IH Has Got Talent!

by Katie Wilson

About the talent show

One question I like to pose to students at the start of a new session is to reveal something surprising about themselves, whether it be a unique hobby, an interesting job title, or the amount of travel they have done.  From mechanical engineers to veterinarians, professional ballerinas to lingerie designers and playground designers to pop and lock dancers, my students are a richly diverse group of individuals with huge amounts of talent.  As I get to know them better and other skills, passions, and hobbies come to light, I’m always impressed with the variety of my students’ lives.  With that in mind, I decided I wanted to host a talent show to showcase their unique abilities and create some lasting memories of their time in Vancouver.

That is how the talent show got started.  I presented the idea to the administration and it was approved, but with no date in mind.  Then, two days later, the Activities Coordinator came to me and asked if I wanted to organize the event to take place in two weeks’ time.  I said, “Yes, absolutely!”  Then immediately following that I realized, “Oh boy, I’d better get busy if we’re going to pull this off properly!”  That is how during the week of Sept. 23rd-27th, 2013, 13 classes at IH Vancouver found themselves embarking on a unique and for some, nerve-wracking challenge:  plan a talent routine to be performed in front of the rest of the school by Friday of that week.

At first the students were daunted by the task; the teachers were asking them to step outside of their comfort zones and expand into the role of performer.  They were scared and there was a lot of indecision those first two days after the idea was introduced.  By Wednesday, however, the students realized there was no going back, and they rose to the challenge.  Dance routines were choreographed, actions were matched to songs, props were constructed, and comedy acts were perfected.  And through all of the students’ efforts, the teachers guided their students toward success.

The day of the event arrived and I was twittering with excitement to see all of the performances.  When I arrived at school the energy amongst the students was palpable.  We had a lineup of thirteen classes and two teacher performances to look forward to, and students were already practicing their songs during morning break. We spent one hour after lunch finalizing all of the details:  the sound system was put in place, levels were checked, chairs were arranged, and the judging table was set up.  The final minutes before the show had all the students anxiously rehearsing in their classrooms.  Then, at 1:30pm it was show time!

There were many teachers behind the scenes making sure things ran smoothly:  Bryan Anderson was on the sound system, Fey Laffitte was in charge of technology and cuing songs, and Sharon Wong kept everyone organized backstage. I MCed the event with Talya Florian, introducing the performances and inserting jokes in between.  There was dance choreography, a cappella singing, comedy acts, a percussive cup routine, and even a visit from ‘Freddie Mercury’ himself!  We alternated the different types of performances and included an intermission to promote upcoming IH activities and events.  The students clapped wildly for each performance, laughing at the jokes and cheering each other on as each group took the stage.  The energy was through the roof, and everyone was so happy.  And I believe that the teachers enjoyed the show as much as or more than the students because it was so wonderful for them to see their students` inner selves revealed.

MCs Talia Florian (left) and Katie Wilson (right) are starting the Talent Show

The Importance of Special Events in ESL Education

Just as cultures throughout the world look forward to traditional celebrations, so too do students and teachers look forward to special events at school.  It provides not only a break from the typical routine but also an opportunity to see each other in an entirely new way.  Classmates transform from strangers into comrades in the span of a week because they have gone through the trenches of creatively preparing for this event together, even if students are culturally or individually unfamiliar with being creative.  And that’s the space where magical transformations begin.

The best part of teaching is when students feel comfortable enough to reveal their own humanity and personality especially not in another language.  That’s the part which I strive to tap into.  What makes the individual who they are?  What formative experiences have they had? What is their story?  Why are they learning English?  What do they want to accomplish?  What are their dreams?  What can I learn from them?  That’s the heart of teaching for me. 

The Importance of Community when Students are Far from Home

While students are far away from home, it is essential to build a support network of people they can trust and rely upon.  I feel that students depend most heavily upon the bonds made at school because the students spend 6 hours together every day.  These people are the gateway to their experience here in Vancouver because they are in the same country participating in a life-changing experience together.  Events like the talent show strengthen that bond.  One of the best moments of the talent show was completely outside the talent show itself.  I was at school late one night and I had to go upstairs to retrieve a book.  I saw that one classroom door was closed, so I walked by to see who was inside.  There I found my entire class, earnestly practicing their dance routine together.  I was thrilled to see them working on their act outside of class time, but I also realized the deeper implications of this interaction: this was a situation in which the students were taking leadership, building trust, and learning from one another in an unstructured context.  Isn’t that what we all yearn for as teachers?! 

I stayed and watched a little longer.  It was then that I discovered that the choreographer had slowed the song to half time such that the other students could learn the dance moves at a slower pace.   She was caring for them, meeting their need to dance at a slower pace before gradually speeding up the song to tempo.  They in turn were trusting her to lead them to a place I imagine most had never gone before: dancing in front of a large crowd of people.  It was such a professional and supportive environment for learning from each other, and I was deeply touched by their commitment to the project and the trust they found in each other.

Community is essential when students are far from home, and this event served to build community and forge new friendships within a unique context.  We revealed a little more of our true selves that day, and that is something to be valued.  It provided a situation to look forward to and smile back upon.  And it ultimately brought laughter and joy for students and teachers alike.  When it was all over, a student came up to me and excitedly asked, “When will the next talent show be?”      I smiled and knew I had done my job. 

Victor Jatoba Botelho as Freddie Mercury


Author’s Bio: Katie has been an ESL Teacher for a year and a half. She began by volunteering at the International Studies department of UCLA and found out that she really loved working with international students. Upon moving to Vancouver, she completed the TESOL Diploma program at Vancouver Community College and has been teaching ever since. Outside of school, Katie is engrossed in a thrice-weekly Acro Yoga practice, costume making, and fine art making for which she holds a BFA. Also a world traveler, she has travelled extensively through Europe and Japan, and has lived in the U.S., Canada, and Austria.