Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What Teaching Teaches Me

We have been here for almost 2 months. That blows my mind! I can't believe how quickly time is passing.

As we are nearing the end of the school year (it ends the second week of October! what?!), we are all taking a step back to analyze our involvement with the schools: what's working, what's not, how can we improve? All of this analysis leads me to consider how I have changed as a result of teaching the past 2 months.

I have to say that teaching is quite humbling. Every Monday and Thursday, I put myself out there: I speak in a second language, try new activities/ways of teaching the vocabulary... and it's not always pretty. In fact, I'd say most of the time, it hasn't been pretty. Some days, I don't understand their questions. Other days, my oh-so-brilliant activity backfires and leaves even the most interested students begging for mercy. Most days, the 8th graders simply do not participate. They laugh at us, work on other assignments.

I'm not used to failing. I've always been a diligent worker, and 99% of the time, that pays off. When you work your butt off with less than favorable results, you tend to feel a bit of learned helplessness-- the mentality that no matter what you do, it will fail.

We keep reading through this Peace Corps document that gives suggestions on how to teach English in various countries. The document has many suggestions for doing a variety of activities, for making the class about so much more than English. To use English as a vehicle for talking about things that really matter, to explore and investigate various problems or themes. I would love to lead a class like that. However, when the students continually make the same grammatical mistakes, forget some of the vocabulary that's been taught previously, and most of all, refuse to participate in any activity you try with them, leading a class that is more about vocabulary and grammar seems impossible. How can you ask them about their culture if they don't have the words or semantic tools to express their ideas?

I think we had a bit of a breakthrough on Monday. Ja and I decided to try a writing activity for the first time. We had just taught them vocabulary about parts of the house, before that we taught about animals, and we knew that they had previously learned different members of the family. So we gave them a prompt to describe their family and their house. Which family members live with you? What rooms does your house have? Do you have pets? etc. In the first two classes (7A and 8), the activity went moderately well. Of course, some of our smarty 8th grade boys said they had no family members and lived alone in a big/small house, but at least they wrote something. The last class (7B), though, was magical. I don't know what happened, but it is probably my proudest moment in teaching. After they had written several sentences each, I bravely asked for a volunteer to write one of their sentences on the board. (Normally, it is pulling teeth to get them to come up and participate.)

To my surprise, a couple of girls ran forward eagerly. From then on, there was a constant stream of volunteers running forward, writing their sentences on the board. Many of them wrote at the same time, which was almost chaotic (in the best way possible)! As I watched them writing their sentences, helping correct them and asking them to read what they wrote, I realized that these sentences did provide a gateway into some cultural knowledge. I learned that some students had pigs in their house. Pigs! I saw how many bothers and sisters some of our students had. And all of it was in English! Who would have thought?!

It was such a beautiful moment. I made Ja take a few pictures of the board when we were finished.

That's what teaching languages is all about: the small victories. Seeing students, of their own accord, using what you taught them to express their own thoughts. It is so rewarding to see them create sentences about things that affect their lives, rather than translating words or sentences.

I'm still far from a perfect teacher. I'm still far from confident. But I think I am finally getting to a point where I can encourage my students to use the language I'm teaching them and have some fun in the process.


No comments:

Post a Comment