Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Summer's Cool or Summer School

My TEFL career (if it can be called that) started 13 years ago in Cambridge on one of the hundreds of summer school programmes that run each year in the UK. I taught (if you can call it that) on a residential summer school programme for the school that had trained me on my CELTA course. My summer school motto became “what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger”. Now, don’t get me wrong I love summer school. I love the atmosphere, the kids, being back in the UK for the summer and meeting other teachers from all over the world but it’s not for the weak or easily scared.

Summer is here which means that many teachers are three weeks or so into their summer holidays but many teachers are three weeks into summer school and to them I say “If you can survive summer school everything else is like a walk in the park”. Imagine 15 teaching hours a week along with breakfast duty, lunch duty, afternoon activities, evening activities, weekend excursions, bed time duty and lights out. Oh I forgot lesson planning! All in a days’ work for a residential summer school teacher. I once had a starter pack that actually said we don’t like whingers! There are loads of great posts over at The TEFL Tradesman about Summer school  slavery. There is one that outlines some interesting legal points about your rights as a summer school teacher which had me in fits of laughter. If I had been paid what I should have been paid I would be RICH! I could have retired years ago.

Summer school is physically and mentally quite hard work but it's also great fun. You really get to know the kids you teach. You get to spend time with them outside of the classroom. You get to do all sorts of fun things with them from rollerblading to dancing at the weekly school disco. I love this part of summer school and to be honest many other things. It may not be the best way to learn English but it is a great experience for the children. It's a privilidge and I for one have spent many a summer working like a dog but have reaped the rewards!

So to all of those who are teaching at summer school , to those of us who are teaching with a reduced timetable and to those lucky teachers who have paid holidays I say ENJOY!

Monday, 12 July 2010

The New One to One

Sitting in the staffroom around springtime after another difficult day at the mill, I overheard some of the teachers talking about laptops and students. This got my interest and without further ado they told me about a new project. Both of the primary schools I work in are taking part in a programme called Escuela 2.0 which means that all of the children in the 5th year will be given a laptop to use for the school year.

Now, I have to admit that my initial reaction was disbelief then laughter perhaps they’d caught me on one of those days because I thought it was possibly the biggest laugh of the school year. Imagine the situation; I work in two very different centres. One is a quiet rural school where many of the children’s’ parents are unemployed; the teacher is over 60 (and let’s says not the most up-to-date). The other school well it’s the kind of school where the children often turn up to school without bringing a pencil to class and some of their parents still haven’t bought the required books by the third term.

Okay I’m not particularly proud of my reaction but there’s no point saying that I jumped and shouted hallelujah what a brilliant idea. My initial reaction was followed by the following thoughts:

• Surely the money could be better spent on basic things like more tables and chairs or resources such as books.
• How on earth are you going to teach with a class of 25 kids stuck with their heads stuck in a laptop?
• Who on earth is going to teach them in this new way?
• Who on earth is going to train the teachers in these new techniques?
• How on earth are we going to trust these kids to take home a laptop and make sure they bring it back the next day in tact?
• Apart from the ‘novelty’ factor why on earth would anyone think that they were going to learn more effectively stuck in front of a screen and not interacting with their classmates?

The list went on and on I found myself taking part in staffroom discussions about the senselessness of those in charge with their crazy ideas.

Then one day something happened that started to change my mind. I came to school (the quiet rural one) and the children were all excited. At the door to the English classroom they stop and ask each other how they are. It’s not the typical “How are you?” with the “I’m fine thank you” response. The teacher this year has taught them all sorts of creative variants like “I’m tired” “I’m thirsty” and “I’m very hot”. As they filed in they were all happy, or very happy or very, very happy.

As the last student went in, I asked her why she was very, very happy and she told me that their new computers had arrived. Okay one point to the laptops. The second thing that made me think was towards the end of June I walked past one of the classes and there were rows of kids tapping away at their laptops. You should have seen their faces they were working on different subjects and they were definitely “on task”. There was no doodling, staring out of the window or playing with their water bottles.

These laptops were a definite pull. The term finished in June and so their new laptops have been un-packed and used but only superficially. Now I have to say that although my initial reaction was less than positive, I’m looking forward to seeing how these laptops are going to be utilized to help enhance our children 's learning and I’m looking forward to thinking of ways that we can use them in our English lessons.

Anyone else in the same situation? Any thoughts and ideas?

Friday, 9 July 2010

Multiple Me (s)

I bumped into a colleague yesterday. She asked me how my summer was going and, if I had many classes. She then asked me if I had a lot of kids. I said no. She was a bit surprised. You see, I think I’ve been pigeon-holed as someone who teaches kids. Now, it may be true that the majority of my time is taken up with primary age students, but I also teach secondary school children, adults and my teaching peers. I’m not ‘just’ a teacher of young learners. I have, what I’ve termed ‘multiple me(s)’

Let me try and explain. The ‘me’ that teaches infants, the one that sings and jumps around the class like an elephant, is not the ‘me’ that teaches business English. The ‘me’ that is hip and cool teaching teens, is not the ‘me’ that leads teacher training workshops. My approach changes with the students in front of me.

I sometimes find that I’m displaying multiple mannerisms, attitudes and beliefs in my teaching, TEFL is a roller coaster ride which fortunately finds us teaching all sorts of people and all sorts of English.That’s one of the things that I love about it!

Long live variety, it is as they say The Spice of Life.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Former Students

This year has been my year to bump into former students. I live on an island so we’re kind of trapped but weeks, even months can go by where I don’t bump into former students. This year I’ve bumped into quite a few of them in shops, schools and in the street. It’s been a strange experience. Strange because it brings mixed emotions. It’s lovely to see my former students again and even better when they recognize and remember you but it's making me feel old.

I felt awash with a warm buzzing feeling of happiness knowing that they remembered me (well most of them) and that some of them were still studying English and doing well. It was amazing to see them all grown up or on their way. 

I started to think about the influence we have on our students. I may have only taught them for two hours a week but how did they remember me? Did they remember me fondly? Did they feel good when they thought back to English lessons with me? And why didn’t they remember me? 

This isn’t an exercise in ego. It made me think back to my schools days, my university days, my CELTA days and my Dip days. I started to think of my old teachers. The ones I remember fondly are the ones that were kind to me and made me feel good. I’ve had many great teachers, teachers who undoubtedly knew their stuff but, the ones that I remember most are the ones that made me feel good. I want to be one of those, I hope I am but I’m going to make sure that when I’m tired, stressed and feeling generally like crap that I remember this:

Fantastically planned lessons, wonderfully appropriate content, amazing technology tools, great course books and great results all seem to fade in comparison to how you make your students feel.

"They may forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel." - Not sure who said this but David Warr says Maya Angelou!