Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Day 1 of TP2: Russian dogs, Plannites and 6th Graders - Oh my!

Today was the first day of our second Teaching Practice. On Friday, A (my student teacher partner) and I met with Mr L, the home language teacher at the only Afrikaans medium school in our town.

Some background here: I grew up overseas. The languages I speak fluently are English and French, and I can barter down a price and order a beer in Mandarin. That is it. I do not speak a WORD of Afrikaans. Oh dear.


So we met with Mr L, and he told us that we were going to have to teach all the English Additional Language (EAL) classes because their teacher was going for surgery for the week.


A very large mustachioed man went "Garblegarblegarble" at me in Afrikaans. I blinked at him (there's been a lot of blinking) and said, "Sorry, I don't speak Afrikaans, I speak English." He threw his hands up in disgust and stomped off. It turns out he was the headmaster.


Mr L told us that Mrs G (the teacher we were replacing) had left work for the students, so that eased the worries a bit. However, we didn't get to see the work until today, and so we spent the weekend planning a lesson flexible enough to teach to all the grades (a creative free-writing exercise) as a back-up.

We arrived today (late and with A somewhat inappropriately clad for a conservative Afrikaans school - I sneakily wore my pyjamas under my suit pants because it's so freezing at the moment) in the middle of the staff meeting. One "kind" lady told A off for wearing that miniskirt and those lacy stockings, suggesting that the male students might be somewhat distracted by it, and that it might be better to wear something below the knee for the rest of the week, and that she was just saying this out of "love".

Well, at least they're facing the front of the class.

Then Mr L whipped out the most thorough week-long lesson plan I have ever seen. Mrs G has given us instructions regarding chapters, pages, which questions, which projects, where the materials are stored, how to deal with each class, and mentioning a certain very helpful mystery student who we have failed to distinguish from the sea of faces so far.

Will the real Johannes van der Malkovich please stand up?

We have an assignment requiring us to plan and teach two observed lessons each, which we evidently can't really do now because there is really no room for manoeuvre here. We'll just have to pretend that we planned the lessons that Mrs G has planned, and use her resources, and try to teach it in our own style. Which is interesting, because this whole year, we've been taught that Transmission Learning is Bad and Constructivist Learning is Good. And this school is most definitely a Transmission Learning kind of school.

Transmission learning: Me teacher. You students. Me smart. You dumb. Me provide knowledge. You absorb it. End of lesson.

Constructivist learning: Me teacher. You students. You have amazing wealth of knowledge and experience, which we can all put together into a shiny rainbow of glittery learning by working together and contributing equally. You must discover all this through the magical process of Making Learning Happen, while we gently prod you in the right direction and prevent you from murdering each other with your home-made shatter-proof ruler-shivs.

Whaddaya mean Pluto's not a planet any more?
The morning went well. We had grade 10s, who did something fun and creative (and for some reason climbed over their desks in the middle of class for no apparent reason), and grade 8s, who did something fun and creative and wrote down things like "Love is like spitting around in the garden with my eyes closed", and grade 11s, who did something boring and examinable very quietly, and matrics, who very quickly did a Listening Comprehension exercise (UGH). Then we nipped into town for lunch and to buy sweets for the grade 8s, who have another fun, creative, and sugar-filled lesson tomorrow (because that won't make the drug-addled Jack Russels harder to deal with at all...).

And then...

We got the 6th graders. And I thought grade 8 boys were bad...

This is tame in comparison.
We are high school teachers-in-training (TITs, if you like). We have all sorts of theory regarding how teenagers deal with the hardships of adolescence, and how their minds work. I have now learned that 12-year-olds are aliens from outer space. Which was handy, because the lesson was a reading comprehension about the universe, and our solar system. So yeah, that wealth of knowledge and experience, hey...

They were curious about us, especially after we gave them the spiel about how they needed to speak only English because it wasn't fair that I didn't understand, and because it would help them with their English anyway. One boy needed a translator, but his 12-year-old translator translated everything he said into "Pig" - Oink. Oink oink. Oink oink oink.
What did you just say about my mother?

A bunch of the girls blatantly copied each other's work, so we'll have to have a chat about ethics, cheating, and why they're getting zero even though the answers were right. One poor boy either did not understand a word of the instructions or he was taking the mickey, with his answers looking a bit like "I am a bumblebee. I love you. Lemming!" Others had such bad handwriting and/or were writing in Afrikaans/Alien Code, such that I couldn't understand a word of what they were trying to say. They also all spelled "planets" as "plannets", "plannuts" and even "plannites".


We spoke about how the Russians shot a dog into space, and the kid who spoke in "Pig" asked, "If the dog is Russian, is it a sausage dog?" At least he said it in English. It was pretty sharp though.

Om nom nomski.

Finally, one very strong cup of coffee, a hug from my boyfriend and several minutes of ranting to my digsmates later, I can breathe again. I've suddenly re-discovered what it feels like to sit down. And I'm pretty exhausted.

Well, at least this week will be interesting.


  1. You'll find that even though you learn in your course that Constructivist learning is the way to go, most schools far prefer Transmission learning because it is the easiest way to ensure that everyone learns the same thing without confusion. You will find constructivist learning more in smaller and private schools than you will in public schools, and I am speaking for both here and overseas.

  2. Agreed - from what I've seen of elite private school classrooms and more traditional/old-fashioned ex-model C and government schools, you've hit the nail on the head there.