After our very successful grade 8 lesson, I was happy that we could leave the village to collect supplies safe in the knowledge that all was going as planned. However, one lesson does not make a curriculum.
I was feeling a touch under the weather and in a valiant attempt to be gallant, our young teacher strongly suggested that I rest and not adapt the lesson plans. I had written all of the lessons one after the other before I had left for Christmas. It is a fact in teaching that after each lesson the next must be adapted based on how far you've got in the previous lesson. The old adage 'teach the students not the plan' is one which holds true. Despite the fact that when a local volunteer teacher asked me if I thought lesson plans were important and me answering yes unequivocally I also understand the need for flexibility within the plan. I do not generally plan many lessons in advance because I need the overall context to be strong and to flow from lesson to lesson in an organic way. That way the students absorb the language through association and find that they can use it in more than one context.
I was assured by our protege that he would teach comparative and superlative adjectives as per my lesson plan the next day. At this I suggested that I should look over the plan with him and just check what I’d written as it had been about a month since I had last read it and I would never enter a classroom with a month old plan which I had not re-read. He said that this wasn’t necessary though and in the interests of fostering autonomy I reluctantly agreed to leave the plan alone, worrying myself into a fitful sleep that the lesson without checking would be a disaster.
The next morning, I enquired if there were any questions or anything which he felt was unclear in the plan; writing a schedule for someone else is actually a very hard thing to do as implicitly there is so much that you yourself understand about what you write and how you write that just isn’t transparent to someone else, especially someone who is reading the plan in a second language and doesn’t have much teaching experience. Assuring me that everything would be fine, we made our way to the library to begin the lesson.
It was during the engage section that I made my first terrifying discovery; our trainee teacher was planning illiterate. He just glossed over huge sections of the plan because he couldn’t read and process. I knew that he was an audio-kinesthetic learner who didn’t like reading, but I assumed that his reading was proficient even if he didn’t enjoy it. Instead I witnessed the panicked face of someone for whom the words aren’t going in no matter how hard you read the words on the page. I have experienced this phenomena when I am really tired or very stressed. When put under a huge amount of pressure my mind blanks and I find that I am unable to read or even perform the simplest of tasks. This was what I was seeing in front of me. The reason for the catastrophic breakdown in teaching was a lack of planning on the previous evening. Instead of gently building in our previous working Target Language and integrating it into the new Target Language we had blundered forward, contextless and afraid. While I wanted to fix the error, I also knew that reaching rock bottom would be good for our novice who needed to learn the sheer importance of planning.
Over our week in the village, he had had a breakthrough for feedback. He had become eager for feedback because he saw the results in-class and he also had come to realize through feedback that the way he had been treating the students he claimed to care for was mis-guided and damaging to them and their development. A harrowing realization for any teacher. However, until this point I had planned all of the lessons, and despite trying to involve the local teacher, he had done little more than nod agreement and wait for my live feedback during class time. I needed to impress upon him the dire need to plan each lesson in accordance with the last. Otherwise it simply wouldn’t work. I realized also that writing the plans for this student to read would not work; I plotted to record my plans and have him scribe the audio to paper. In this way, I am hoping that he will engage more with the lesson in the planning stage and be able to deliver it more successfully to the students; after all, I will not be here forever.
After an hour of dragged out pain we put a stop to it and had a stressful feedback session in which we assured the young teacher that failure only means there’s lots of room for improvement and that if he was already teaching perfectly then he wouldn’t need my guidance. He stated that he wants to do it again and better and that he sincerely hopes that we do not give up due to his lack of talent.
I do not think the trainee has a lack of talent. Far from it indeed. I actually feel that I just haven't worked out how to harness the raw talent that I can see. While he feels frustrated about a bad lesson, I feel frustration that I cannot coax out something I can see should be innately easy for him to perform. We will go forward and try new ideas until something works and we have our eureka moment.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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