I’m now officially a teacher of English to Southeast Asian children. I felt supremely unqualified before I started. Now…not so much, though technically I’m still not qualified.
Currently, I teach SD5, SD6 and SMA. In the American grading system, SD5 and SD6 are the equivalent of 5th and 6th grades, respectively, so these students are between 10 and 12 years old. SMA is the equivalent of senior high school so these students are between 16 and 18 years old.
The first class I taught was for SD5 students, who are around 10 years old. They are so small that I mistook them for 6 year olds (we’ll talk about the size of the locals in another post). Attending class for the first time that day was a cute little boy who we’ll call D. So adorable, so innocent-looking…I just know he’s trouble outside of class. But he behaves in class, pays attention, is bright and tries to understand the lesson. He also calls 18 ‘exteen’. I was so startled when it first happened. I kept trying to get him to say ‘aaayyy-teen’ but he just kept repeating ‘aaayyy-xxxxxteen!’
I asked my colleagues after class what was up with that and came to understand that this is how Indonesians are taught to pronounce 18 in English class at school. This seems to be true since in every grade that I’ve taught since then where we’ve been doing numbers, ‘exteen’ comes out of most students’ mouths.
Anyway, back to how classes are going.
The NGO with which I’m volunteering has a syllabus for each class and we’re guided by that. There are some challenges that make sticking to the syllabus difficult at times. For example, some children don’t show up for every class so I may have a particular plan for that day’s class that I have to scrap because nobody from the last class showed up. So instead I have children in class who weren’t at the last class and are therefore unfamiliar with the material. My SD5 class is like that. I also have the challenge of children in the same class being of varied levels of understanding so that I’m running 2 different classes at once – a more advanced one and a less advanced one. My SD6 class is like that.
My first week, I winged it. I checked the syllabus to see what topics I should be working on with my students and I came up with some exercises for each class. We got through it alright but that approach didn’t feel sustainable. I could see where it would be stressful for me to continue like that – how would I teach new concepts? Fortunately, I was reminded that I should be preparing a lesson plan for each class, which is far more detailed than just coming up with some exercises. I started doing lesson plans my second week and haven’t looked back since; they help me feel much more confident in delivering my lessons.
On a side note, when I just started teaching my classes I noticed that my body had a pattern. For my first class of the afternoon, I would spend the first 10 minutes or so sweating profusely. Then I guess my nervous system would relax and the sweating would stop and I would be OK. This happened for the first 2 weeks then I settled right down and it hasn’t happened since.
Meanwhile, I genuinely like my SD5 students because they are smart and eager to learn, though their English is mediocre at best for their level. I also like my SD6 students because they are mostly a group of tween girls who are giggly and chatty and super friendly; their English is bad for their level, though they seem to understand it much better than they speak it. My SMA class is also eager to learn and are very curious about everything, though they are very guarded in how they ask about things, given their very conservative upbringing.
So, I would say that classes have started well and I’m starting to improve as a teacher of English as a second language. My goal is to make class interesting enough that my students will come to every class (and not keep missing important things that I have to keep re-teaching), pay attention in class and understand the material, and therefore be better at English when I leave here in 1 year.
Hope springs eternal.