Observations and the Unknown

I kicked off my first round of teacher observations ever this week with just one, and it seriously blew me away.

Grammar Class by durian on Flickr
Grammar Class by durian on Flickr

I hadn’t done it before for multiple reasons, many of which now sound like excuses. To be fair, I found it genuinely difficult to make the major time investment required based only on the promise of future, possibly intangible returns. There are a good many concrete, measurable, predictable things I need to accomplish at the learning center, and the amorphous notion that I “should” conduct teacher observations just couldn’t compete.

What finally made it happen? My volunteers asked to be observed.

Well, ok, it’s not just that I’m a pushover. I’ve gotten better and better at my job, and more importantly, I’ve gotten better at receiving help. I managed to free up some time I used to spend on the day-to-day admin grunt work so I can now do non-survival things like laminate our previously pathetic classroom signs, clear junk out of our office, and observe my teachers.

The volunteer I watched this week is quite new to teaching.  He used to assistant teach with an experienced teacher; this evening was his first solo class.  It was a resounding success. Watching the learning happen, seeing how his preparation was paying off, and taking note of his natural talent for leading a classroom was simply a joy. I jotted specific notes for him throughout, and it was fun to give him the feedback and debrief. We discussed his challenge for next week: at least 20 minutes of small group work for the students. He seems really excited about it, and I am too!

I really didn’t know what to expect when I walked into his classroom.  What I found there was a beautiful success filled with potential for even more.  Being right there to watch and encourage it was just fantastic.

Observations are officially my favorite.

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Training Feedback

Paperwork by luxomedia on Flickr
Paperwork by luxomedia on Flickr

I’m happy to say that I had a chance to read through the feedback from last week’s Volunteer Training party, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The evaluation was very open-ended, and I was pleased to receive specific comments and suggestions.

There was general approval of the presence of food, and universal enthusiasm for meeting each other. Many commented that they gained new activity ideas, and several mentioned “inspiration.” I was a little surprised by that last one – I wasn’t focused on it at all. Woo positive by-products!

The highest and most convenient praise was the near-unanimous request for more trainings, perhaps quarterly, like the one we just did! In other words, I don’t have to ask yet more of my volunteers by implementing quarterly trainings; I get to deliver something there’s a demand for.

The Pizza Guy by keltickelton on Flickr
The Pizza Guy by keltickelton on Flickr

There was some constructive criticism as well, asking for more depth and suggesting starting out with more general questions such as “What’s working?” and leading into more specific ones during the level-discussions. Well-taken. They’ll definitely be present in next quarter’s (requested and delivered!) training.

Woo Training Party!

I’ve been MIA because I’ve had a ton of planning to do both at work and in my personal life. It’s all going well – it just takes more energy than you’d think.

Just wanted to touch base and report that the Volunteer Training Party we had this evening was great!

I’m most proud of the way we stuck to our objectives when we planned it. We had a great many awesome ideas, and it felt like we threw out 95% of them because there just wasn’t time to include them, but the result was a training that didn’t try to do too much.

For the record, those objectives were to respond to the Volunteer Survey we sent out in the Spring, to give the teachers learning-center-related social time, and to use this to move forward with future trainings and efforts.

The Learning Center is closed this week, and I have some out of town visitors staying with me during my time off. I’m hoping to write some content during this time, but either way I’m not planning to post anything new until at least next week. Just so you know.

Outreach and People

Kyllian gaat tekenen by inferis on Flickr
Kyllian gaat tekenen by inferis on Flickr

This evening I set up an information table in the front of the library to advertise my free classes for adults that take place in the back.  My goal was to increase our presence in the library and to see if people who were in the library at around class time wanted to be students or volunteer teachers.

People were milling about near me or walking by.  Nobody came up to talk to me for a while.   Then a boy walked by and looked at the giveaway pencils I had out.  He touched one but started to walk away.  So I asked him if he wanted one.  This led to a simple conversation, after which he walked away with a big smile and a sharp new pencil.  About 15 seconds later, a man who had been sitting nearby pretending to ignore me came up to ask about classes.  And a small line formed while he and I were talking.

Smiling and having shiny materials did not cause potential students to line up to talk with me.  Seeing me be nice to that boy is what started it.

My conclusion: people want to work with people who treat people like people.

On Keeping One’s Patience

It was a really good day.

It wasn’t perfect though. A couple of things happened that annoyed me. I was tempted to lose my patience both times.

But I made the decision to wait, breathe, and calmly just do what I had to do. In both cases, it paid off.

Sometimes good days are just lucky chance, but I feel like most of them are results of decisions we make.

Stress and Direct Service

Yesterday was kind of hectic.

I was out two evenings this week at a training I really needed, and even though my substitute coordinators were amazing (perhaps even magical?), I was having some trouble feeling like I 100% knew what was going on at my center.  Being out also meant that I wasn’t doing my normal job for two evenings, so I had a backlog of “stuff” to take care of.

So I was getting a little stressed about falling behind.  I was getting worried about needing more subs this coming week and the next.  Our curriculum work has just started and I’m not sure how that’s going to fit in to the rest of my typical week.  And I really need to be doing some student outreach, which involves being out of the office and out in the community.  It just feels like I’m running out of hours when so much needs to be happening.

The thing about direct service is that each evening people come pouring into my learning center, reminding me why I bother to worry about what I’m worried about.  Unpaid teachers arrive early to plan the lessons they’ll be delivering on their own personal time.  My students come in, some after 12-hour work days, and work hard to learn more and more English.  And I see again and again that yes, everything I do is worth it.

It’s surprisingly calming to know that.

Tributary (photo by me)
Tributary (photo by me)