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One Month of Teaching Insight

Hello there!

As you may have read in my previous blog entry, I have decided to make an entirely separate blog about my teaching experience in the last few weeks. As much as some of you are interested in hearing about my movie-watching skills and orchestra socialization (to find out more, please read previous blog!) some of you may want to hear how the work itself is going.

So far, I am still absolutely loving my job! The teachers seem to have a better sense now of how to make use of my being in the class. I am often asked to read things out loud, and when people are working in groups they seem to be getting more comfortable with asking me questions. One of my favourite days in the last few weeks was when the grade sevens were doing station work. They had written an exam for the first half of class, so for the second half the teacher set up different activities to help them practice their English. One of these stations was talking to me! I had been given all sorts of conversational prompter cards, but I hardly needed to use them. The students were more than willing to speak with me all about what they did on their weekends, and what their favourite movies and actors are. Sometimes when one of them didn’t know a German word in English, three of them would  have an intense debate about what the English equivalent was – I was very flattered that they wanted me to understand exactly what they were talking about. I loved the one class I’ve had with the grade five students as well – when I first introduced myself, they all raised their hands and asked me questions about my favourite colour and animal, and shared some of their favourites with me. The teacher emphasized that it would be rude to speak German in front of me since I don’t understand the language, and at this point they have better manners in English than I do (they say “may I” instead of “can I”! I forget the last time I remembered that rule!)

I think that one reason I’ve been enjoying working with younger students a bit more than older is that the younger ones are more willing to experiment. The grade sevens will use the words that they know in English to try and get their point across, whereas the grade nines seem more shy about what they don’t know. So, instead of trying out their English, they resort to constantly talking in German – I also often get the sense that they’re showing off for one another, based on their volume and animation in class. But a few days ago, a ninth-grade girl who normally never asks the teacher questions came up to me and asked me something. That pretty much made my day, and I think it indicated how the students are slowly getting more comfortable with speaking to me in English.

It also appears that I will soon get my individual “Conversation Course” up and running. Schools in Germany have a two week holiday in October, and after these are over I will be offering a 90 minute session per week in which students can come and practice English with me. I am unable to give grades, and therefore they are not receiving official credit for this course – so to make them a bit more interested, I have tried to focus on the fact that there will be no homework involved, and they can attend as few or as many times as they like. I have begun writing down different topics of conversation that I think they would find interesting, such as money, pets or nationality. I am planning to begin the first class with an episode of 2 and a Half Men that involves Thanksgiving – I feel that watching TV in English can be such a big help for students trying to become familiarized with the language. From there, I hope it’ll lead into more discussion about other things, such as Canadian Holidays or the misadventures of Charlie Sheen. Or possibly how much worse the kid actor got as the seasons went on. Who knows.

I have made an announcement about this Conversation course to a few classes now, particularly grade nine ones, and people seem to be showing way more interest than I had expected. After announcing it to one grade ten class that hardly ever seems aware that I’m in the room, I had about five kids come and ask me about it. Some would be unable to make it every week because they have a different timetable every alternate week, but I told them that is not a problem. While I am not worried about how few turn up (the fewer students, the more I get to talk individually and get to know them), I am starting to get a bit concerned that there will be too many. But I guess if that happens, I can start to offer the course more than once a week. My only other real concern is the idea that my Canadian technology won’t work and I’ll be left there gaping in front of students, but I guess I have to face that potential nightmare eventually! A lot of these students seem to be better with technology than me these days.

I find it interesting how direct Germans are – not that I should use stereotypes, but it seems more culturally acceptable, whereas Canadians will beat around the bush and be as polite as possible. Teachers have been telling students that if they participate in my Conversation Course a certain amount of times, they will earn a certificate that states they have put in a certain amount of time on their English skills. Today I was approached by a student who could see right through this certificate idea: she figures that it’s useless since it’s not an official Oxford document or anything that you earn through an exam, and universities will not be impressed. However, she is still planning on attending my first class. No pressure on me to provide an entertaining course or anything. The students do have oral examinations at some point though, and I think that this course can only be beneficial to them. Hopefully.

I’m also putting together a presentation on Canada to show the students over the next few weeks, but it seems that my notorious procrastination skills from university are making a comeback. So far I’m covering the topics of Canadian food, movie stars (Rachel McAdams – who knew??), pop stars, animals, and sports – and if I have time, I would like to go into the Canadian high school system. But first, I have to get that whole powerpoint concept under control. If any readers have any ideas of important things I should tell students about Canada, please let me know!

Today, there was an International Conference held at my school, and I was asked to partake because of my English-speaking skills. I believe there were about three groups, and I was shocked to find out how international the participants actually were! There was a teacher from Chile, one from Jamaica, Africa, India, and Paraguay. It was amazing! While the Germam principal of our school was trying to come up with English words using myself and another English teacher, the teachers from Chile and Paraguay were trying to figure out the correct things to say translated from Spanish. These teachers had come all this way to learn about the education system in Germany, and potentially bring some of those ideas back to their systems in their home countries. I found out that Chile classrooms consist of an average 40 people, while some in Paraguay have up to 60! And we thought 32 was a large class size. A lot of the conference examined how students at my school that excel in Science and Math have the chance to take on specialized classes and conduct experiments at certain university facilities. The more that I learn about what this school has to offer, the more I realize how lucky I was to be placed here. Students are really able to thrive in the areas they’re interested in; I work with one English honours class at the tenth grade level, and they’re all talented individuals who are enthusiastic to learn about the language. And the teachers are all dedicated to helping their students have the best experience possible; I never realized until this year how much work and thought a good teacher puts into challenging and provoking students. I had always just thought that they used the curriculum and never gave it a second thought, but it’s fascinating to see teachers from all over the world meeting together just to think about ideas they can bring to their home countries so that they can educate students better.

I told one teacher that I’m amazed at just how much he constantly has to do, he mentioned how the students and teachers have an interesting interaction. There is so much about the students’ lives that teachers will never know, and there is so much more to each teacher than the students know, and they only briefly interact in the classroom for a few hours a week. And yet school is such a huge part of a student’s life, and teachers spend so much energy working to educate students better. It’s all so interesting to me, after having spent so much time on the student’s side of things! One interesting observation from the teacher’s side of things was seeing a teacher pass out a new novel for students to read, and everyone groans…at first I thought “wow, really? One little book to read is an issue?” but then I remembered that this book was probably on top of six other classes worth of work they were expected to do. However, I did see one girl light up when they were assigned the book, and I’m pretty sure I recognized the grade-nine-me brought back to life.

Anyways. In my opinion, I still don’t think that being a teacher would be a great career for me. Students don’t always appreciate the effort you put in for them, and they have pretty short attention spans. But as much as I used to figure marking homework would be a terrible activity, I’ve enjoyed reading over a few students’ work and making (what I think are) helpful suggestions. I can also understand how the instances of students showing enthusiasm about what you’re teaching them can make it all worth it. But I think that the position I’m in right now is pretty ideal: I can help the students where it’s needed, but I’m not the one at the front of the class all day every day. I’ve been asking a bit more about if I can potentially volunteer in a library while I’m here, but I don’t like to ask too often since teachers already have an insane amount of things to do. I’m not sure if it’ll be plausible at this point, but you never know!

I think I have gone on enough about work for now. Thank you so much for reading my thoughts and reflections. Perhaps there were a few “duh” statements in there, but I hope you enjoyed it!

Bis zum nächsten Mal!

-Robyn

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Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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