Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Teaching English

For most of my ex-pat life, wherever it has been, I've either had 'normal' jobs, i.e. worked with the locals, or been my own boss. Whereas so many ex-pats go through some period of English teaching in their lives, in seventeen years of living abroad I've mostly managed not to. And this with two professor parents and a professor brother.

I did a short English teaching stint last fall as a desperate effort to earn a bit more during the tourism off-season, but didn't particularly relish the effort of teaching demoralized, depressed and not always particularly bright adults who were out of work. Sorry! I'm not the best of teachers, given a three hour stretch, for encouraging such a 'publique' to learn something they've been told to do but don't truly want to do.

Yet here I am, quite excited about my new activity. It is meagerly remunerated -- as much is at the Steiner school here -- but it is a fun and interesting challenge. I am the new English teacher to the 9th grade class, aka 17 fifteen year olds, at my kids' school. I actually really enjoy adolescents, and at least half the class is quite bright, and though there are a very small handful of seriously not-interested kids, the majority seem eager for me to be there and give them some intellectual nourishment.

I'm filling in for a teacher who left early on maternity leave, and at this time, it's just a 6 month assignment. With the end of May I will return to my tourism activity full-time. And during April and May I will juggle tourism clients in-between the 3 weekly classes I have.

And so, as per my contract, I have an hour Monday, 3/4 hour on Tuesday and 2 hours on Friday of teaching time. They had a good teacher last year, poor teaching the two years prior and a mixed bag before that. In addition, more than half the class has been in the school but one to two years. As such, the Steiner style is still new to them.

I was told I needed to review as much grammar as possible with them, and that I could focus on American Literature and Culture. (Last year was focused on British lit and culture). And so I dug into my brain for ideas of my favorite American authors, remembered what I'd loved reading in 5th grade, considered, checked the internet, ordered books from Amazon... and prepped away.

I've now 5 books of English grammar for foreigners on my desk (I had never taught the préterite before), copies of O Henry and Edgar Allen Poe short stories, and--downloaded from the internet--the complete texts of Lincoln's Gettysburg address , JFK's inaugural address, this latter plus MLK's I have a Dream speech I will play for the kids with my IPhone and speakers.

With tons of prepping, discussing with colleagues to get a reality check, observing my most gifted colleague (a Brit who is truly a fantastic teacher and happily is Leo's English teacher at school. She also makes a mean mince-meat pie!) etc., I went into class Monday afternoon all ready to conquer the hill of "WILL, WON'T, ..."

I was able to present one element of grammar: "I am 30 years old. I will be 31 years old on the 15th of July." Yes, from simple present to simple future. And I discovered that they need revision on numbers, all those "st; nd; th; etc," on our numbers are just completely baffling to these kids. OK, note taken.

I then switched to the poem we're reading and memorizing together, Twas the Night Before Christmas. In good Steiner fashion I put a short bio of the author with it, though the time was too short to discuss him. We played the game of what Christmas and winter words they already know, and then began reading through the poem to recognize words they knew, and then attacked the new vocabulary. We read but two stanzas. But in there you've :'kerchief, snug, nestle, stockings, stirring... Some good words, don't you agree?

Homework -- two short exercises for the grammar, memorize the first 4 lines of the poem, learn the vocab.

Next day -- one child had done his. Ah well, t'is quite likely I spoke too quickly (a tendency of mine) and yes, the class time was pretty much up when I gave them their assignments, etc., So, I said alright. A day of Grace. I accept the possibility of my requests not having been clear. So, here is the work for Friday, let there be no mistake!

And then we started our Tuesday class-- a far more brief 45 minutes, so I was less ambitious. We began by reading the irregular verb past tense list -- yes, boring you might say, but our school's technique is simply to read it aloud every day as if it were a poem, and then over time, they've got them down pat, without the pain and boredom of 10 per night, etc., I put it at the beginning of the class when we're all standing for the 'partie rhythmique', a brilliant element of the Steiner school.

Thus, I will be beginning each class standing and reciting our poem altogether (having them memorize a stanza per class) followed by the verbs, and perhaps I'll get my list of vocab words out and let them sit down one by one as they successfully give the correct answer, and /or speak the lines of the poem from memory as I'd requested for their homework.

I am hugely inspired by my colleague and her bag of tricks -- never let them get bored, every game is a source of learning, keep them present and interested. As such, no individual lesson element goes longer than 10-15 minutes, and there is as much participation and positive reinforcement as I can muster "what words do you know in this paragraph? what words can you hear as I read the poem." and only after we've established what they already know, do we attack the new.

hmmm t'is a very interesting challenge. Shall we get through The Gift of the Magi? We shall see.


Mary Hui said...

Sounds really interesting, Madeleine! I might be applying for a summer internship to teach English in HK as a volunteer next year :)

Sue said...

Congratulations! I know you will be a great teacher! I wish I could find a teaching position. Unfortunately here in the States many schools are eliminating French. It's so sad.

Vagabonde said...

What a challenging position – I am sure you will find it fun – but much work too. I gave French private lessons when we lived in Ardmore, PA, years ago. Last year I offered to conduct conversational French talks at the high school near my home and they were not interested, even though I would do it free of charge, on a volunteer basis. They feel French is not as important as Spanish.

One thing that got my attention in your post is the fact that you have a friend who makes mincemeat pies. Last year I could not find them around here, just frozen, and this year for Thanksgiving I could not find any mincemeat pie fresh or frozen, and I went into several super markets, so now I’d like to know how to bake one as I really like them. Could you ask her how to make this pie?

Betty C. said...

I am ashamed to say that I have never heard of a Steiner school I am off to research that.

Enjoy your teaching stint!

Madeleine Vedel said...

Mary, good luck! and may you begin with another age than 15 -- ouch they're hard!
And Sue, I know. French still has its virtues, if not truly the business choice any more.
Vagabonde -- My friend uses the recipe in the English cookbook of Nigella Lawson -- perhaps Domestic Goddess?
Betty -- the Steiner schools are also known as Waldorf. It's a different way of teaching, with a different curriculum, but in my case, as it's high school, it's a bit more standard, though with poetry, music, and as much connection to the kids and where they're at as I'm able to manage.

Betty C. said...

OK! I have definitely heard of Waldorf.