Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sometimes It Is the Little Things That Can Be So Big

Last week I began my student teaching.  I was to teach two sets of pre-kindergarten kids 20 minutes each.  What could be easier?  Well, probably doing my old job, for one.  Pre-kindi means two and three year-olds, about 16 in each class.  My theme was transportation; cars, trucks, buses, and so on.  My teacher supplied me with flashcards and toys and I was to make up my own plan.  I was going to show the kids each card and read the name and have them repeat the word.  I had a game planned out and was ready. 

I arrived and was told I was on.  I entered a room of 16 tiny kids in orange aprons.  Thailand loves putting kids in uniforms.  There were two young ladies in the room to be my helpers and translators but I was assuming they probably didn't know much English either.  That was a correct assumption.  I had planned to take about ten minutes to go through the cards and I lost track of time.  My first mistake.  Always keep track of your time.  I suspect I was done in two minutes.  I tried a few things with them and some ideas worked and others failed.  I started talking.  My second mistake.  When teaching a foreign language talking is a bit like having the dog bark.  You are making noise and little else. 

The first group was far more receptive than the second.  I managed to get the first to play games with guessing the vehicles and matching them to cards, and then acting like the vehicle.  The second group needed lunch and a nap.  Two were crying, three kept running up to wrap their arms around my legs while the others struggled to figure out what this old man was even doing there. 

Fortunately I did come armed with a song.  If at first you don't succeed, have them do "Heads and Shoulders, Knees and Toes."  That was a hit.

After class, my teacher who was observing me pointed out my errors I mentioned.  He also said I need to slow down.  If I show a card and get no response, do not move on.  Keep them on it until I get them to say the word.  I was completely deflated.

When you teach a room of American adults, as I have done, you can get a clue whether or not they get it.  I had no idea about these kids. 

Next I got to work with a group of 5 pre-teen girls.  Right now is their summer vacation so most kids are out playing and doing whatever an 11 year-old girl does in Chiang Mai.  These kids actually asked to be taught more English.  We volunteered for different times and were told to teach them anything.  I decided to teach them how to take directions.  My plan was to start by drawing a map of downtown Chiang Mai on the board and then showing them where they were in relation to it.  The center of town is a moat that forms a square around the inner old town with the rest of town outside.  The class is on the outside of the moat near a big market.  I was ready to get them to increase their gray matter.

I soon discovered they didn't know what a moat was, my picture confused them and I had to teach vocabulary that I had assumed they knew.  That reminded of the old saying, when you Assume you make an Ass out of U and Me.  I had my vocabulary words on the board and then had to add more and more.  I simplified my talk by having them give directions to me and others to get from one point of the class to another.  I had to teach them left, right, stop, go, and so on.  My own ignorance of the group got me flustered and I started to talk more. 

The teacher said after that when I am in my own work world, I can often talk my way out of a situation, but the more I spoke to the girls, the less they understood.  He gave me suggestions for my next opportunity to teach and then he got me to agree to teach again the next day.  I had visions of Darth Vader saying, "You have failed me for the last time."

I spent all night planning what I was going to do.  I thought about just trashing my plan but instead decided I was going to just improve.  The teacher said I should have brought some real maps, another word they didn't know, so I could show them.  I actually had fake maps and showed him and those were to remain in my plan.  I tossed and turned all night thinking of how to do a better job, waking often with this idea or that.  Finally morning arrived.  I showed Nee what I planned to do and she suggested I do it in a different order.  Start with the vocabulary on the board and have them read each word.  My maps had the same words such as post office and library.  I found out what we call the Moat they call the Klaang.  As a precaution, I also got her to give me the names in Thai in case they didn't know.  I also learned out the say, "repeat after me" and "speak louder."  I will not fail, I kept telling myself.

I started them with the same game I had played with them yesterday which was a hit.  I looked the ringleader in the eyes and quietly said, "Poot dtam pom" or "repeat after me."  She blinked, repeated what I said and told the other girls.  We played the game, I got them giggling and sat them down.  Next I went over my list.  They could read the words and knew every word.  My heart began to beat just a bit more comfortably.  Next I showed them a real map of Chiang Mai and their eyes showed pure terror.  I took it away and had them review left, right, forward, etc.  I broke out my fake maps.  I explained about streets and avenues and showed them how to walk from one point to another.  I took out some toy animals.  They jumped out of their chairs to grab them.  Finally, I was seeing a light go on in their faces.

We tried to walk a critter from point A to point B and they still didn't get it.  I took a map and put it on the floor and said, "I am walking on this street.  What direction am I going?  How should I turn to get to the library?"  The answers started coming in like wildfire.  They got it.  I had them work in teams and gave them fake restaurants with map points noted on them, such as an Italian place across the street from the library.  I helped them and they were showing some excitement.  My heart had calmed down and I stopped sweating. 

To conclude, I brought back the real map and showed them how to read it.  A couple of the girls got it and showed the others.  They went home thanking me, "Thank you, teacher," and I went back to my teacher.  He said I had improved 100%.  I told him I was thinking I was out of my mind to teach until he told me that.  He gave me a few pointers but mostly I did well.  Damn.  I think I can do this.

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