He cares. Suffice to say he really cares. After apologizing to Van that the lesson had not been planned well and so Teacher Chloe cancelled it, we tried again.
We were teaching the prepositions lesson. I was convinced that it would be a successful lesson. On Saturday at 7:30am we began. The students murmured as the trainee spoke the opening lines to the class. Why he wasn’t sitting down was confusing to me. I wanted the atmosphere to be one of story-telling and fairytale. I knew that the kids would not understand many of the words, but wanted them to be swept up in the voice and rhythm of the overall telling. Instead I got missing verbs, repetition of key phrases and standing over the students not in the community ambiance that I had hoped for.
We tried the plan, but the students were unable to complete phase 2, so we elected instead to take them on the walking portion of our lesson plan. With 20 students this proved to be quite an undertaking. They were however, engaged and as long as the students are engaged I am happy to put up with some background fuzziness.
We, or rather, he, my trainee summoned the grade 9 pupils back on the Sunday after the first preposition lesson. He felt that they had not really got it and needed more exposure. He felt that Tuesday was too far into the future for them to remember and associate the new vocabulary. It turns out that like most foreign learners of English, Myanmar people have trouble distinguishing between the present simple tense and the present continuous. Surprisingly enough to my mind, learners actually seem to struggle more with the concept behind the simple tense. The continuous they seem to understand as that which is happening now, but they are confused about when we might choose to use the present simple. Short of saying “any other time!” I have never evolved one simple foolproof method of instruction for this. I have come to accept that it is simply time and exposure that cement the usage into the brains of learners.
On Sunday, we were scheduled to have a speaking class with the volunteer teachers. Four groups, 45 minutes each of sitting and looking at each other. Just my idea of a good productive Sunday morning. I jest. But, knowing the level of the volunteer teachers, I thought that it would be much better to put them to use as TAs in the Sunday morning class. Something I really want to encourage in the teachers here is a sense of talking to each other about any problems they might have, or even just sharing ideas on how best to teach a tricky topic.
We have gotten to the stage now where my trainee only sees the negative in any lesson he teaches. Never having taught in this style before, he does not have a reserve of information and activities to fall back on. He has admitted to finding it harder over the past week to being able to visualize the classes that we are planning.
I for one have been averaging 18 hours of sleep per day and wishing for more. I have some run-down lurgy which has resulted in a constant headache, swollen glands and vomiting. As of now, there is only pain and swelling in the right side of my throat and head. Either I am improving or the super bug has decided to launch a stylized attack, taking down each of my defenses separately instead of wasting manpower to spread to all fronts. My trainee's mother has kindly boiled potatoes for me to make me feel more at home, despite insisting that they don’t taste good. As is always the way when one is sick, especially with something which affects the throat, eating has slipped down the priority list for me as it hurts. It is sweltering here most days anyway and there isn’t a surplus of drinking water so there is that to contend with as well. I am starting to see why we lost the Empire; we became weak and susceptible to lurgies which made short work of us in these tropical climates.
Now, our grade 9 Sunday class. It didn’t really go well. It didn’t go badly either. It floated. The students got bored. The trainee spent 10 minutes writing on the blackboard, only to erase it all and spend another 5 minutes writing it back up. During this 15 minutes the students were bored with no focus. The improvement they have made in their overall demeanor is amazing. I firmly believe that we are doing them the world of good and that this curriculum will forever been scorched into their heads as the stand out grade where they did and they remembered through doing. However, like any students if they are not occupied they get bored. Why might they be bored and unoccupied? Well, we had a collection of activities but we did not have a plan. My student awoke at 3 am this morning after sleeping at 9 pm. He slept through his 11pm alarm and thus forced himself awake at 3 am. I have serious reservations about the effects of this on his circadian cycles and wish that he would adopt a more usual sleeping pattern if only for my benefit. I cannot force my will on him though, so we must deal with our circumstances.
It turns out that a mere sketch of activities does not work for a trainee. For myself it would be OK; I have enough experience to fall back on. He does not. But, he can now see when the students are bored and he really cares. He wants to make each lesson better and keep repeating the lesson until it is textbook perfect. I think at this point, I am not able to state that the training has been a success in terms of ability but in terms of perspective, we are there. The trainee understands and can fully see the benefits of planning, even if he doesn’t always choose to avail himself of those benefits. He also confirmed to me today that the monk is starting to come round to the positive need for planning. I think it had something to do with the waking up at 3 am…
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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