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5 Things I’ve Learned (so far) About Teaching

Friday, March 18, 2011

1. Little kids are really little. In first through third grade, we are emphasizing the word “bathroom?”, given that “Puedo ir al baño? [Can I go to the bathroom?] is the most frequent phrase in their classroom, all day.  This song has been a hit to the point that students have chanted “otra, otra” in hopes of playing it yet again… and I can’t get the tune out of my head.  When I tried to teach colors to prekinder, I realized that most of them don’t know the colors in their native language!  However I heard that one prek girl reported to her mother,”La tía Margaret nos enseñó azul, blue, todo eso.  Y es gigante! [Miss Margaret taught us azul, blue, all that.  And she’s a giant!].”

2. I’m not at Waring or Smith College anymore. I mean, I already knew that class size is a big deal, but wow.  Second grade is an anomaly at 14 students, and with my co-teacher, the size is ideal for games and interaction; with 28 students in first grade, we are so much more limited in what we can do.  The problem is also that my experience learning languages (French at Waring, Spanish and Portuguese at Smith) has all been in small classes of self-motivated young adults.  Here, I’m combining my knowledge of language learning with ideas about behavior and classroom management I learned elsewhere, but it’s largely trial and error.  What do you do in a third grade ESL immersion classroom when a few boys are running and throwing pencils?  I am open to suggestions!

3. Lesson planning works– except when it doesn’t. At this point, I have enough miscellaneous teaching experience to improvise, but I know it’s better when I plan (not possible when there is a schedule change and I find out that I have a class right now— surprise!).  I can rely on the fact that when I make worksheets, find songs on the internet, and carefully consider the sequence of the class using the WorldTeach lesson planning template, classes go better.  Then again, there have been moments where I thought my plan was great, but it turned out it wasn’t, or I was left with 5 minutes and had nothing prepared.  As my dad has always said, the mix of planning and flexibility is a key teacher skill, one I am still developing.

4. The work is endless. I am only teaching about 18 hours a week (soon to be more, when I add more Environmental Education), and I could easily spend every waking moment lesson planning, researching methods and resources, reviewing what worked and didn’t work in previous classes, and so on.  Now, if I were a more seasoned teacher, I could probably plan a lot faster, but there is no getting around the fact that planning takes time.  I am discovering that I have to set limits with myself.  But even without my budding social life, I don’t think I could ever be bored here.

5. My voice is my best friend. My goal is to use my voice to serve two competing needs: to convey my respect by talking to students in a natural tone (as opposed to the falsely sugary tone adults often adopt for little kids), and at the same time, to make my English accessible via reduced speed, exaggerated intonation and articulation.  This balance is hard, especially since the ideal voice is different with different ages.  For example, I don’t want to treat the high school sophomores as little kids, but at the same time I need to adapt my English to make it understandable, given that while they can read and write a fair amount in English, they have little practice speaking and listening.  I’ve been joking with my co-teacher that I want to do a unit on sadness so I don’t have to smile so much, because my face hurts from so much encouragement and praise!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Friday, March 18, 2011 7:00 pm

    I’m not sure if this is helpful, but when I was in AP Spanish in high school, my teacher had us practice our speaking by allowing us to gossip and catch up on each others’ weekend activities – as long as it was completely in Spanish. It made it so much more fun than having forced conversations like you do in Spanish 101. Plus, she’d chime in about her weekend, etc, and it made us all feel like we were having a “grown-up” yet casual conversation.

  2. sally johnson permalink
    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 2:26 pm

    Margaret,
    geoff read this out loud to me and I roared…lesson planning works, except when it doesn’t! five minutes can seem like an eternity, huh? And, of course, adjusting your methods to fit the age AND language level must be a particularly big challenge. Can’t wait to hear more. Besos,
    Sally

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