Noticing the little things

My teaching is still a little too fear-driven. One fear is that I do not have enough material to make the class last the full 90 minutes. I prepare, of course, but each class remains a complete surprise in terms of what takes a long time for them and what comes with ease – what seems to engage the students, and what makes them bored before time is up. If I do fall short on activities (which is rare), it is only by about 5-10 minutes. Nothing major, but enough that I can’t let them go early (completely verboten here, unlike, say, what I am used to in the US when we treated students more like adults and if we were finished with a lesson, we had no reason to hold them without cause ), but not enough to start something new.  And when they decide their brains are full and they are done working, little can be done to get them motivated to complete their assigned tasks (my students are sweet, though. See what they did for my birthday?).

nice girl chocolate

Students give me presents, like this chocolate.

I also am concerned that I am not teaching the right things – that my students aren’t really learning anything. I see tiny glimmers of success in some, but nothing that makes me feel proud of my accomplishments, that I am doing anything more than taking up their time. For example, I have painstakingly gone over the fact that “a lot” is two words, yet “alot” remains common (dare I say, universal) in writings. Yet when I ask my students in class how many words “a lot” is, they answer correctly. The disconnect between what they know and what they write is a challenge that I cannot overcome. The exact same thing happens when it comes to writing the proper verb form for the first-person singular. This writing sample is one of the stronger ones and comes from a student who has been at the college for at least three years (all typos in the student examples are “sic”):

“Aaisha is a student in Rustaq College. She has been their four years. The typical day for her as a student is The begining of the week because she starts learning many subject that is suitable for her major…She get more experienced and learn many things.”

Notice how the student gets the verb form correct at first, then slips into the incorrect form? It shows understanding yet something else … Carelessness? A lack of understanding of the importance of verb forms and consistency? I know Arabic is primarily an oral language; perhaps this is the cause of this common error. I scratch my head, and go over the mistake several times on the board. If I write an incorrect form for all to see, they are quick to fix it. Yet when they write, the same mistake is made over and over again. Nothing changes.

I believe it is this fear/concern/self-doubt that makes me dread every Sunday morning. That causes me to debate whether to call in sick (I have yet to do this). Then, I get to class and for the most part everything is OK. Sure, sometimes that last 5-10 minutes is a pain in the butt, when students beg to be let out early, but I do enjoy being with them in the classroom. I like trying to push them, whether it is doing any good or not. I like that a few seem to care, but sometimes the lack of progress is heart-breaking.

spelling

Results of a spelling test. What am I supposed to do?

One time, I asked a fellow, more experienced, teacher about how they grade assignments. With so many errors in their writings, I don’t have time to correct them all, but I want them to learn. This particular teacher said that she tries to focus on the purpose of the lesson: if the point was to convey an idea and they accomplished that, then don’t worry so much about proper grammatical form. If the lesson is focusing on grammar, then fix that. Her advice made sense, so I tried to implement it the next day.

During class, a student finished her assignment before the rest of the class –to summarize a paragraph. She did this well, covering all the main points and even had a topic sentence; she had accomplished the goal of the task! I told her that her work was very good and did not make a single mark on the paper. She smiled and asked, “Teacher, grammar correct?” I deflated a little bit. Although comprehensible, the grammar was far from correct. I simply replied that I understood what she was saying and we would work on her grammar another time. Did I leave her with the false impression that her writing was flawless? What was I supposed to do? I am still baffled as to how to deal with this issue. It’s huge, and it’s not going anywhere. Yet in my classes, grammar is rarely a focus of my assigned lesson plans ( as teachers we are given course specifications of what chapters in which books to cover for the semester), and when it is, it is on higher grammar points such as adverbial clauses and the proper punctuation to use when writing quotations. How can I focus on those points when I still have students writing: “In this summester she studey 5 subjects. she studey diffirent projects in diffirent time.” Or, “when I made the intrview with my frind and ask him some quasions a bot the college.”?

I need to find something to hold onto. A goal, a focus, a hope that will allow me to believe that I can do more than just show up in a room for 90 minutes and then, when the time is done, get ready for the next time, the next group of students. I’m not entirely sure where to look for this.

Postscript: I taught a class right after I wrote this piece. One student, who is always hesitant to write anything (she tends to put her ideas down in flow charts rather than use complete sentences, words seemingly slowing down her thought processes), wrote two sentences that were grammatically correct except for one missing “the” (articles are a challenge here as they are in many EFL students from around the globe)! I was happy and she was ecstatic when I told her she only missed one word, that she has improved a lot this semester. She pumped her fists in the air and exclaimed, “YES!” – Omani women are usually quite reserved, at least in class, so this outburst is very out of the ordinary. Her smile was all I needed today.

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One thought on “Noticing the little things

  1. Pingback: The pace of Omani life | Semester 9 Minute

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