Thursday, December 24, 2009

Teaching Woes

People assume because I am able to speak English I am a qualified English teacher. The truth is far from this. In fact, I have no idea how to teach English. I know this is true because I have now been an English teacher for one week. I have been assigned to teach 5 classes at 3 different levels at 2 schools here in Aru. I teach the first class (which I believe to be somewhere around 6th grade) at the Cannossian run girls’ school, and the 4th (maybe 10th grade) and 6th (12th grade, I think) at the other local school.

My first lesson was with the 1st class on Monday. It should have been easy since this is the first year they have taken English and their level is very basic. And since I am taking over in the middle of the term, the former English teacher even shared his curriculum plan with me. I was supposed to teach the girls how to use this, that, these, and those. So the first thing I did was get out a book for teaching English, incidentally it is for Italian students, so much of the explanation is in Italian, and taught myself how to use this, that, these, and those. Unfortunately, I did not entirely grasp the concept of these tricky words until half way through my first class. First note to self for teaching English: make sure I understand the English grammar myself before trying to teach it!!

On Tuesday I was to begin at the other high school with a 2 hour lesson in the 6th class followed immediately by a 1 hour lesson in the 4th class. I had briefly met the former English teacher of these classes, but I did not have anything so handy as a curriculum, a book, an idea of what level the students are at, what they are supposed to be learning, or where, exactly, the classrooms are. And so I was filled with dread. I learned that it is actually possibly to make yourself sick with fear. Indeed, sick enough for several people to ask me if I might have malaria. Although, sadly, not so sick as to have to stay in bed and miss class. Sr. Daniela took me to the school where I met the teacher again and he gave me a book (a miracle!) and I was even shown where the classroom is. My students were very polite and kindly showed me in their notebooks what they were learning. Then they were very patient as I flipped through my newly acquired book in confusion desperately thinking about what I should do next. Truly, I’m not exactly sure how the next 2 hours were filled with English, but eventually it was time to leave and meet my next class. They too were quite polite and patient with my utter confusion and lack of anything to teach, other than jabbering on in English about anything. With a mere 20 minutes left and me really out of things to do with these attentive students, a torrential rain storm came in saved me. For, I learned, it is impossible to teach when it rains. Because it is dark when there is no sun, so no one can see, and it is loud on the corrugated metal roof with no ceiling to insulate the noise so no one can hear. As soon as it stopped raining enough, I fled the classroom in jubilee. And that was my second day of teaching.

Luckily, the situation improved throughout the week as I was able to look through my precious book for teaching English and come up with some kind of lesson plan. I also learned that the students here are really very good and quite different then in America. They are all quiet as I stand for 20 minutes with my back to them writing text on the board and diligently copy everything down. They politely stand up when called upon and do their best to speak English. They run and fetch me chalk from the office when I break all my pieces in the first10 minutes and erase the board for me so I have enough room to write their homework on it. In fact, they don’t even laugh at me when I trip over the holes in the floor. Now it is Christmas break so I have 2 weeks off to regroup. I hope I am able to gain some understanding of the system and curriculum so that I can actually be of some use to the students and really improve their (and my own) knowledge of English.

1 comment:

  1. Karen --- Thanks for writing down your thoughts about teaching. Usually, when a person is working at a job overseas, there is doubt as to whether the effort is effective --- we think we are helping but it's hard to measure. However, with teaching in the British system, you can look at your 6th-formers after 1 year and see how many went on to university or teachers' college. I bet many of them will move on!