserved, shy.
Example: The retiring young student hid her face behind her hands and refused to speak when Miss Katie asked her a question.
Studying for the GRE gave me creative new vocabulary to describe my problem, but failed to provide me with a solution, just like everything else I had tried in my first three months at SMK Anjung Batu. Being a rather loud person myself, I was frankly disturbed by the extreme shyness of my students. When asked a question in class, they would often hide their faces or duck under their desks, and I had students stand up and run from me on more than one occasion.

ETA Katie Schmittauer with students
It wasn’t until the English Carnival that a solution presented itself to me. In Malaysia, an English Carnival is a district level competition in which students compete in a variety of events. I was assigned to create and direct a drama team, and was surprised to find a number of students coming up to me asking if they could participate. Stage drama is all about the over-projection of emotions and the amplification of sound, so that a person fifty feet away from you can hear what you’re saying and tell what you’re feeling. In other words, it’s the antithesis of retiring. So when my students showed up for try-outs with whispered voices and blank faces, I knew I had to act.
To their horror, I explained to my students that there would be no microphones for the competition, and that we would be doing “loudness exercises” at every practice. Then I took them outside on the football field and told them to yell at me. With practice and the implementation of the catchphrase “loud and proud”, I had my girls screaming so loudly that students were coming out of their classrooms to see what on earth was going on. My girls were embarrassed by the attention, but I pushed them onwards, and before long they were screaming loud and proud in front of an audience. As I watched them onstage a few weeks later, shaking with nerves but loudly and proudly delivering their lines none-the-less, I realized that my students already have a voice, they just need a little help finding it.

ETA Katie Schmittauer’s students practice their acting skills
It was no coincidence that my English camp this month was entitled “The Voice.” Modeled after a popular TV show, the idea was to group students with ETAs (cleverly disguised as celebrity judges) and have them compete to sing and dance. Nothing makes people shyer than having to sing and dance in front of an audience, but I was sure that the combination of competitive spirit and a love of all things Justin Bieber would break them out of their shells. And boy did it. While the camp itself was a success, I felt the real impact when I came to school on Monday, and students started singing to me in the halls. What a change from January! Where before they were running and hiding, now the same students were shouting “Miss! Demi Lovato! The day I first met you…”

ETAs as ‘Celebrity Judges’ for ‘The Voice’ English camp
It’s not a complete solution. My students still hide their faces when they don’t know an answer, and I had a kid run from me just this morning when I asked “What are you doing?” to him in the teacher’s room. But it’s a start.

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