Monday, 5 January 2004

Teaching Breakthrough

It might be a bit too early to call still, but today felt quite like a breakthrough day.

Monday is a brutal day of work. It begins 9.50 and finishes (after telephone teaching) about 7pm. I get half an hour lunch break and another 40 minutes free period.

That might not sound especially vicious but it's quite harsh when it's a relentless succession of classes at totally different levels, and you're always on display, always having to put in a performance. You don't really get a breather. I'm not complaining about this, it was what I went in for, but I can quite understand how it can wear some people down.

But I had a good day today, with almost every class.

The morning three classes were easy. The toddlers are great, the other young kids are also fine and the third class was just a gym class.

But it was the afternoon classes that I felt real progress was made.

I don't want to slate the teacher prior to me, but from my position right now it looks like he really dumped me in it. Three classes use the same books and they would have been given these books at the same time. I learnt today that the books are supposed to last 3 months; in 3 weeks he'd virtually finished them all. Not actually teaching the kids anything, but just skimming through too fast. Leaving me with three classes all at different stages in the same book with no comprehension of what's going on except they think they've almost finished the book.

I ignored the book today and gave the kids a kind of writing test, so I can see what level they're at. Already I've seen that two classes are going to have to start the book again.

But realising that was a great relief to me, as before I felt I was wading through uncharted territory. Now I know where the kids are at and how to go from here.

The big breakthroughs came with my three problem classes. One class isn't especially a problem but it's just a pain. Four kids about 13, all fairly silent and surly. But today I got them laughing, and they seemed reasonably diverted by my teaching, rather than the usual "Who the hell is this prick" vibe they would emanate.

The "ABC game" class I also made good headway. They were a nightmare. Using a dreadful book, I'm certain that the teacher I succeeded ignored it and just played games with the class. Because they know nothing. And they expect games. But I cracked down today and got them all onto the same page and got them chanting and - I think - understanding concepts.

It was a hugely successful class, especially as my previous lessons with them had been shambolic. Even better, a Korean teacher sat in with the class, because they were known to be very poor at English. If she'd sat in on the previous two fiascos it would have been embarrassing, instead she got to see my most successful teaching moment yet.

And the dreaded M7 to finish. I still don't like them but I've identified the two troublemakers. There's another three boisterous kids spurred on by them and another weird, silent kid who seems deeply depressed, but they're manageable. I had to crack down on some of the misbehaving but considering it was after half 5 and they didn't want to be there, I did well. I had them writing the whole time. They stopped being cheeky and did some work. I've established that they're not as clever as they think they are and with luck I can start teaching them at an appropriate level.

So, sorry about all this teaching talk but I had to tell someone. The other English teachers in my school are quite cold fish and wouldn't have cared about my "breakthrough".

But today I actually felt like a good teacher. Considering I've been dumped in it, with poor teaching materials and classes all gone to hell by the previous teacher, I think I've done well. It feels good when you leave every class believing the children have learnt something.

Of course, tomorrow will probably be an almighty nightmare.

I think a big step is that I've now met all my classes and struggled through the confusing early stages, and now I've started to relax. I'm gaining confidence in the classroom and learning to deal with different situations. I think I've potential to be a good teacher.

In fact, I think it's very possible I could turn out to be the best damned teacher ever.

Ok, that's all the teaching talk for now. I get a phone tomorrow (maybe) so I expect tons of phonecalls.

Would you trust this man with your young child?

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