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Welcome to Gyeongju English Village. We are now open for business.

I have been teaching the same tired camp, every summer and every winter, year after year after year. The next one begins Monday. I do not feel any joy at all. I feel bored. I don’t want to do another airport role play. I don’t want to make another set of restaurants with artificial ingredients making artificial food using artificial language. I don’t want to “motivate” another group of kids to love what I want them to love.

I’m stagnant. I’m stuck. And it has raised some questions for me:

What does it mean to teach “English”? What do I want to teach? and How can I instill some energy into this tired camp with its tired head teacher and tired role plays and tired target language?

I don’t really have answers to these questions, but I want to share some thoughts (and perhaps more questions).

 

What does it mean to teach “English”? is a question I had never thought of before. It seems like “teaching English” really means teaching a lot of other things. There are the ubiquitous four skills: reading, writing, speaking, listening. Even within those, what does it mean to teach one? I know what you’re asking: Didn’t Anne take a TESOL class? Did she learn anything in it? Maybe I failed to learn these things, but that isn’t the point.

I know how to teach writing skills and reading skills. I know how to teach pronunciation and grammar. I know how to teach about genres and audiences. I even know how to teach some cultural differences. But I don’t know what it means to teach “English” – especially “speaking”. And more importantly, I don’t know how to make my students learn any of these things. (In my experience, my students learn what they want to learn – through English, if I can swing it.)

 

What do I want to teach? I was having real trouble with this question until I realized it was the wrong one. The question assumes it is all about me, whereas of course it is not. I want to teach students, humans. I want to teach anyone who wants to learn. And I want to teach them what they want to learn. And if they can learn some English in the process, that’s awesome. And if what they learn is something totally unexpected, that’s awesome too. If life was perfect, if education was perfect, if people were perfect, I would have my wish.

But that is not what I have. I have a class full of kids who are grouped together based on how well they “speak English” and who are in class against their will. They have come to “improve their English ability”. They don’t know what they want to learn. They have never thought about it. They have never been asked before. But on Monday I will ask them: who are you? and what do you love?

 

How can I instill some energy into this tired camp with its tired head teacher and tired role plays and tired target language? I saved my most immediate problem for last and I still don’t have much of an answer. I need to set some goals. I need to challenge myself to read, teach, reflect and write.

This is the beginning. This is the end. Will they leave as they arrived?

This is the beginning. This is the end. Will they leave as they arrived?

 

How do you rejuvenate your classes when you get stuck in a rut, especially if there is a schedule you must follow and activities you must do? Although I have to say, I’m feeling awfully rebellious…

(Who wrote the schedule? you ask. Pardon me while I hang my head in shame. I took the lazy way. I did not fight against expectations. I am not proud of myself. I don’t know how much it can be changed now, though.)

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Comments

  • Angela Lee McIntyre  On January 5, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    Luckily for me, while teaching university, I’ve never had to follow a schedule or do certain activities, it was always up to me. I do remember though, situations where I had scheduled a series of classes that couldn’t be changed. I’d be tired of it at some point and discouraged, but not really free to change it. In a way it was good because then I had to get REALLY resourceful. What I’d do on those days was decide that “I’m going to have a really good time today.” And it always worked. It took the pressure off “how” I was “teaching” or whether it was “working” or “if it was the best choice” of how to teach that certain thing or not — it meant relaxing, seeing the humor and the joy in just being with them, and then things just seemed to happen naturally from there. xo

    • livinglearning  On January 25, 2013 at 11:29 pm

      Thanks, Angela. That’s great advice that I tried to keep in mind all through the camp. I found that when I let the kids have more input on how to accomplish the goals, especially the older kids, the class went a lot better. It was really interesting – sometimes they were really into creatively meeting the outcomes and other times they just put their heads down and left it to me.

  • eflnotes  On January 5, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    a recurring problem for tchrs! riffing off what angela above says, often bouncing off what students say/produce can be a way to ‘get out of a rut’. true this may only be for a few minutes still those minutes off-piste as it were could give some life back to the ‘tired’ approach?
    bon courage!
    ta
    mura

    • livinglearning  On January 25, 2013 at 11:35 pm

      Thanks Mura and sorry for the late reply. You are absolutely right that the students are the best resource in the classroom. Because of them, every class is different. I found that once I got started, it was not the same tired camp at all. The students really livened it up and playing off their responses to activities and lessons helped me improve it every day. Thanks!

  • mikecorea  On January 5, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    Damn.

  • Rose Bard  On January 5, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    Hi Anne, we sure don’t like to feel like that and I can relate to you in so many moments of my teaching career. Tks for writing this post. I am learning with blogging that it helps get things out of my chest or have someone to listen to and offering possibilities. I wish there was something I could say that could solve this dilemma. But as I was reading I remembered Nina Lauder a teacher trainer from Oxford who I had the pleasure to meet in 2009 at Oxford 3-day academy workshops. From all the workshops offered, none was as powerful and inspiring as from Nina for me. Although all the sessions were really great. The one about writing process was super and confirmed many of the things I was already doing in class. And that was reassuring that the changes I was making in my practice was in the right track. But not all was going that well when came to speaking and one thing I got from Nina’s session was inspiration. She worked with us DRAMA. That got me started in thinking about how I was approaching dialogues in class, but I still find it difficult to work with role plays. I rather work with conversation that are real and I tend to promote that but I also have those dialogues in the teens and children coursebooks which I have to work with. So, I use story telling instead based on the picture of the dialogue first, linking with previous stories and knowledge they have about the characters, Then, I ask students to read silently/check vocabulary and at the end listen to the dialogue CD. But that is just because I didn’t get the hang of using DRAMA in class yet. I I found EVO DRama group last year and got a bit more from it last year, but I was overwhelmed with the opportunities online for PD that I didn’t follow it through as I should have. I am eagerly waiting for EVO this year. Are you considering participating in EVO this year? Have you ever?

