It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve even really thought about my blog. It’s terribly cliché to say that I’ve been a little busy, but I’ve been a little busy.
Starting Monday of last week, we were responsible for creating daily lesson plans for different teaching methods that we’ve been learning and then the next day we have to execute them in front of a class of students.
There are four main methods in the technique that we’ve been learning, called the Communicative Model, and they all focus on teaching communication relevant to the students by setting up the context of the setting with modeling and illustrations, repetition to remember the phrases and then a functional aspect where they would use the language learned in a practical way. When we were taught Korean with this model, the words and symbols made sense without our teacher speaking a word of English, and it really reinforced how effective the method can be.
For the first week, we were in a school and teaching mostly older Prathom students, which is the Primary level age. Since Thailand doesn’t require students to attend school after the age of 14, it’s relatively rare to find a class in a small town or rural village with many students older than this, and any high school level classes (Mathayom) are relatively small, and apparently attendance rates drop as much as 50% after this age.
Looking back, that week was surprisingly painless. The first day was kind of a shock to everyone’s system and I’m pretty sure that we all forgot some part of the method or another and generally felt like we weren’t that effective. However, we learned from our classes and were able to create lessons and materials for the next 3 days with relative ease. Every day was a different class, so the method and the material were all relatively new and the classes were old enough that for the most part they wanted to learn, which made our job even easier. The hardest part for me was really drawing the picture cards, for the most part as long as I can create an accurate cheat sheet that I tape to the board and actually follow, remembering the method isn’t the hard part. Coming up with pictures that stayed in the context of the lesson (what are you afraid of and why) and not having them look like a 3-year-old drew them took way too much time.
After another Saturday night on the Island where I spent way too much money, but had an amazing time dancing with this group of really fun Thai girls who I wish I could have understood more, we got right into our second week of teacher practices.
Teaching lesson #1 Leave your stress at the door:
This week was a little more difficult, and there were times when I would leave the school and want to dig myself a hole in the ground to disappear into. Hearing feedback from the others in the course that I wasn’t the only one who felt their lessons didn’t fully go as planned was a little bit of a relief, but I’ve placed so much on this that failure is not an option. Not only that, but since we could all see the light at the end of the tunnel, the stress of finding a job was really starting to get to me.
I’m sure my friends were worried with all the stressed out and emotional e-mails I sent, followed by “nevermind!” and “Man, I’m a little crazy, right?” But I was a total basket-case and didn’t feel as though I really had anyone to talk to that would ease my mind. (I later learned that sometimes, if you open up and let them, people will surprise you by how supportive they can be.)
Classes were harder because the children were younger, some of them really didn’t want to learn, and some of them were frustrated by how easy some of the dialogues were. Mostly though, it was me not being fully present that may have made my lessons suffer, and I realize now that all of this was for naught, and I should have just let everything go and allowed myself to become completely absorbed in planning and teaching my lesson.
The children were really excited that we were there, and everyday after class they would all run around with notebooks or scraps of paper and have us right our names down, sign our autographs or just joke around with them. My favourite part of going out to that school, though, was watching the kids during morning assembly. We weren’t able to watch the assembly at the first school, but here the children would have morning exercise, dancing and doing exercises to music or busting some serious moves hula hoping.
On the final day, after learning 4 different method types, we were left to our own devices and told to create our own lesson plan, have fun with it, but follow some basic guidelines. This turned out to be the biggest lesson of all, because it’s what every teacher does on their first day in their own classroom, and then has to move up from there. I think that two out of four of us left feeling that they had done a good job and that the students had actually learned something. After discussing with our teacher-observer, pretty much all of us learned that we had made some pretty fatal mistakes.
I, for one, knew half way through the class that what was going on could be defined as a trainwreck. But I continued on, changing my lesson plan slightly so that the students could grasp the meanings and confidence to say the phrases, hoping that something was sticking in their impressionable little minds and that I wasn’t totally wasting their time.
At the end, we joined the two classes and our teacher played a giant group game of Simon Says and then handed the winning student a “Thank You” card that we had written out for all the students. One of the students, my favourite little cutie, (I know, I know, you’re not supposed to pick favourites, but it’s hard!!!) handed out these little coloured origami cats to all of the teachers. It seriously melted my heart and made me want to hug him and steal him and keep him forever.
After tests, course evaluations and handing in our reflective portfolios, complete with our lesson plans, any work or teaching for the course was over. We’ve all received our certificates, and the boys have gotten on buses for their next respective destinations: home to Alaska and traveling around Thailand. I’m super sad to see them go, but I’m going to hang out here in Ban Phe for a little while, but that will be explained in my next entry, once I’ve fully figured out what I’m going to be doing.