Wednesday, August 4, 2010

down, up

Yesterday was a Teacher Failure Day. Monday was the last day for doing the previous lesson, but I didn't have anything effective put together to move on to: I wanted to do "Family," and I had a big family tree poster, some ideas about using the Simpsons for some of the words, and some questions I wanted to teach the kids. But it turned out to be too abstract and too incoherent for the circumstances, and it ground to a halt, maybe 15 minutes into 1-B's one-hour class.

I'd also stayed up late preparing, so I wasn't rested, and was generally cranky. When I took a minute to stare off into space, one of the girls said quietly to another, "Is he angry?" and the other responded, "He looks sad." Which I was.

So I gave up. I sat on my table with my legs swinging back and forth.
"I'm sorry, guys. This lesson isn't working. I'm kind of disorganized right now. I've been having a bad month. It's hard to be living in a different culture, really far from my friends and communities."
They asked me if I missed my girlfriend (yes), if she was beautiful (yes), and we pretty much just chatted for the hour. Jorge even asked me questions in English as best he could--Jorge, who's a nice kid, but sometimes disruptive enough to be one of the three kids I've ever booted out of the classroom. But except for constantly telling him to shut up, I treat him like everyone else and we have a friendly relationship.

With 1-C, I warned them ahead of time that I thought the lesson might not work, because it didn't do enough to get them talking and using the material I was teaching. 1-C is remarkably calm and focused, so they stuck with it a lot longer, but ultimately I ran up against the lack of a way to get them talking, so it ground to a halt again. This time I did some impromptu stuff with the kids who were talking to me: Sonia, one of the rockstars ("I don't study, I just pay attention") asked how to say trasero in English. It means "butt," but we have enough different words for that that I felt an example was in order.

Now they know what "I like big butts and I cannot lie" means. That felt nicely subversive.

Luckily I just had 1-B and 1-C, and they're relatively focused and not super-spastic, but in order to prevent a repeat today, with 1-G and 1-H who are chatty at best, I decided to just switch gears and do "Weather." It's more or less the same as the "Moods" I did at the beginning of the year: a question ("What's the weather like?"), and then a bunch of vocabulary words they can use for an answer (sunny, cloudy, rainy, etc.). Basically, a lesson I'd already taught, but with different material. I made little flashcards like I did for body parts.

It went great! I wasn't pushing myself as a teacher, and I had a plan for what activities to do, so I could relax. We did lots of repetition in lots of different ways. They learned stuff. Everyone wins. As a bonus, the English Workshop kids didn't show up, sparing me an awkward 45 minutes.

What's dawning on me is that right now I'm an Okay teacher. If I wanted to, with training and practice, I would probably be an Excellent teacher, but right now, I'm pretty sure I'm just middle-of-the-pack.

What I do really, really well is my relationships with the kids. They know that I like them, care about them, and relate to them as individuals. Even if they're a problem for classroom management, I'll stop the group repetition to help them pronounce something right, and I make sure they take their turns practicing. One of the most disruptive, Bruno from 1-G, on Monday came up to me after a particularly push-and-pull class where I almost booted him, smiled, nodded, and shook my hand (and has done it in the hallway a few times since).

That seems worthwhile.

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