My first school term as an actual and proper teacher is just about under my belt. There’s exactly one week left in the term and I think it’s a good time to reflect on my development as a teacher over these last four months.
Back in August when I was just about to start this job, I was a little bit nervous at the idea of teaching children. When I was interviewed earlier in the year, I was asked what age group I prefer to teach and I responded that I prefer to work with teenagers. This was really because that’s mostly who I worked with in Indonesia and they seemed to like me well enough. Also, generally speaking, teenagers have just enough English language skill that no matter how elementary they are, they can understand or figure out what I’m trying to say.
I wasn’t given teenagers to teach. In fact, my oldest group of children consists of twelve year olds. My youngest are four and five years old. Hardly a word of English. And yet…I love them all in a way that I can’t exactly describe, especially given that I spend only one and a half (the little kids) to three hours (all the other kids) with them each week and know just about nothing of their lives outside of our school. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my little ones have been telling me all of their business but since I don’t speak Russian, I have no idea what they’ve been saying while they colour and glue their class work of the day.
In any case, I love teaching and interacting with them so much that it’s a letdown for me to teach the one adult group to which I’m assigned. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a group of very nice people. But I find myself so much more energised to teach my kids. When the time rolls around for me to walk into my adult class, I have to dig deep to get going. I believe that I still do a great job in that class but it takes more out of me because it doesn’t feel quite as natural as teaching the young ones.
So other than discovering that I love teaching younger children and prefer teaching them over grownups, how have I grown as a teacher over these past four months? First, I find that I spend less time on lesson planning than I did when I just started. For example, one academic hour for us is forty minutes. That means that, in theory, for every forty minutes of a class, I spend another twenty minutes preparing for that class. That was absolutely not so in the beginning. For every forty minutes of teaching time, I probably spent just as long or longer preparing. It worried me for the first several weeks because I wondered if I was putting wasted effort into lesson preparation. But then I realised that I was actually on a learning curve for how to deliver different types of lessons so I relaxed about it and continued to learn.
Now, it really does take me about twenty minutes of prep time for forty minutes of class, generally speaking (that rule doesn’t apply to the little ones – it’s always going to take more time because I have to cover more activities in a shorter space of time in order to keep their attention so there’s far more planning involved). Don’t get me wrong, I still prepare thoroughly for my lessons but now I know more and have better mastery of the methodology so lesson planning takes less time. Also, I’ve been building a treasure trove of resources that I can whip out and use for a class with minimal preparation. For example, board games and puzzles that practice grammar or vocabulary or phonics. I have a couple of those stashed away that I know my kids enjoy, which are also handy for practicing different things.
Second, I don’t hesitate to ask for help. I know that I’m not a one-woman show. Back in my old life, I wasted so much time trying to figure everything out by myself, hating to ask for help. That’s not a problem for me anymore. My job here is to facilitate my kids’ acquisition of the English language and if someone else has ideas that can help me with that, I don’t have a problem asking for and using those ideas. And I willingly share my own. Just last week, I had to do what we call an extensive reading class with that same group of twelve year olds. For extensive reading clases, we spend an hour and a half reading two articles that are longer than the reading texts they usually get. A lesson like that can be boring for the students if it’s not done right. And given that I’m an avid and lifelong reader, I want to share the love of reading with my students, not give them bad memories of reading class.
I gave it careful thought (and prayers!) and prepared what I thought was a really good lesson. It also happened to be the same lesson where parents were observing. The kids enjoyed the class and the parents gave me excellent marks. Another teacher who was delivering the same lesson later that day asked me to share my ideas with her and I ended up giving her my entire lesson plan and materials. I was so happy to hear afterwards that her class was also a hit and I was glad that I could help her. She also happens to be very generous with her own time and materials so it was easy to share with her. But even with the most reticent and solitary teacher on our staff (yes, we have one of those), I share my ideas when she asks for them and I willingly ask for hers if I’m stuck and she happens to be around.
The third and final way in which I see growth in myself over these past four months is in my perspective on children. Back when I was younger and less wise (also, sometimes straight up stupid), I used to think that I didn’t feel one way or another about children. I thought to myself, “They’re just small people. Some people I like, some people I don’t like. Same for children,” and I never felt any particular pull to be around them. Now, it’s totally different because my mind is different. As it relates to grownups, there’s no longer any person who I don’t like. There are some people who I don’t tolerate well, but I don’t dislike them; I just recognise that we’re not compatible. Yes, children are small people but I rarely find myself incompatible with them – even the brattiest of them – and I love the work I do with them more than I ever loved the work I did with grownups.
My, how a person can grow and change in four months. I hope my students have, too.
Let my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, as the droplets on the fresh grass and as the showers on the herb. Deuteronomy 32:2 (NASB)