Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Teaching Blindfolded

"A la izquierda is to the left, you know like that Beyonce song, to the left, to the left!"  I shook my shoulders and head a little bit as I sang it shooting my pointer fingers to the left.  One or two students laughed and the others looked at me as if I had pulled rainbows out of my eyeballs.  Maybe they hadn't heard the song before.  I had also rapped a little bit of a Snoop Dogg song to my other class in reference to the word, 'laid-back,' and had pretty much the same mixed reaction.

Every Wednesday and Saturday from 10-12 I teach English class.  A tour company here hired me to teach two different English classes; beginners conversational and business with a focus on email writing.  They are very different ends of the spectrum where my business English students are mostly advanced speakers and some of my beginners in conversational English barely speak a lick.  In the latter I do a lot of acting out and miming or asking one student, who speaks more English than the others, to translate.  In my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course we were discouraged from speaking in Spanish to our students, the whole total immersion approach.  From learning Spanish this way for a month, I can say it works.  However, sometimes it's just easier to explain in Spanish and translate in English so I don't spend half the class trying to get a basic point across.

In our TEFL course we were trained with the assumption that we would get jobs in ESL schools with basic things in a classroom like a dry erase board.  Much attention was given to our board work when we were getting certified.  I teach at the tour company's office which is nothing like a classroom setting, nor do I have a dry erase board.  It's been interesting learning to improvise as I go.  I have figured out how to teach lessons without a dry erase board which isn't so challenging in the business English class but definitely challenging with the conversational beginners.  I write words or phrases on pieces of paper and they pass it around to copy.

Recently, I taught directions to my conversational class.  It took two classes for them to get it down.  The first class I found this dandy little worksheet online with a picture of a town and then exercises directing them in how to ask and give directions.  There was a little script for them to follow and I assumed they'd see the script and figure out how to substitute the phrases listed in the box.  Piece of cake, right?  More like a piece of amateur gluten free cake that crumbles the second you touch it.  It failed miserably.  My students looked at me as if not only had I pulled rainbows out of my eyeballs again but unicorns and dandelions as well.  How could it be so difficult?  Was I not explaining it enough?  I went over the directions several times and did an example with a student.

I've had these panicky moments in class before when I see no one is comprehending what I am saying and I can usually figure out a way to get out of them.  I'm like the Macgyver of English classes without a dry erase board or a classroom setting.  How to get out of this jam?  I kept repeating what I wanted them to do but they all looked at me with befuddled expressions.  Well I didn't have a paper clip, dental floss and a flannel shirt to make a bomb with to demolish the wall between understanding and utter confusion but I did have a simple idea which required no random MacGyver supplies.  Instead of having them practice this in partners as I had so wrongly assumed would go smoothly, we did it as a class going very slowly, with my new budding patience plodding us along.  Slowly but surely, one by one, they started to get the idea of the script.  All it took was having us do the activity together as a group instead.  Why this hadn't occurred to me when I was planning my lesson I don't know.

Patience is a definite must when you are a teacher and I've never had it before.  I've honed in on it slightly like a seaman looking through his telescope.  I can see the shoreline of patience, I can envision landing on it's sandy dunes but it's still going to take some bustling about on the waves before I land on that island.

The end of class came and my students were just beginning to get the hang of asking for and giving directions.  The following week an idea came to me.  Well, the infamous lightbulb didn't go off in my head so much as google search providing just the answer I needed.  We reviewed the worksheet again and then I created a maze in the room with tables and chairs.  My students stood there perplexed watching me.  I pulled out a scarf and explained slowly the activity.  I blindfolded myself and asked a student to give me directions across the room and back again.  I could hear my students giggling as I walked slowly along, feet and knees hitting chairs every so often.  I was told by my TEFL instructor during one of my student teaching classes that I needed to add more fun into my lessons.  I happily thought she would approve.  And my students were into it!  When I was finished, they eagerly took turns being blindfolded and giving directions.  No serious injuries occurred, but a deeper understanding of how to give directions through laughter, practice and patience did occur.

You know the best part about teaching?  My students leave each class knowing something new, even if I had to sing and act things out and make them go blindfolded in order for them to learn.  It's pretty damn great, to pass on knowledge.  It's what keeps me motivated every week.  How wonderful to be able to contribute to someone's life like that.  How fabulous to know that in teaching them English, they might have better job opportunities in the tourism industry.  Even if I have to look like a total idiot dancing around and singing pop songs, it's worth it.

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