Saturday, March 17, 2012

A week of teaching in a township school

I spent this week teaching English Additional Language at a township school. I was supposed to just be observing, and teaching just one lesson at some point. I ended up teaching at least two lessons a day. Yesterday I taught all 4 of them.

I am so exhausted...

But at the same time, I'm sad it's over. After my first disaster lesson, this week's teaching has been surprisingly amazing. The first day, I just watched the teacher, as I wanted to get an idea of what to do (or, if she was terrible, what not to do). I learned a lot on both fronts:

Tips for teachers:
1. Repeat every instruction at least ten times, in ten different ways, orally, and in writing, and in the form of a mixed-media triptych, and as a Butoh performance. And then walk around the class, explaining everything again to each and every student.
2. Prepare for repetition. You will say the same thing to 50 students. Then the next class will come in. Lather, rinse, repeat. Yesterday I taught 4 lessons. Sometimes you might teach 7.
3. Invest in light-coloured pants if your classroom uses a chalkboard. Get black ones if there is a whiteboard. Chalk dust gets EVERYWHERE.
4. Bring lunch and a mug.
5. Don't be afraid to tell them to behave themselves. You are the teacher, and they will try to push their luck with you.
6. Try to stick to their usual teacher's routine, if you are only there for a short time. Moving tables around and changing the routine gets them worked up and makes them a bit difficult to handle. If you're there for a longer time, start with the teacher's routine and slowly push it towards yours over time.
7. Keep signposting. "Hey, kids. Remember when we did the theory for this on Monday? Well, now we're going to practice." "Ok, so now we're going to do something new." "Good work, everyone. So, what have we covered today?"
8. Make sure your spelling is impeccable. Board-typos can be embarrassing.
9. Keep them busy writing, drawing or doing something physical. If they're just staring at you while you talk, you will get flustered and they will get bored, and they'll start misbehaving.
10. Don't ever undermine the teacher you are observing! Don't comment on whether their lesson was good or bad (be vague/incoherent if they ask you to). Don't criticise them in front of students.
11. Bring snacks to the staffroom as a thank you at the end of your time, and chocolates for teachers if it's their birthday.

And a tip from my friend Mici: If told "Hey, I'm busy now, so you must teach the next lesson," remember the five step plan:

Five steps away from the classroom, go "Oh crap! I don't have a plan!" and teach anyway.

When I taught a lesson at the ex-Model-C school a few weeks ago, they got bored and started putting their heads down on their desks. Before I knew what was happening, there were 5 unconscious students in my class.

This is not a new problem.

This time round, I had students literally climbing over each other to ask me to help them with things, or mark their work. And so many of them got full marks! It made me make this face:

There is nothing better than seeing a student "get it", and their little dance of excitement at getting everything right. Oh wait, there is: having your planned lesson, with 50 rowdy students, go absolutely brilliantly! ^_^

Wow. What a week. I don't think I could have had a better experience, or learned so much in such a short period of time. There were a  few things that made me sad, though. For example, their Grade 8 and 9 English teacher is away on maternity leave and they can't afford a substitute teacher, so these kids mill around, doing nothing, instead of having class. And their librarian was transferred at the end of last year, so their well-stocked library is sitting locked up, and has been all year. Last year it was open, but before that it was closed for 10 years. This is sad, especially since there were boxes and boxes of new books donated by Van Schaik, and now they're not even on the shelves. I spent my frees on the first day sitting in the library, and about 25 kids came in and did project work, with research, without even being asked to. I wonder how the school is going to do the extended reading programme which is a curriculum requirement right now if the kids don't have access to fiction that they can take home.

It wasn't as bad as this, at least.

So, all in all, it was a fantastic experience. That said, I am definitely looking forward to sleeping til noon tomorrow.

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