    Warm hugs from Brazil,
    Rosie

    • livinglearning  On January 25, 2013 at 11:39 pm

      Dear Rose,
      Thank you for your comment. I had been thinking a lot about drama and using it in class already. We do a lot of role plays, but there isn’t really much acting involved other than what the kids put into it on their own. When I read your comment I promised myself that I would introduce them more properly to drama. We played some drama games and we made costumes for the role plays. It helped them get into it more. I don’t know much about EVO, could you tell me more?

  • mikecorea  On January 5, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    I hope you will allow to expand a bit on my previous response. You ask a lot of (key) questions in your post. I hope you will also permit me to add some more questions to your list here. I am just asking the questions without any real expectation of a response.

    I am guessing it kind of sucks right now to be saddled with all the questions that you have. A bright side I might offer is that perhaps it is a sign that you are learning and developing and growing and what was fine or normal for you before simply is not fine any longer.

    You wrote that it is the same tired camp every time. I wonder what makes it so. It is new to the kids that come right? What exactly makes it tired?

    You asked, “How can I instill some energy into this tired camp with its tired head teacher and tired role plays and tired target language?” But just before that you wrote, “But on Monday I will ask them: who are you? and what do you love?” It sounds like you are already thinking of ways to change the dynamic a bit, right? You also said that you “need to challenge myself to read, teach, reflect and write.” That sounds like a good start. Also, I think Angela and Mura offer some great ideas above.

    As for the teacher’s motivation… hmm. So it seems that your heart is not 100% into this camp. Perhaps you will not be at the top of your game. Let’s say that you are at 50 or 60% (whatever that means exactly). I still think 50% of Anne is good so you will not be stealing money from the parents or time from the kids. 🙂

    You wrote, “I don’t want to “motivate” another group of kids to love what I want them to love.” I think this is a really key issue and one that I struggle with. Especially when as you say the students are there against there will. That is a tough one. Perhaps as above asking them what they want to learn will be a new and novel experience.

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here. There really is a lot to think about.

    Finally, I have more good news…I think the head teacher will look the other way if you do a bit more experimenting.

    Fighting,
    mg

    ps- I will never forget the moment during my first semester of my MA where I had to sit down in the middle of class and gather my thoughts because I was dizzy from the realization that I had no idea what I was doing or why i was doing it or how it fit into what I thought about teaching and learning.

    • livinglearning  On January 25, 2013 at 11:47 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Mike, and apologies for taking such a long time to respond. I really appreciate the reminder that it is of course not the same camp. Different classes and different students bring new things to it every time. The same was true this time and the individual personalities of the kids and the dynamics of the classes as well as the on-the-spot changes I made helped to make it more satisfying.

      Furthermore, getting to know the students as individuals was really rewarding. I was able to change activities and tailor things to their interests more. There were still plenty of times when I had to follow the curriculum but the students’ input in how they wanted to learn helped. They were full of great ideas.

      Thanks again for reading, commenting, and all your positive support.

  • itinerantteacher  On January 6, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    This is really profound Anne. The profundity, for me, can be found in your questions that open up the dialogue of your teaching, whether it is an internal dialogue or a shared one as shown by the insightful comments of your peers above.

    Awareness is a step and that is clearly what you have expressed. By sharing your awareness, in fact, you are not stagnant, you are processing thoughts in the hopes of moving forward.

    Immediacy or “staying in the moment” is another key. What has gone on before? Where are you now moments before the classes begin? What will transpire after the first day, the second and so on? Keep writing.

    Stay aware, stay in the now and the rest will be as it is.

    And what I usually tell myself is to stay hopeful. Not sure if its cliche to say it but change is the only constant and so, what changes will you make?

    I guess by sharing your current thoughts you are in the process of change as well. And that is a good thing.

    Enjoy the experience.

    Darryl

    • livinglearning  On January 25, 2013 at 11:50 pm

      Thank you Darryl. It is really helpful to read your (and others’) comments because you inevitably see things that escape me. That sounds strange since I’m the one that did the writing but I was blinding myself by my own attitude.

      I was lucky enough this camp to have coworkers who were willing to meet every night and reflect on classes and make suggestions and be honest about their days. It helped me decide what to do the next day and how to plan the next week. Writing this post got me started and the comments on it helped keep me going. Thanks!

  • Ava  On January 10, 2013 at 7:05 am

    Wow. What a great post. Its going to take me a day or two (and maybe a post of my own) to sort through my thoughts on this. Thanks for making me THINK today!

    • livinglearning  On January 25, 2013 at 11:56 pm

      Thanks for stopping by and reading it, Ava! (And sorry for such a late reply.)

  • Rose Bard  On January 27, 2013 at 1:27 am

    so wonderful Anne to read your replies and so much I learned from your post and the comments. When I’m back home I will send you the link and material for you to find out more about, but it seems things worked out just fine. I’m so happy to hear that most of all. 🙂

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