On Self Expression

Every so often, I feel like I can’t adequately express myself. So I write more and I talk more and keep on trying till I can more or less get it right.

I have a pretty great vocabulary and a native-speaker grasp of English grammar.  Perennially feeling like I don’t have good enough command of English to say what I mean puts teaching ESL into a different perspective.

We usually focus on teaching survival in our workplaces and culture: food, health, introductions, etc. It’s easy to forget about the basic need for self expression beyond “can I borrow that stapler?”  Those units on writing and feelings often seem less concrete, and so less important.  And really, people can survive without being able to shape their innermost thoughts into comprehensible English. But what’s the point of learning a language in which you can’t say what you mean? It’s a quality of life thing.  It’s good to remember.

On Teaching Advanced

I’ve taken over the Tuesday evening Advanced ESL class, and I have to say, I’m really enjoying teaching on a regular, planned basis (as opposed to frequently being an emergency sub).

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman (from Amazon.com)
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman (from Amazon.com)

We’re taking three weeks of classes to read Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. It’s a story about the different people in a community garden in wrong-side-of-the-tracks Cleveland, and so far it’s well-written and compelling. It comes with audio (very well-acted, each character with a different accent) so we’ve been doing a lot of much-needed listening. One of our volunteers (who also happens to be an experienced and certified ESL teacher) wrote a pronunciation curriculum to go with the book, so all in all classes are feeling structured, interesting, and useful.

Notes to self: I need to write on the board more. And I need to be more intentional about getting everyone in the class to talk – the students who need conversation practice the most are the least likely to participate.

Hurray for good books, great curriculum, and fun lessons!

On Victories

I am a strong believer in the idea that if you never fail, you’re not branching out enough.  I am therefore theoretically ok with the idea that sometimes I will fail.  When the failure actually happens though, it looks a lot less like a step and a lot more like a black hole.

NGC 4649 by Smithsonian Institution on Flickr
"NGC 4649" by Smithsonian Institution on Flickr

The short version of the story was that I wrote a day of curriculum for the Intermediate ESL class because through a complicated and uninteresting chain of events, we were short a day of curriculum.  Well, I thought that my experienced teacher would be the one teaching, and I thought it was clear what to skim over and what to go farther in-depth on, but neither of those items were the case.  The volunteer just ran into a wall with it and about a week later she actually quit.  Ouch.

So yes, there are a lot of things about the situation that I will most definitely be doing differently.  It’s a small comfort, though, to assure myself that I will squeak some lessons learned out of the wreckage.

I found that what actually made me feel better was a couple of recent victories.  Not just planning to do better, but actually doing better.

Winner at the Delta County Fair, Colorodo by LOC on Flickr
"Winner at the Delta County Fair, Colorodo" by LOC on Flickr

Victory #1

Through another complicated and uninteresting chain of events, we were short a week of curriculum in the advanced class.  And the curriculum that I with the help of a couple of my more experienced volunteers came up with was focused, well-paced, highly teachable, and overall successful.  Apparently I am capable of doing a good job on it.  Good to know.

Victory #2

I did not have a sub for the teacher gap in the Intermediate class, so I got to teach it.  Even without a lot of prep time, my lesson was focused, useful to the students, and engaged them for the whole class.  There were actually two writing activities, conversation, reading, student-generated vocab lists, review of the lesson during the lesson, getting up and moving around the room, and real-life objects pertinent to the lesson.  Earth-shattering?  Of course not.  I just now have confirmation that I do in fact know how to teach a good session.

So, while I am not yet the ultimate teacher or an expert curriculum writer, because of these victories I know for sure I have what it takes to continue to eke every scrap of learning there is out of my little volunteer support catastrophe and make sure it doesn’t happen again.  Confidence restored.