Friday, November 06, 2009

ITC Volenuteer serves as Substitute Teacher

Yest. at the Amal school at which I volunteer to help out students with English in small groups through the Otzma ITC program, I was suddenly notified that two teachers didn't show up that day and I was asked to attend the class of "Sari" (10th grade). I was very excited and honored at this request. After all, one of the core reasons for me being on this program, is the availability to polish up on my teaching skills, especially in classroom settings, in preparation for a possible future job as a teacher. Unfortunately, I hadn't expected this and so I didn't really have a prepared lesson plan. I did have my usual repertoire of ideas and exercises which I had been using to teach my students in the usual small-group setting. The really unknown variable was: will I be able to control the class? Will the students listen to me? Will they find my tone and style engaging?

The control issue was addressed through the presence of a substitute "discipline" teacher whose duty it was to keep the class in order. She was apparently not qualified to teach English and so she just made sure that the students were well-behaved and paying attention to my class. The first half of the class went wonderfully. I had a long list of English nouns, verbs and adjectives written on small color-coded papers with their Hebrew translation on the reverse side. I put that to good use in the class, reviewing those vocabulary words with them. I made extensive use of the whiteboard, marking English words and their Hebrew translations on board and often illustrating with a sample sentence.

I also found that many Israeli students tended to confuse similar-sounding English words such as "wait" with "white", "angry" with "hungry" and so on. So whenever I asked the class for the meaning of an English word and it became apparent to me that they were confusing the word with another one, I immediately wrote both words on the board; I "modeled" the difference in pronunciation, if any, and I also pointed out the difference in spelling and meaning.

Later I moved on to some other topics. I reviewed the spectrum of colors in English, in which activity they fully participated. When it came to prepositions, pronouns and the proper auxiliary verb used with pronouns (am/are/is) I had a more difficult time maintaining their full attention but there were always some who did pay attention. In fact, there was one student who kept shushing the others and directing them back to me whenever they sought to start their own little conversations in class. It works amazingly well when a student, rather than a teacher, does shushing.

Finally, the students insisted they wanted "galgal hamazalot" (wheel of fortune). I wasn't quite sure how to conduct this game. So I had a student administer the game in front of the class using Hebrew words and I then proceeded to do the same in English. I was citing famous American actors such as Brad Pitt, Jim Carey, Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio. I also noted on board the names of major movies they starred in. This was a pretty popular activity.

It was all a milestone for me since this was the first time I ever taught in a traditional high school class setting. I am --somewhat surprisingly-- quite satisfied with my confidence level. For a first-timer I think I did great. In the future however, I hope to be coming a bit better prepared and I will do my utmost to make the material as entertaining and enjoyable as possible.

Over the past two months here in the Qiryat Malakhi school system, I noticed that all students essentially do want to learn. The question really is: at what level and through what methods? the challenge for me is to figure out how to tailor-fit a lesson to the needs and preferences of the class at hand, so as to maximize their participation and learning experience.

Overall, the ITC program here is making a huge difference. Most of the students at my school know me by now, even though I still sometimes wonder how, not remembering most of their names. The small student group setting has been extremely effective at getting through to students who feel that big classes are too cold and impersonal. When I teach in small groups I make sure that everyone understands the text we are reviewing and the newly acquired vocabulary. I very often have students tell me that they want to be with me more often and that this experience works so much better for them.

Also yest. I had a student who was so happy and excited about studying English in my class that she said (in Hebrew) "with your help I will be able to do well on the Bagrut exams. I want to be with you every time (instead of the regular class)". Towards the end of the class she insisted that we finish the text in its entirety before we adjourn. I felt that she experienced a newly kindled hope and confidence in her ability to succeed in English after that class. I should point out that, ironically, this very same girl was a bit reluctant to join my group at first, claiming that she wouldn't understand me in English. The teacher assured her that I can explain things in Hebrew and that is of course precisely what I did, in order to make the text accessible and fun for her to read and understand.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Otzma ITC Experience

The Otzma ITC Experience in the Qiryat Malakhi School System. Today was a very special day for me in my journey towards becoming a school teacher: I was sitting in front of a full class of 12th graders and interviewed them as a preparation for their oral 5-point bagrut (=matriculation) exam. The kids were 16-18 years old and it was very evident that they invested a great deal of effort to reach the stage they were at in English proficiency. Some of them were almost as fluent as native speakers which most impressed me.

written Nov 4 2009