On Teaching

Tomorrow will be the first time I take more than three “pupils” at a time. Theoretically the teachers are expecting me to have a lesson plan. I guess, practically, I shouldhave one, or at least an outline. But they haven’t told me anything in particular relating to the language that they want me to teach—specific vocabulary or grammatical rules. So far the most specific guideline I’ve gotten is, “Why don’t you do something about Washington, D.C.?” –“OK, I will.” …or will I? Again they stressed how important it is that everyone talk. The best way to practice speaking is to converse. Unfortunately the group will be too big for us to have a single conversation that I can oversee.

Market Day in Coulommiers

Another problem I’ve noticed is that some people are so eager to practice their English that they prevent others from participating. But this has always been a problem, and has even been known to happen in college-level discussion classes. Some of the most beneficial conversations I had for practicing and improving my French occurred at the French House, so perhaps what is needed is an atmosphere that doesn’t feel like class—a low-pressure environment where people can feel comfortable practicing.

They’ve been told that they only get to have class with me if they behave, so that should hopefully motivate them to participate productively. I’ve seen how class operates for them normally and if I were one of them and was presented with a way to escape the normal class atmosphere I definitely would. When you don’t learn anything because the teacher is constantly telling kids to be quiet it has to be frustrating. I’ve also noticed that some teachers seem to pick kids to pick on; kids who don’t seem to be doing anything worse than other kids are singled out and shamed or chastised. It could be that I haven’t seen a complete picture of the classroom dynamic and that these particular kids do have behavioral issues and that they should be chastised, but for the moment it seems arbitrary which kid is chastised, since most of them can’t pay attention all day long and just need to burn some steam. It isn’t that those who are disciplined are any worse than the others, but seeing the look on their faces after being reprimanded sure makes me think that they are being made to feel worse.

When classes are conducted in this way, which seems to be pretty similar to how I remember American public school as well, it seems like there is minimal chance for positive growth; school seems more like a place to keep children occupied during the day than a place to really teach them. I don’t want to say that they don’t learn; I just want to make the point that when you have to deal with so many kids, you lose a certain element of flexibility, adaptability, and personalization that would really permit children to learn in their own best ways and to their own full potentials.


4 thoughts on “On Teaching

  1. Patrick says:

    Down with classrooms! Down with school! Vive la revolution!

  2. Krogers says:

    Ahhh! I can’t wait for your next post-how did teaching go?????????

    P.S. Can you teach me French when you come back?? I should stop being such an ignorant American, your worldliness is inspirational!

  3. Cody says:

    That’s awesome that you have some autonomy in setting objectives and leading classes. You ought to teach in a manner that your own intuition finds best.

    No more spider pictures, please?

  4. Beth Saboe says:

    Maybe you can try (at some point) allowing them to Skype with UVA students (French House maybe?) But Skyping from the classroom may be fraught with connection problems…maybe try it yourself in their absence. You could plan in advance to control how much time is used from your end. So no one student hogs the convo.

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