Wednesday, October 10, 2007

First Day of Class

I finally began earning my keep today by teaching my first two classes. The experience was exhilarating, challenging, a bit exasperating, exhausting, and unexpectedly rewarding.

I had been given a textbook to use that contains conversations for the students to read aloud, taking the parts of characters; group work and role play exercises; and springboards for discussions. I was also encouraged to fell free to have open conversations and to talk to the class to allow them to hear spoken English. Frankly, I didn't get a lot of guidance in how to conduct the classes, so I took that to mean I could feel free to be informal and take whatever approach seemed to work to get the students engaged.

The first class contained about 30 students. I'd been warned that their ability levels would range from minimal to relatively advanced, but I was happy to learn that nearly all of them were more proficient than I'd expected, making my job much easier. But it was their eagerness and their delight at being taught English by a real foreigner—mixed with a bit of evident apprehension—that I found most rewarding. Even during the 10-minute break in the middle of the session, about half the students came up to the podium to ask me questions and take the opportunity to talk more (it's a good thing that I didn't feel I needed to take a break myself).

The second class is called English Phonetics (all my others are labeled Oral English), and it only has six students, obviously allowing for much more interaction and an even more informal approach. Unfortunately, when I got to the classroom I found that the students weren't using the textbook I was given, or any other textbook; the only materials they had were audiotapes, which I wasn't privy to. Before the next session (all the classes are held once a week) I plan to choose some selections from the text or find others in the library and have them photocopied for classroom reading. But today all I could do was improvise and, after telling them a bit about myself, ask them to introduce themselves, talk about their hometowns, and tell a bit about why they chose to study English.

The small class size gave me a welcome opportunity to get to know these students a bit better, a process that was helped after the break when one of the students suggested that instead of me standing at the lectern and them sitting at their desks, we arrange the chairs in a circle and chat more casually (so much for any stab at formality).

All the students have adopted English names, which makes life much easier for me. One has been called Rocket since he was a youngster; he explained that he had a pet turtle by that name, and when a friend of his stole the turtle, somehow his family transferred the name to him. He's taken the opportunity of going away to college to assume a new English name, Ben. Another student's English name is Wood. Not Woody; Wood. I asked him how he came up with that, and he said his girlfriend gave it to him. I didn't inquire further.

Ling had warned me to speak very slowly to make sure I was understood; but during the break, Stephanie—the class monitor and the only sophomore (the others are freshmen) asked me if I could speak less slowly, and everyone agreed with her. I guess my dumbed-down drawl was as annoying to them as it had been to me.

The first half of the second class was observed by an older woman—I'm guessing from the Foreign Language department—who never said anything to me but simply sat in the back of the room; she left after the break. Other than that I've been totally unsupervised and unmonitored, so I have idea how I'm doing (for that matter, I have no idea how the students are supposed to be graded or otherwise evaluated). But the students seemed to understand me and respond appropriately, so I guess I'm holding my own.

I found conducting two 90-minute classes back-to-back to be exhausting—especially with the tension from not really knowing what I was going to be getting myself into—so I'm feeling pretty wiped out now. I'll relax this afternoon before finishing my preparations for the lecture on American education I'm giving tomorrow.

1 comment:

Arthur Plotnik said...

How do you manage to blog after those psychically and physically exhausting classes? The lack of structure and coordination seems stressful, but you seem to be toughing it out. Good work! The narrative and photos really bring it homed. Land of contrasts, indeed!
--Art Plotnik, Chicago