This blog post will mention two important things to me: how I spend my time (which recently changed) and my experience teaching, now that I have 2 months under my belt. Let’s start with a general overview of my life and the way I spend my time.
(Quickly: above, there are some of my students and my co-teacher Luz Elena on the far right in the black jacket.)
As you may recall, I teach 24 hours of classes a week, with 2 different teachers (well, 20 hours with Luz-Elena so she’s my primary coteacher and 4 with Sandra, so most of the time with Luz-Elena) and 3 grades (9th, 10th, 11th). This is my official job, and that requires me to have co-planning, homework grading, fill-in-the-blank exercises, songs, and trying to come up with games for the kids. Everything, basically. Also, because I teach from 6am to 12:30 basically every day, I wake up at 4:30 to have time to postpone my alarm (20-30 mins), to eat breakfast, clean up and organize myself, and get out the door to be at school on time. And it’s not easy to get up at 4:30am every day – I need naps!
My four extracurricular activities were, as you also probably remember, salsa lessons, Spanish (including lessons), Muay Thai gym, and Linear Algebra. These are all very meaningful and important activities to me, but I was not getting enough time to do them all well, and certainly not to do them and also take care of myself mentally and physically and enjoy my life. Needless to say, Spanish, naps, and gym time took hits. Ideally I would nap for 1-2 hours a day, but that never happened because I was too busy – and I found that I went weeks with studying Spanish about 3 hours a week. Unacceptable! Because my sleep suffered, my quality of life suffered, and I couldn’t hang out with friends! In fact, went 2 weeks without seeing any friends during the week.
I treasure realizations, and I had one a week ago. I was watching some old guys having tintos (Colombian little coffees), and I thought “Man, I wish I could just people-watch and drink a tinto like these guys”. Unfortunately, I’m always on the go and can’t enjoy nature or my city or just hang out with friends!
Well, I cut an activity today: salsa lessons.
Yay I’m already feeling better! LOL maybe I’ll even get back to meditating and stretching!
We also had a parade to celebrate our “neighborhood” so here are some photos of the kids. Each “class” had a theme, like 50s, 80s, Punks, Mafia, Indians, and I forget the others. They’re so cute.
Alrighty, now moving on to teaching.
I love teaching. I love my kids. My co-teacher, Luz-Elena, is very supportive of me and cares about improving her English and is open to my ideas. She’s fantastic and I’m lucky to work with her, though because we are so similar in personality and type, we also have the same strengths and weaknesses (class discipline being one weakness). We found out, unofficially as of now, that the Ministry of Education will continue the program next year and she blurted out in front of the other English teachers, “Yay Joshua can stay!!” LOL.
My other co-teacher is fine. She doesn’t seem to care about teaching, certainly not about improving her teaching, and just generally seems to view it as a job that is “good enough”. Thankfully, we get along well enough, and that’s about as good as I expect it can be, given how different we are. At least she lets me do what I want within her general constraints, and that’s great. She also contributes to my ideas/plans, and her ideas are good! I’m happy to incorporate her feedback into my plans lol.
So here are a few things I’ve noticed about myself qua teacher.
- I consider myself terrible at negative extrinsic motivation (punishment, for instance), and great at fostering intrinsic motivation (like using encouragement, charisma, positive reinforcement, stickers, etc.) My charisma and sense of disappointment/happiness seems to work for most students, and I do feel that one of my strengths is getting people to like me based on my charisma and then maximizing the effectiveness of my charisma. However, when that doesn’t work, and let’s be honest, sometimes it just doesn’t work… it’s a bit tougher! I’m still trying to figure this out…
- I treat my kids like they’re adults. I don’t mind if I have students that don’t want to learn English – maybe it won’t be useful to them, or maybe they have things that are more important to do during my class. I don’t feel the need to impose my values, or my agenda, on you. Maybe English won’t help you in life – I don’t know. Occasionally, I’ll have kids doing like math homework in my classes, or have kids in the back just not paying attention or napping, and I don’t bother them, though I consider it important to know what’s going on (e.g. what they’re doing) in my classes. In the end, I act as if it’s their time, and ultimately their life, to decide as they see fit. For me, as long as they don’t bother other students, then it’s fine. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet figured out how to either get the “bad” students to stop distracting other students, or how to integrate/motivate them in the class – at least not for “enough” of the time. Besides the whole “have respect for your classmates (be quiet)” or “shhhhh” which is, at best, a temporary solution to a long-term problem, I’m not really sure what to do.
- We recently had an observation in our class with a person from the pedagogy oversight “board” of the Ministry of Education. I got a lot of great ideas from him, so I’m very excited to integrate these into the class.
