I suppose since I’m not doing what I’m supposed to right now (plan a lesson for Friday), I’ll write.
Where to begin?
Prague, or this experience of TEFL training in particular, is nothing like I thought it would be. To be honest, I didn’t try to think about it too much, because my expectations are always off, whether it’s for better or worse, so I didn’t have many. I didn’t think about what it meant to have hours of teaching practice before the month was over. Now I know. I did think about living here, moving away from everything and everyone that I knew for an indefinite amount of time. I couldn’t help but think about that part of it. What kept me from doing the program sooner, say in January, was the fact that I couldn’t get over secluding myself from company. I didn’t want to be alone in a country where I didn’t speak the language or understand the culture. But I must say that it’s nothing like I thought it would be, community wise. I feel like I’m living in a dorm. There are 4 rooms on the top floor of our “hotel,” the first three floors of which occupy various businesses and a straight-faced security guard who never says “dobry den” back. I get along with my roommates and it’s nice to have other friends on the hall. I might even go have some tea soon with one of my teaching partners (both of whom are British) so I can see one of the other places where my fellow students are housed. Anyway. It’s nothing like I thought it would be. I feared I would find myself alone in some weird Soviet apartment in a cold, dark city with no friends to be found. Not thinking about the actual course or teaching practice, however, didn’t lead me to be any less surprised or stressed about what is expected.
The first day of the course, our instructor, a peppy, bumbling man, walked in and didn’t say a word. He bounced in, straight to the white board, where two cartoon characters (Janet and Pavel) were posted between 8 speech bubbles. We were hoping we’d get a Czech lesson, but the empty speech bubbles were a little intimidating. He began the Czech lesson by standing in front of the board, his right side to us, and saying, “Dobry den!” He took three jaunty steps forward and put his left side to the room. “Dobry den!” Three jaunty steps again. “Jak se jmenujete?” he asked, very interested in the ghost of himself which would inevitably appear. Three jaunty steps. “Jmenuji se Pavel. Jak se jmenujete?” Step, step, step. “Jmenuji se Janet.” Step, step, step. “Jak se máte?” Step, step, step. “Dobře! Jak se máte?” Step, step, step. “Špatně.” While he said “dobře” and “špatně” he made sure to do thumbs up for good and thumbs down for bad (their respective translations). Finally he said, “Nashledanou!” and waved. Step, step, step. “Nashledanou!” He did this dialogue twice, and then just pointed at the first bubble. After a few seconds, a student attempted Czech. “Dobe-rdey din.” A nod from the instructor. He wrote “hello” in Czech on the board and the first speech bubble was complete. He pointed to the next. This time a few more people chimed in. “Dobry den!” Excited encouragement from the instructor, but no words. Next bubble. “Yahk say immenyu-ehtay.” He wrote “What is your name?” in Czech on the board. So on and so forth. He taught us Czech without using one word of English or writing down anything until we told him what to write down. I didn’t even know he was British until he finished the lesson and started speaking to us normally. Wow. What a great instructor to learn from.
“Were any of you scared you wouldn’t be able to teach Czech people English because you couldn’t speak Czech?” he asked. I certainly was. He proved a huge point and built our confidence so quickly. Then he dropped the bomb. We’d all be teaching the next day. Teaching English. To Czechs.
The lesson planning was stressful and we over-planned, over-practiced, and over-analyzed in all the wrong ways. Everything that could have gone wrong that first day with the beginner English speakers did, and then some (meaning we spilled coffee all over the desk and their papers). It was horrible. But it was so awesome.
We took some pictures (a great idea of one of my teaching partners), and they’re on my Facebook now.
We had to prepare a lesson for today as well, but it was much easier to do. I actually finished the preparation in about an hour, before doing the first disaster presentation.
Today’s was much smoother. We had intermediate students and we were a little more comfortable with what we were doing. Also, we knew that on Friday we would be doing a 45-minute lesson, so this 15-minute one was nothing. Everything was going smoothly until I was trying to wrap up my unit. We were practicing writing, and our genre was “letter to the editor.” I had my students (four women, ages 34-50) write their letters (though directions were lost in translation and their letters, which were supposed to present an original idea, ended up being rewrites of the sample letter. That’s alright. I said, “Okay, go ahead and finish the sentence you’re on now. If you’re not completely finished, that’s okay. Trade with the partner you worked with earlier.” “No,” said one of my students.
I decided to give her 30 seconds or so. “Okay, Elena, that’s fine. You can trade with Natalia.” “No.”
Suddenly I felt like I was a child and that this adult woman was the boss. But I was the teacher. This was my lesson. She was tampering with the plans I had thought through so intently.
I realized that I didn’t really have an option. I realized that she was embarrassed to share her unfinished work (she had worked very hard on what she had) and that I was going to have to make this partner exercise into a class exercise. We were short on time anyway. So I asked her to just share her main idea, and she did so. Thoroughly. She supported her argument and used English very well. That was all I needed. The other three women did the same, and it turned out pretty well. I got them to converse shortly about letters to the editor and revolutions got mentioned. We laughed a bit, and then I said, “Alright. Well, that’s it for today. Thanks.” They smiled and thanked us, and it was over. And it wasn’t so bad. I might even say that it was a success.
You never know how things are going to turn out. You can’t think through them enough times to prepare yourself adequately. I never would have planned that one of my students, though she’s there voluntarily, would say “no” to doing an assignment. I never would have thought that this course would be so organized and challenging. I never would have thought that I would kind of feel like I was in college again. You just have to do things and see what happens. My what-ifs, at least up until this point, have all gone out the window. Once you start living a season of your life that you thought so much about, you realize that there’s no time for the thoughts that consumed you before. There’s just the task at hand and the experiences between, and tomorrow will always seem bigger than today.