Lessons from Teaching 2

I’m now into my third week of teaching. Simple sentence, loaded meaning.

Today (apart from a bird crapping on me – people say it’s good luck but it’s happened to me twice here. First time a woman punched me in the head the same day and today…well, read on) was a hard day for me.

After lunch break, I’m sitting in class wondering, “Where the hell are my students?” Normally they have Arabic at this point, but we’ve switched up the schedule (which happens every weeks, sometimes two or three times a week, much to my confusion) so that I have all my regular sessions plus half the Arabic sessions in preparation for the students’ quarter exams next week. In any case, Ms. May (Grade 4 teacher and elementary department head) asks where my class is, I respond I don’t know, we find them downstairs telling us Dr. Laura (the principal) asked to meet with all of them. I’m thinking, “What the what did my class do?” Then Dr. Laura says I’m a part of the meeting as well. Oh shit. 

Apparently, my students have been complaining about me. All of them. That they can’t understand what I’m teaching, they don’t know what is going on, etc etc. Dr. Laura (bless her) told them that I am not Ms. Asmaa (their previous teacher), I will not teach like Ms. Asmaa, and that they need to get used to it. Dr. Laura then asked them to voice their concerns over specific things they are not understanding in class. Which they told me, and part of it is I very much need to grade my language, the same issue I had during the CELTA. Dr. Laura then told me, with the class still in the room, that they can’t understand things very quickly so I have to repeat things constantly and I shouldn’t try to be creative in my teaching (read: give individual work or group work too often…super creative?) because Egyptian students simply can’t cope with that. Part of me thought, “Well thank you for the advice, it will help me as I move forward.” The other part thought, You just called the kids stupid to a certain degree to their faces. Damn.

Anyway, so we go back to class. I tell the students we can review anything they want and feel they don’t understand. We start to go over English. They start talking and not paying attention. Which is the point where I sit down, say “You say you don’t understand. No wonder, because you don’t listen. Why should I waste my breath when you aren’t even interested in learning? Enjoy failing your quarter exams.” Then I just stopped talking. Everyone got upset with me (well then stop being disrespectful and listen). I started teaching again. Then they started talking again. So I just sat down for the rest of class. Didn’t teach. Told them I am giving them the opportunity to understand. They aren’t taking it. At this point, not my fault. The ones who were listening kept asking, “Why are you punishing us for others’ behavior?” I told them I’m here to teach a class, not tutor individuals.

In other words, a difficult day.

So in round two of lessons from teaching, here is what I have learned:
1. Slow down. Grade your language. Take responsibility for your students’ understanding.
2. But only until a certain point. Hold them responsible too.
3. Don’t reach for the stars, at least not in Egypt.

But I am going to try and remain positive. I have to, because self-pity gets me nowhere and is just incredibly draining.

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