Monday, March 8, 2010

Teaching English

I had a question over the weekend about how the English lessons that I taught were planned. Did the teachers help? Who provided curriculum? What were my instructions? What were the guidelines?

To answer those questions in case anyone else was wondering: I do all the lesson planning. I have no curriculum or guide given to me to follow. There is nothing that I am supposed to teach or not supposed to teach. The teachers don’t provide anything. No one tells me what they want taught in English; most of them speak no English. I go into seven different classrooms and teach by myself. The teachers usually stay but sometimes they leave. Everything is left up to me. From day one I was given complete control over how the English classes would be taught.

Now, this might sound like a lot of work. It is a lot of work. And it was hard to know where to start when I began lesson planning. But I am definitely not complaining. I like being able to go by my own schedule and personalize how I teach. It’s good to be able to start where I think is appropriate and go at the pace of each class. Plus I haven’t heard the best things about the English classes and lessons that are taught in the high school (as in, they aren’t really helpful in learning English). Sometimes I think it would be easier if they’d given me some guidelines, but I also don’t like trying to conform my ideas to other people’s ideas. Shocking, I know.

I loved doing curriculum planning was I did camp for 3-6 year olds for several years. The entire time I worked at the YMCA people were always asking me if I was going into elementary education. I told them no, I was studying psychology and sociology as an undergrad. Then I went into a social work grad school program. Not sure how I went from my Masters Degree specializing in gerontology and end-of-life care to teaching school to children in El Salvador. I guess they seem opposites. But I love so many different areas that it’s hard for me to choose what I want as a career.

I was very excited to come here and teach but also a little concerned since my background isn’t teaching. I was worried that I wouldn’t be good at teaching and that I would have no clue what I was doing. I thought, “Great. They wanted a teacher and they got a social worker.” But then I thought about what was really important for learning to occur. It was my social work classes that gave me confidence in my teaching abilities.

One of the first things I learned in the therapy section of my social work program was that the therapeutic relationship is the most important factor in counseling and psychotherapy. The theoretical orientation and style of the therapist doesn’t matter as much as the relationship that is formed between the client and the therapist. If the relationship is weak or there isn’t any trust, the chance of therapeutic goals being successful is far less likely. I can still hear Bob Jackson saying to us, “The therapeutic relationship is key” (and I thought I wasn’t paying attention in that class).

I figured the same concept applied somewhat to teaching as well: the relationship between the teacher and students is crucial to learning. It is important to form a connection to your students and create an atmosphere where kids want to learn. I think it’s extremely helpful to find different way of teaching a concept and to make learning an enjoyable experience.

I always received better grades and enjoyed the subject of my classes where I liked my teachers. I remember in high school and especially in undergrad and grad school classes that one of the most important factors involved in how well I learned and liked the class was the professor. Sure, credentials and knowledge of the subject were important, but if I couldn’t connect with the professor then I was less likely to benefit from the class.

I was hoping that the same concept would apply to me teaching English. If I was able to develop a positive connection to the kids and make learning exciting, then they would be more likely to learn English and enjoy our classes. Now that I’ve been at it for a few weeks I think the same concept does apply to my situation. I believe bonding with my students has made them more receptive to what I’m teaching.

For example, my fourth grade class and I have developed a special way to say goodbye. As they leave I give each one a high five and then a little fist bump. They love it and are always smiling when they leave the classroom. I let the kids ask me before and after class how to say things in English. I created a “word of the day” when I realized how much they like knowing random words in English. When the kids wanted to know the date in English I incorporated into my teaching. These are the kind of things that make them eager to learn and to begin class.

Oftentimes I think of new and different ways to teach English to the kids when I’m in the classroom. I make little notes to myself about what does and doesn’t work, and other methods of teaching that I want to try. I think my teaching skills improve with each class that I teach. I often find myself saying, “Next time I’m going to do this differently” or “Next time I need to remember that example.” These kinds of things also make teaching exciting for me as well. I have really grown to love my students. It is going to be hard to leave them.

A bit of excitement at the house today was watching the roof over the “garage area” being removed and completely redone. There was a large hole in the roof that needed to be fixed before the rainy season begins so they redid the entire thing. The roof was originally made of a kind of light cement that Kathy said was full of asbestos (maybe). The new roof is made of metal, which is much sturdier. The entire roof was torn down and rebuilt in one day. After lunch I briefly went out to get ice cream with Dimas so I could invite him and his brother, Sergio, to the lagoon in Alegría on Saturday with the kids from San Francisco. By the time I got back I’d missed Kathy and Alejandro hauling parts away the old roof. Bummer. No asbestos for me.

During dinner we were talking about the rides downtown and the fiesta next week. I asked if Alejandro would like to go on the roller coaster. Kathy said he probably would. I asked if the roller coaster is safe to go on, wondering if I could go on it. Her response, “If it’s your day, it’s your day. Whether it’s on the roller coaster… driving on the canton road… or you could walk outside your house and an airplane wheel could fall on your head.” That was definitely not the response I was expecting. Several minutes later as she was walking outside and I was walking inside I looked up at the sky, raised my arms in terror, and screamed. She immediately looked up and let out a little noise. I started laughing hysterically and she called me a name. I will pay for my little prank. As I sit here writing about what happened I can barely contain my laughter. I had to excuse myself a few times to go laugh in Kathy’s office because I couldn’t control myself.

That’s a good way to end the day.

"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter" ~e.e. cummings

Roof Pictures

1 comment:

Matt said...

I really commend you for all your hard work especially considering you had no direction. It sounds like you have really connected with the kids in a way that makes learning fun and exciting. Congrats on doing so well.