- However, he also got feedback from the kids, and here was my students’ feedback:
a. Joshua is really good at one-on-one teaching. Why did they say this? Well, when we give the students work to do in pairs or small groups, I will wander the room to answer questions, define vocab, explain missed grammar points, etc. The Colombian teachers stay up at the front the whole time.
b. Joshua encourages us a lot. In fact, the students now encourage each other, or make fun of each other (both, honestly) by repeating words in my tone that they hear me use all the time: “Awesome, wow, fantastic, amazing, very good”. It’s kind of hilarious, but it’s special too. I’m happy that those are the words they’ve learned from me!!
c. We have more fun with Joshua than Luz-Elena. Hahahaha. Of course they do!! I’m the best!!
d. Luz-Elena focuses more on grammar and Joshua focuses more on pronunciation. Hmm not sure if that’s true or not, because I also love grammar, but I think that’s a positive in their mind. They’re not wild on grammar lol. Certainly not like me!! I love grammar!!
e. We want more visuals. Hmm not sure how to accomplish this without the use of technology, but I’m thinking about it.
- Here’s what I hope to integrate into the classes, after hearing about his input. First, I want to have a unifying “narrative” of the class explicitly listed on the board and organize the class and class activities around this unifying narrative (like “today, we’re learning about what you have to have to travel to the USA”) instead of just a list of activities. Also, more visuals! Hahahaha. We’re gonna see how this goes…sans technology. I’m going to have a part of the board be with students’ names and their complex words or phrases or grammar points, as a way of encouraging them to challenge themselves and be an inspiration to the rest of the class.
- I would like to share with you a positive story!I have a student named Bryan who is a pretty independently-minded kid. He sits in the back along the wall, keeps to himself, and normally just listens to music and tunes us out. No problem. He’s funny though, and he would usually enter the room, take one of my markers, and write “don’t fuck” on the board lol. I would laugh, acknowledge it, and then erase the whole thing. Well one day, my co-teacher saw him throw a paper ball back at someone, and also saw the “don’t fuck” on the board, and decided that was a very serious incident. She had him write in the discipline book, which requires the parent to come talk to the teacher about it, and this was unfortunately not his first trouble with teachers. His mom spoke with 4 teachers, as a matter of fact, and when she came to talk to us, she was already crying. Her son was threatened with repeating the grade, and it was hard for her to get ragged on by teachers regarding her son. Understandably so.
Well, I really like her son. He’s really cool and funny, and I have no need to force my values, nor English, on him. I leave him alone mostly, though I enjoy seeing what he draws in class, and I’m even happy to see him using English cuss words in the correct way.
When I am introduced to the mother, who’s crying, I start out by saying what a pleasure it is to meet her, that I like her son a lot, and that I’m so glad he’s in my class. I tell her how I especially like his confidence in himself, his independence, and how I was NOT like that when I was his age. She started smiling, and then we parted ways. (I try always to encourage when possible, but I only speak truth for encouraging words.)
Later, Bryan came by to talk to us separately and to try to figure out a way to improve his grade. He got some extra homework as extra credit, but then the co-teacher talked about how he has so many problems with his behavior. (I thought “What??? He’s fine! He doesn’t bother anyone!) and one of these problems, get ready, was his atheism.
At this point, I intervened and said “No, that’s not a problem.” They both turned to look at me, and I repeated myself. “Not believing in God is not a problem,” I said, and the teacher repeated herself, saying yes it is.
“Nope, it’s not, and I don’t agree with you,” I responded. We agreed to disagree, which is great that she and I can be honest with each other, but later I went to Bryan and I said privately, “hey, don’t worry about what she said, you’re fine, and I’m an atheist too!” I think that improved our relationship and, in fact, I can tell that he’s trying more in our class. It doesn’t actually matter how well he does in English to me (nor does it matter for getting into university which, oddly enough, only looks at test scores), but it IS important for me to have good relationships with my students, and I think I’ve succeeded with him specifically and with mostly all my students generally. 🙂
- Teaching is really rewarding for me. Yes, there are good days and bad days, though for me it’s mostly good days (thank goodness I’m with a Spanish-speaking Colombian teacher and not by myself in the classes).
I really love it when students “get it.”
I love it when I tell kids that they’re smart (I never lie, so I don’t tell everyone they’re smart lol, but if I have something nice to say, I make a note to try to say it).
I think it’s so important to encourage others, both as a way of motivating them to be better in my class, but also because encouragement, and especially at a young age, is so important for their future! By encouraging my kids, I feel encouraged.