Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Teacher, why is the mens walking if they can drive a car faster instead?"

It's now been two months since I began teaching English in Cartagena at Centro Colombo Americano. The first month I just observed classes, and the second I taught full time. I teach three regular classes plus Speaking Corner, which is an informal class where students come to practice their speaking.

Teaching is not easy. I'd had plenty of tutoring and informal teaching experience before, but I'd never taught full-time before coming here. It looks simple when you observe someone who knows what she's doing - the class moves smoothly and everyone looks engaged. At the end of the month, everyone passes with flying colors. Simple, right? Things get tricky pretty quickly though, when you don't know the right questions to ask to elicit student participation, you explain too much and end up lecturing, you don't come up with good examples that demonstrate grammar nuances, or, of course, if you just don't have the energy.

I never thought before how accountable teachers were for their work. If a student loses interest, you immediately see. If a student doesn't understand, the test or quiz will demonstrate that quite clearly. And if students don't like you...well...they can certainly say so on the teacher evaluation. I am not a person who can sit comfortably in front of a computer all day and stay far removed from her work. I need to be engaged; need to see the fruits of my labor right in front of me. I want results. Luckily, teaching is perfectly conducive to that. It is not always easy, but I love the challenge.

Last week I was nervous. My students had their final exams, and I wanted them to do well. Two of my classes were fantastic, but the third one was full of students with terrible attendance and bad attitudes. They didn't participate, and it was hard not to take something like that personally. I always wondered if there were something I could be doing better. Luckily every one of my students passed, even if some just scraped by. My greatest victory was a student who failed his oral exam, but I worked with him to understand the grammar, and he aced the written part. He was shaking when I told him he could move on to the next level, and he gave me a giant hug.

Despite some minor pitfalls, last month was full of highlights, and I'm excited for more. I had several students tell me they loved me at the end of class. One student told me I was the best teacher he'd ever had. This month I'm teaching one of the groups of students I observed my first month here. They got to know me because I taught a few lessons for their main teacher. When I walked into the classroom yesterday, they all shouted, "Leah! Yaaaaay!" It was indeed a very warm welcome. I may have a few Calvins again this month, but hopefully I'll be better prepared. May the Susies triumph once again.