Today was a difficult day.
I had a Stage Three tutorial with a trainee who’s consistently struggling with analysing language, with planning how to deal with it in class, and therefore with getting it across to the students clearly.
I watched a lesson by another trainee who I haven’t seen since week one. I’m really not sure whether the lesson was a pass or a fail, again because of the way language was dealt with. If it’s a fail, it’ll be very hard, maybe even impossible, for this trainee to pass the course. I know that Fail is always a possible grade to give on CELTA, but that doesn’t make it any less hard, especially because I know how much effort this person has put into the course.
On top of that, I’m still not completely well, which means I’m feeling quite weak and occasionally have to run out of TP very quickly.
On the plus side, my input session on guided discovery worked really well. Trainees had to come up with their own guided discovery tasks based on an article called Ten Ways to Make Someone Smile. The session was also designed to help them think about how to prepare for TP8, where they can’t use material from the book.
When you imagine a teacher, what do you see?
For most people, it’s someone standing at a (white/black?)board, pointing at something written there and talking to (at?) their students. Even if they’re not at the board, they’re generally standing at the front of the room.
I call this ‘teacher position’.
When you’re in ‘teacher position’ for the first time funny things start to happen. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- You talk more, because you feel like you should be explaining things and/or you need to fill the silence.
- You talk louder, often louder than is necessary, to make sure all of the students can hear you. Alternatively, you get so quiet that nobody can hear you.
- You write all over the board, generally in a pretty haphazard manner, because that’s how students learn, right?
- You never sit down, because you can’t be a teacher if you’re sitting down, even if there are less than 5 students in the room.
- You become the centre of attention, which either goes to your head or petrifies you.
In the first week of a CELTA course, my aim is to help the trainees feel comfortable in the role of teacher, then to move past this image, and start to realise all of the other things that being a teacher involves.
Over the four-week course, I hope to see the following changes related to each of the points above:
- You realise when it’s appropriate to talk and when not. You learn to grade your language so that students can understand you. You lose your fear of silence.
- You learn the correct volume to speak at so that students can hear you, but you’re not shouting at them.
- The board becomes a tool which is used wisely and well, with only the information that needs to be there, beautifully laid out so that the students can follow it and get some use out of said information.
- You vary your position depending on the stage of the lesson, the size of the group, and your role at a given time. You feel comfortable as you move around, and don’t feel you need to maintain ‘teacher position’ throughout.
- You realise that it’s all about the students, and that attention should be focussed on them. If you were petrified, you repeat the mantra “I am the teacher. This is my classroom. I have a right to be here and I’m in control of the lesson.” until you believe it.
This week we returned to the TP groups we had during week one, and it’s been great to see how much some of the trainees have improved since I left them. They’ve managed to address most of the areas above. The hardest one to deal with is the first half of 5, but two experiments with guided discovery lessons, one yesterday and one today, show that the trainees are at least attempting to do this. There were mixed levels of success with there, but that’s what experimenting is all about.
They’re the first steps along a long road, but hopefully the techniques we’ve taught them during the course will help them to cope with the rest of the lesson successfully enough that they can concentrate on the students, because they don’t have to think about everything else as it starts to become second nature. We can but hope.
TP was eventful, with last-minute changes due to circumstances beyond most people’s control. That’s all I’ll say about it, because I know trainees from the course may read this.
We’re starting to wrap up the course now, with half of the trainees having their final TP tonight, and the other half tomorrow.
I’ve marked most of my assignments, with a handful of outstanding resubmissions still to do.
I’ve only got one input session left, on literacy, a topic I’ve never covered before. I just had a 10-minute break from writing this for a quick look at the materials I have for it. Even though it’s 22:20 now, I can’t stop thinking about what I want to do in the session. Too many ideas, not enough time!
Also still to do: finishing off feedback for my TP group for TP8; update the provisional grades sheet with information about TPs since the assessor’s visit; write reports; relax.
When we got to school today it was quiet. Too quiet.
Instead of the normal 20+ trainees, there were only four or five.
“Sandy, did you get my message?”
“When did you send it?”
“About ten minutes ago.”
“No, I was on the way here.”
“I’ve added you to our facebook group too. Everyone’s got food poisoning. They’ve been up all night. I’m only here to hand in my assignment and then I’m going back to the hotel. What should we do?”
Today has been an exercise in organisation and reorganisation, emails and phone calls flying back and forth, constant checking back with the trainers and trainees about whether input was still on, who is well enough to teach, and what those who were still ill needed to do to finish the course.
In all the massed experience of the many CELTA trainers at the centre, this has never happened before.
And, of course, it was the penultimate day, so there’s only one more night they can teach.
In the end, we cancelled input for today and shifted it to tomorrow. Seven of the ten trainees due to teach tonight managed to, so we’ve only had to reschedule three TPs, and luckily some of the students are available so they’ll have somebody to teach!
We’d arranged a party for the trainees and students this evening, but at least half of the trainees weren’t up to it. That was a huge shame, as the students had got them some lovely presents.
There was one useful side effect of this horrible situation for me: I’ve been having problems sleeping for the last few nights due to my colitis, so I was able to come home for a couple of hours and nap for a bit.
Hoping everyone is feeling fit and well tomorrow, so we can round off the course on a positive note!
The course finished well :) Everyone was pretty much back to normal by Friday morning, with a bit of tiredness, but the sickness seemed to have passed.
I was very pleased with my first attempt at a literacy session, thanks to using Wingdings as the language for a mini ‘literacy test’, an idea I stole from a conference talk at IATEFL Glasgow I think. It works nicely for putting everyone in the room on the same footing, and avoids you having to work out who speaks which languages in the group.
Once that was done, it was time for report writing and provisional grades, updating the report sent to the assessor showing the progress of the candidates since their visit, and confirming which grades should be awarded, pending the assessor’s approval.
To finish the evening I had my final two TPs, which were a great note to end the course on. The candidates in question have shown huge progress over the course, with their final lessons being useful to the students and fun too.
Because we were the last people at the school, we got a taxi together for the 20 minute ride into Chiang Mai. About half of the candidates from the two courses were at the final party, because quite a few felt like they were behind due to the problems of Thursday. It was a fun evening, and as always, my favourite part of the CELTA course :) With the pressure off, it’s a chance to really get to know the candidates, find out more about their history and their future plans, and finish off the course on a high.
The end, for now
I’m very happy that I’ve finally been able to blog about my experience of being a tutor, mostly because this is the first CELTA I’ve done where I’ve managed to avoid working at home! My work-life balance has been much better, and I’m hoping to maintain this on future courses. As of today, I’m also finally starting to feel better, which will make a huge difference.
I feel like I’ve finally got the hang of managing my time during the four weeks of the course, and I’ve built up a stock of input sessions which mean I don’t have to spend so much time preparing them.
I’ve enjoyed my first course in Chiang Mai, working with a group of experienced and interesting tutors. I’m looking forward to doing three more in the same place and learning a lot more from them!