Saturday, June 11, 2005

running through stinging nettle

With the willpower of a Native American who can endure an hour of sitting on top of a hill of fire ants, I resisted the urge to bend down and scratch off the top layer of skin on my foot. I was running late this morning. In order to catch the 9:04 bus in time I would have to run through the short cut. Forgetting that my feet were clad in mere flip-flops I ran the gauntlet through the path in the woods bordered on each side with stinging nettle ... or “sting weed” as we called it when I was young. Having rained the night before the weeds were bent over in the path, thus allowing their poisonous venom to seep into my skin. But with a clenched jaw I endured the irritations and repeated over and over again, “Mind over matter ... Mind over matter.”

So, classes are great. Each morning we have four and a half hours of training and the afternoons are devoted to actual teaching. This week I’ve been team teaching an elementary level course (just after beginner and just before pre-intermediate). Occasionally one of the trainers will pop in, take notes, and then critique your lesson. Both Terry and Paul are marvelous teachers. They make learning so much fun. And when they critique, one actually leaves feeling pretty good about oneself. But maybe that isn’t such a great thing afterall.

Today Lucie, a teacher’s teacher in training, sat in on our lessons. When it came to my portion of the lesson I had to think on my feet. The girl before me had ended her lesson much earlier than she was supposed to. Thus I didn’t have time during the usual break to go downstairs and grab my audio disk from the resource library. Thinking on my feet, I determined that my students would have to suffer through listening to the lovely voice of their teacher rather than narrator on the audio disk.

Plus, I completely threw out the warmer activity since the teacher before me had done something almost identical. Instead of playing pictionary using occupations as the terms, I turned on some music and sat down and asked them what kind of music they liked. It was just a normal, lighthearted conversation. Did they listen to music on the metro when they were going to work or school? What time do you leave for school in the morning? What time did they usually get home in the evening? ... This all led into my story about the man with 13 jobs who lived on a tiny island off the coast of Scotland, population 120. The article was all about his daily schedule. The students thought that they were just chilling out with their teacher, and then all of a sudden they realized that it was actually part of the lesson. Pretty sneaky, huh?

I even changed the production activity from the original idea in my lesson plan. On the spur of the moment I decided to shake things up a bit and placed my student in pairs and had them fill out a daily timetable for their partner, instead of doing one on their own. This made them have to practice asking questions like, “What do you do at 8 in the morning?” And answering, “I make breakfast at 8 in the morning.” I thought it was pretty ingenious if you ask me.

After the lessons Lucie really laid out in detail each thing we were doing wrong ... in detail. I could tell the other two girls I was teaching with were not accustomed to such criticism. I, on the other hand, was yearning for a tough hand. I knew that there was plenty that I could have improved upon, I just needed someone to point it out to me. Lucie was exactly what I needed.

Afterwards she and I sat around and talked a bit. According to her, there is a need for English teachers in New Zealand ... what do you say we all get our TEFL certificates and head to New Zealand and teach English?! I’m not joking ... let’s do it.

Careful to avoid the sting weed on the way home, I thought about future lessons. Hmm, how can I use the Phantom of the Opera in a lesson? I’ll figure out a way ... maybe with my private student, Hana. She just went to see an opera this Wednesday at the State Opera House.

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