“Thank you for your patience” – Alexandre (One of the students).
I decided to start with the words of one of the students because this is one of the things that struck me on my first week. I had just finished a session with 2 students and just as they were almost out of sight, one of them turned back and thanked me for my patience. Now… I don’t have myself down as a patient person on a day to day basis but this really got me thinking about the importance of patience in my role and how I had already started to demonstrate a level of patience with the students.
Languages are hard, it’s a fact. Well, I mean most things are difficult but trying to express yourself as freely as you normally do in your mother tongue, but this time in a foreign language is a long long process! I think the patience comes from a place of .. experience. We are practically in the same boat, they are trying to learn English and I am trying to master their language before I start my MA. I get it.. so when they can’t find the words to express themselves, instead of making a big deal about it I ask them to explain it in French and then we go from there. The language learning process is long enough and tiring enough without having to deal with someone who wants to hurry through things or makes you feel like an idiot when you get something wrong. Twice I have had students try and tell me that they are bad at English, and twice I have repeated the same thing: You have to fail in order to get better, you have to make mistakes in order to learn from them, you are not bad.. you are learning ! – I think I may just have to write it on a large piece of paper and stick it on the wall if a third person attempts that line.
First week of teaching.. (w/c 11th September)
Before heading out to work I sat in the kitchen eating my breakfast wondering if I was truly ready for what was to come. Have I prepared enough? What if they refuse to speak in English? How am I supposed to teach 16+ year olds?! .. After I had finished asking myself every question under the sun, I proceeded to make the very quiet 15 minute walk to the school. In Matane nobody seems to use their car horns and people seem to actually want to stop to let you cross the road (London drivers could learn a few things in that department). Once I arrived at the school I went into my classroom to find this:
After preparing myself for the classes, I sat in another classroom with Sylvie, the teacher I am working with. Whilst in there she mentioned that I could write something on the board. I then proceeded to look around the room for a whiteboard. Then she said “On the board in your classroom.. with the chalk”. I have to be honest, I genuinely didn’t think chalkboards still existed in schools, being a 90’s kid I missed the chalk board era. Although it was definitely weird to start off with, I do quite like the fact that when I open the top draw of my desk, there is a box full of different coloured chalk as opposed to whiteboard markers. It’s different.
As for the classes, I had zero problems, students were really friendly and willing. We did some work on how to introduce yourself which gave them the opportunity to get to know me and vice versa and also it was a good way of getting them to speak more by using the vocab in a role play in which they pretended that they were meeting their fellow classmates for the first time and greeted one another, asked a few questions and practiced parting ways.
Second week of teaching.. (w/c 18th September)
The week before, when I arrived at the school, I was presented with the option of working with a special needs class and I just had to say yes! I am soo glad that I did because they are such a happy and enthusiastic bunch. The minute I entered their classroom I was welcomed by smiles and many hello’s! The first session was spent giving them a chance to get to know me, they asked me questions about where I come from, whether I have siblings and so on. I feel as though their sessions are going to be some light relief on a Monday afternoon and I am looking forward to our future sessions.
Right, so as for the morning classes on that same Monday.. I have a little story that requires some imagination: picture a student with an unimpressed expression who then proceeds to grumble loudly and display body language that can only be read as “why me?” .. The realisation hit me that I had become “that language teacher”. I remember being in Secondary School and there were always those kids that despised learning French and honestly, it amused me standing there at the door whilst this student dragged her heels in my direction, zero eye contact.. (if I can’t see you, you can’t see me). It amused me because I completely understood the reaction and felt as though I had gone full circle. I am a great believer in the idea that a negative situation is powerless without your reaction. So instead of taking it personally (it’s the language learning.. not me), I continued my lesson as planned. We played a game with these cards where they had to find the opposites e.g. “Hot” and “Cold”.
For at least the first 5 minutes the student tried soo hard not to smile but found herself smiling as I strategically chose to use Homer Simpson and Marge as an example for describing the words fat and thin and then proceeded to act out other words with perhaps a touch too much enthusiasm for a 8:30 am class. This is what happens when you let a Drama graduate into a classroom… it turns into a stage haha (i’ll keep telling myself that they are laughing with me and not at me.. either way a room full of smiling faces makes the job that bit easier).
Third week of teaching.. (w/c 25th September)
This week was a pretty good week indeed! The week started off with lots of laughs in my Monday morning class and then in my afternoon class I was presented with my first invitation !
I was invited to go for breakfast on the Wednesday with the special needs class, other members of staff that work with them and the students also brought along family members. It was really nice to meet the parents and socialise with the students outside of the school setting and find out more about them.
Here are some pictures that were taken at the breakfast:
And my breakfast.. this is a “Breakfast Bagel” which contained ham, cheese, tomato, lettuce and.. some egg that I never saw or tasted at any point in the process (but i’m a Brit, so of course I didn’t mention the lack of egg). The bagel came with breakfast potatoes and .. to this day I am still trying to figure out where the watermelon and lemon came into play. It has to be said, I didn’t touch either of them but the rest was good.
On that same day two language assistants that live in a nearby town came to Matane for the afternoon/evening to do some shopping and I met up with them and it was just nice to see some familiar faces and talk in English for a bit.
Last but not least, Thursday, my shortest work day.. I spent the day playing a game called Taboo with the students to get them talking more. I gave one member of the class a card with one word on it, e.g. “Chocolate” and then they had to describe it without saying the word itself, whilst the others had to guess what the word was. They seemed to really enjoy it and one group even asked if they could come back after the break to continue the game. It’s nice to know that I have found a fun way to help them to English.
All in all a successful first three weeks of teaching. Here’s hoping it continues this way !