Saturday, 22 December 2012

Things I'm learning from teaching

The last week of term has just finished, and already it's blurring into this confused whirlwind of things that happened: going to see The Hobbit with one of the American assistants (thanks, Heather!), ice-skating for the first time in years, the weekly English-speaking night with other assistants and students from the university ...

Not that all my weeks are nearly as exciting as this, of course. But in a week like this, you might be forgiven for forgetting why I'm in Reims in the first place: teaching. And boy, have I learned a lot about it since I arrived. Almost enough, in fact, to write a whole blog post about it. (A blog post which will be  a shameless copy of my sister's post on the same subject, which you can read here.)

Don't be too ambitious

This is one that I wish I'd learnt earlier. In hindsight, I think I was kind of still thinking in a university mindset when planning my early lessons, even when these were for the equivalent of Year 11. They're a smart bunch, but after three hours of textbooks they really don't appreciate another hour. On a related note, I've become a lot better at estimating how much will fit into one lesson: my typical lesson will feature a warmup for 5 minutes or so, something led by me for fifteen minutes or so, and then a freer composition-type activity for the rest of the time. On more than one occasion, I've tried to fit too much in, only to be brought back to a correctly-timed lesson by an IT failure twenty minutes before I was due to start. So don't try to cram everything you can possibly think of into an hour: you'll only end up beating yourself up that you didn't manage to, and if you try to, your students won't take it all in.

Be flexible!

For instance, one morning recently I noticed that my entire class had dozed off. Not literally, of course, but they were all staring into the middle distance, plainly wishing that the lesson could end there and then. It was sort of like 'the silence', but much worse. One game of 'Simon Says' later, and they were much more awake. (Yes, I really did this. Which brings me to ...)

Make a fool of yourself

You might think that this one would seem very obvious, but it took my a surprising amount of time to really get used to it. One of my last lessons of term focused on War is Over by John Lennon, so I decided to get my class of 15-year-old boys to try and sing. And sing they did, although it did require quite a lot of energy from me. They certainly won't forget me shouting, 'Louder, guys! Louder! There aren't any lessons next door!' any time soon, and hopefully that'll translate into them remembering the song.

So yeah - there's been a great deal going on on the teaching front. I'll probably post again before I head back for la reprise des cours, but before then, have a lovely Christmas!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Good news, bad news, great news

Welcome to an occasional new feature for this blog! Here's today's instalment:

Good news

Lessons finish an hour earlier than normal, so I can play badminton! Yay!

Bad news

Transport strike means I can't get out to the sports hall.

Great news

One of my students came into school the other day wearing this on a T-shirt.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

I'm not very good at this!

A guide to alienating your blog's readership (by Edward) 

1. Promise an update "soon", while teasing about some ridiculous purchase that you've made;
2. Do not update said blog for three weeks.
3. Done.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how it's done. As you can see, it's a fine art, particularly when it comes to the "not-updating-your-blog" step, but it's something we're all capable of if we just apply ourselves to it.

Three weeks can be quite a long time on a Year Abroad, and indeed, quite a lot has happened since then. I've finally become a proper member of both the badminton club and the oft-mentioned Régates, procedures which both required me to submit myself to a medical examination. This was a somewhat unnerving procedure, particularly when I was handed a cup and it took me a moment to realise what it was for, but thankfully I passed it. Thankfully there was no-one else there apart from me and the doctor, so nobody caught a glimpse of just how ridiculous I must have looked after doing fifteen squat-thrusts and having my pulse taken with one of those clamp-on-your-arm thingies.

But of course, it was worth it in the end: I'm now able to play badminton and cox rowers without being asked constantly whether I've paid my cotisation. Both of these ends are going swimmingly, by the way (although that may be the wrong adjective to use when rowing's involved): I've been coxing some rowers from the nearby Reims Management School, which has been a very rewarding experience. My badminton skills have also got correspondingly better, meaning that now it's just 14-year-old girls who can beat me, not 10-year-olds any more.

The teaching experience has also been getting steadily better. It's now taking me less time to prepare lessons, and I've also learnt the danger of over-preparation: if you try to cram too much into one 55-minute lesson, then you'll (a) have wasted your own time in planning, and (b) not be able to give the material that you do teach enough depth. It's a hard balancing act to make, under- and over-preparation, but it's one that I'm learning to deal with. For instance, I'd prepared a lesson on female SOE operatives during World War II, only to find that I couldn't print off some of the activity sheets that I'd got lined up. In the end, it turned out that, if I'd tried to do that activity, I'd have ran out of time, so I guess that's one problème informatique for which I can actually be thankful.

There's one other thing that I learnt last week: don't use an electric radiator to dry clothes on. I won't go into detail about what happened, but let's just say this: it involved panicking; unplugging the radiator; using lots and lots of water from the sink; going into the office and saying that "I may have just done the stupidest thing I've ever done in my life"; and subsequently buying lots of air freshener. Yeah.

Finally, time for the stupid purchase! I promised you an update, so here it is: I bought a kazoo! Yeah!

No, really - I did.

He's called Antoine, and he's absolutely brilliant. I mean, really annoying for my neighbours, but brilliant. Adding kazoo solos to War is Over has to be one of the most amusing things I've done in a long time. Now, should I use it in lessons, I wonder?