Last Friday was one of the most devastating teaching days I’ve had for a very, very long time. In the middle of my first lesson I felt like vanishing into the thin air, or, as I haven’t found the magic cloak yet, simply walking out of the classroom. After the lesson, I broke down and shed some tears. I had to be efficient because only ten minutes later another lesson started. So I had it quickly and efficiently done with. Had two more or less pleasurable lessons with my third year students who feel like friends by now and with whom no horrible surprises tend to come up. And then, to finish the day with an elegant let’s-close-the-circle, had one more lesson which made me cringe, weep inside, shout inside and hate every teenage student on the planet (don’t worry, it only lasted till the end of the lesson)
The me, who was driving back home that Friday evening, was a beaten woman. The despair, the anger, the hurt, the overwhelming disappointment made me want to crawl to a shelter and stay there healing my wounds. Although the reflective practice mode started to push its way in, I discarded it. I decided to stay down and feel the weakness. To let it wash through and over me. I somehow felt that this time I HAD to give the pain its time and share and not fight it off immediately.
Today, two days after the bullet sent me down, I feel like getting slowly up again. I have the will and the energy to take this big monster into pieces in order to understand what happened.
So here it comes, reflective practice in the making! I decided to share the first lesson with you. I know that doing so will display my weaknesses and shortcoming as a teacher, but, as Bréne Brown has so beautifully said
There’s nothing more daring than showing up, putting ourselves out there and letting ourselves be seen
It’s a class of 16 older teenagers. I have been teaching this class for seven months by now. We have had our ups and downs. There have been lessons that hoist me up on the clouds. And then there have been some that I wouldn’t like to teach again. The students have EXTREMELY mixed levels of English. Some are getting close to B2 and a few struggle somewhere between A1 and A2. Some speak almost fluently, others stare at me blankly when I give instructions. This heterogeneity is something I keep struggling with day in and day out.
Anyhow, in the morning of that notorious Friday, while drinking my morning coffee, I found a great article through twitter talking about the verbalization of the English nouns. You can read it here. I found the read so interesting and entertaining, I decided to share it with my students. So when I walked into the classroom, I wrote on the board – Do you salad or sandwich?, looked quizzically at my students and asked what they think of this sentence.
Most seemed still so profoundly asleep that no movement came from their desks. Two students looked at the board, and one showed what I thought was a sign of surprise. We had a short exchange of opinions, I talked a little bit of what I thought was an interesting phenomena, but soon stopped as no interest seemed to be stirred.
Then I tried to make a link with the topic and asked where we could possibly encounter such a sign … (the topic of the lesson was advertising). Out of the 16 students NOBODY had a clue. And that’s when it dawned on me – this lesson is doomed. Full stop. And I still had another 1 hour and 20 minutes to go.
I consider myself a rather confident teacher, but there are moments when my Achille’s heel gets a fatal blow and I lose the grip.
I pushed the students further, giving them hints, until one girl saved my face and answered that it could be in a café. I grabbed her answer as the straw to save my life, gave a ridiculously enthusiastic yes! and moved to my main lesson plan. I wrote advertisement and commercial on the board, asked them to figure out the difference (which they did) and then invited them to recall a recent commercial they had seen. I asked them to tell their partners what had been the product or service advertised, who had been the target group and what kind of adjectives they could possibly associate with the commercial. Out of eight pairs, four started talking in English, two in French, and two kept their mouths shut. When I went to their desks and asked which commercials they were thinking about, they shrugged their shoulders and responded that nothing came to their mind. I tried to help them a little proposing places and occasions but no answer came. The collective feedback was a disaster.
By now, I felt I was whizzing down a water slide with nothing to stop the final drowning. I had lost my students (well, I hadn’t been able to join them in the first place), I had lost any confidence I thought I had, and I felt a growing animosity in the classroom.
We then moved on to the reading part. I saw it as a ways to gather my thoughts, to calm down and think of the best way to continue this lesson. I wrote down some questions I asked them to find answers to while reading. And as usual, encouraged them to highlight any new or interesting vocabulary. The article was full of shocking and incredible information, but none of the students seemed to think so. There was no reaction whatsoever, no raised eyebrows, no questions, nothing!
You might actually finish this story yourself by now …
The final activity which I was sure would take up a lot of time and hopefully stir a considerable amount of interest, neither lasted long nor excited most of them. (there were some exceptions – bless them! probably students finally woken up …)
When the time was finally up, I felt like collapsing right there and then. I felt no relief, only disappointment, anger and hurt. As usual, I immediately started scrutinizing my own actions to find where I had taken the wrong turn. Probably, immediately in the morning, when I decided to wake up. Shouldn’t have 😉
So here you have it, my shameful and disastrous lesson! I am in the middle of working on this script right now. Rereading, editing, rearranging. I am trying to find a new path to tread with these students. I’m looking for a new toolbox. And I will keep you posted!