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. 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 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.
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 Director of Studies and Teacher Trainer
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