Thursday, August 23, 2007

The word 'pedagogy' gives me the whimwhams

It's all starting to make sense. The thought of being a teacher has always been slightly comforting to me, and yet another darker thought always accompanys it. Scenario in Tamar's brain whilst contemplating teaching: Oh yeah, I forgot how much I wanted to be teacher. A truly meaningful job, summers off, you can't be a teacher, you'd never be able to stand in front of a class with 30 people staring at you for 8 hours! Or: I wonder why I never became a teacher? Everyone that I meet who is a teacher seems like a genuinely good person, I can't think of a job that effects so many lives in a positive way, what if I'm strict and rigid and treat my students like they're in boot camp and they all hate me?
I've looked for inspiration as an observer in different classrooms over the years, only to leave with more doubts. The whole experience just reminded me of how incredibly boring public school can really be. But not one to give up without a good fight, I'm back to exploring the field again. I took a Literacy Volunteer training class. Three full days of instruction on how to work with adult students. There's something about learning how to teach that makes me want to poke my eye out. It feels overwhelmingly stressful, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it has to do with teaching a language. I've experienced learning a new language in Israel. It was a language/cultural immersion program called an Ulpan that was taught for 5 hours a day, six days a week. I was a terrible student. My teacher Henya would often throw the eraser at me to get me to stop talking in class. I just couldn't stay focused for so many hours. Those ridiculous drills they give you with dated dialogues were a distraction. I did end up becoming fluent later though, when I moved into an apartment with a bunch of Israeli girls. I don't know if it was the Hebrew that I absorbed from my ulpan experience, or the fact that the language I used in this environment was immediate and relevant.. One thing the Literacy Volunteer material stressed. So back to my LV student. I called him, set up an appointment for our first meeting/lesson, and set out to design a two hour lesson that would hold his interest and not have me throwing teaching material at him. I realised in a short time, one big factor in my previous negative experiences on the road to becoming a teacher: Don't wait until the last minute to prepare. There was a 200 page book I was suppossed to have read in preparation for working with ESL students. I waited until the day before my lesson to do this. Halfway through the book, I decided to just use what I already know, and put together a really interesting lesson plan, as it was too late to absorb everything from the book. I looked at my refrigerator. I have an interesting collage of articles and photos that I've collected over the years. One of my favorites is this news story about a woman in Pennsylvania who was walking to the store, and on the way there, was attacked by some man. He stabbed her, and ended up running away, leaving his knife in her back. Apparently, the back doesn't have very deciphering nerves, and she thought she was merely punched. So she continued walking to the store with the knife in her back. She bought a newspaper and a box of Oreos (one of my favorite cookies), and walked home. Later when the police were reviewing the surveillance tape, they saw five people pass right by her, oblivious to the knife in her back. OK, it's a maccabre story, but still very interesting, I thought. So I brought it to class to help Jose, my student, improve his English skills. Now our meeting spot for the lesson was a friend of mine's office building breakroom. She works with a bunch of engineers, and apparently they really love coffee. Everytime Jose would ask me a question about the stabbing, one of the engineers came in to refill his coffee cup. I remember Jose having a hard time pronouncing the two consonants 'bd' together, and he was saying the word like it had two syllables: 'stab-bed'. I had him repeat it several times quickly to get that one syllabled sound. In walked the same engineer that passed through five minutes earlier. I started wondering if maybe I should have picked a different article? Anyway, I loved my student, he was so motivated to learn, and truly appreciative of my time. Luckily for me, he shares my strange taste in reading materials. Not sure how 'relevant and immediate' crime articles are, but I believe if it's interesting, and the student's understanding is improving, then the lesson succeeded.

7 comments:

Mike said...

Wow, Tamar. Are you giving serious thought to becoming a teacher? It could be a real good outlet for your creativity and I'll bet you would enjoy being at the center of things. I've done some teaching and it's been mostly good experiences. Scary, overwhelming, fun. Regards, Mike

tamar said...

mike~ Hi! I'm trying not to think about teaching too seriously, cause then I'll abort the idea totally.. I do think it could be a great, satisfyiing job though.. Where did you teach and what ages?

Just_because_today said...

so what happened to the woman in the article who has stab-bed?
So while you were distracting class by continuously talking, what language were you speaking? I'm sure they didn't mind being distracted. Afterall, I can't think of many things more boring than learning a language. I always felt very incompetent in those classrooms...gee, come to think of it, that is a very familiar feeling to me...

tamar said...

just because~ I was speaking English! The stabbed woman was fine.. Insisted on enjoying a few oreos w coffee before going to the emergency room.. Yeah, languages are fascinating, but acually learning them is not.. Remind me to tell you a new method of learning multiple languages fluently..Seems to have worked great for a friend..

Mike said...

Hey, Tamar. I student taught high school American History near my college on Long Island. I did some high school equivalency work when I spent a year in Kentucky with an anti poverty agency and, most recently, I taught therapists in training at the institute where I did my own training. Very different locations, very different students, but all with their own rewards and difficulties. Any more non serious thought about it?? Regards, Mike

Anonymous said...

Tamar: It seems like you helped Jose with his English skills. It's unclear whether you were doing reading, verbal or both. Working one on one with someone can be a good way to instruct and you can see results quickly. Intersted to hear if you will continue to meet with him.

I also drink a lot of coffee (milk, no sugar) so I would fit in well at the engineering office where you had your class.

Kevin

tamar said...

mike~ I need to do what you did, get a taste for all different ages and types of students.. As I progress with this teaching thing, I'm discovering that it's very tedious, eventhough it has it's satisfying moments.. Of course, this was only my 3rd lesson..

kevin~ I try to mix up the lesson, since it's 2 hours.. Lots of reading analysis, some practice speaking, and then I try to avoid the written stuff, and so does my student.. That's probably what we need to work on..
So milk no sugar? I like it w cream and sugar.. Yes, you'd fit right in at that firm :-)