Saturday, October 10, 2009

Work: The Curse of the Drinking Classes

"Early to bed and early to rise probably indicates unskilled labor."
John Ciardi

When I first decided to come to Poland, I resolved to find a job which would allow me to develop my skills as a teacher. My previous teaching gigs were all of a slightly odd nature, nothing too typical. In Seoul, I taught at a combination school/camp, where kids came for a week at a time and classes were experiential. So, for example, I would spend a week working in the "Bank" or "Talk Show" classrooms, teaching the kids all the vocab needed to make a bank deposit or accuse someone of being their baby daddy. Fun, but not real teaching. In France, I was contracted to work 12 hours each week, but only averaged about 8. I taught masters-level university students, and my job was to be a native accent that they could listen to when the urge struck them. During my 6 month contract, I was treated to 6 weeks of vacation. It barely qualified as real work, and I thoroughly enjoyed the break from reality.

Since I'd like to make teaching my career, I figured I'd best get on the stick and acquire some real teaching practice. Hence, my decision to find a normal, 9-5 teaching job in Poland. Um, yeah. The job I finally found isn't exactly normal, and it certainly isn't 9-5, but I will be getting lots of practice. Let me tell you a bit about it...

I will refrain from using the actual name of the school (since I will likely want to bitch about them at some point in the future), but it's one of several in a popular chain located throughout southern Poland. It uses a specific teaching style known as the Avalon Direct Method. In short, this requires trained teachers, such as myself, to forget everything they've learned about the popular and effective communicative method (student-centered) and switch back into a teacher-focused, lecture type style. I have my doubts as to the effectiveness of this method, but teachers who have been here awhile say that it is successful. I think it will take a significant time for me to come around to this opinion, but I'm willing to be open-minded.

Basically, for my adult classes, I have to stand at the front of the room and ask students questions from the coursebook they're following (there are 4 levels of coursebooks). Each lesson is 80 minutes, usually with a 5 minute break in the middle. For the first 40 minutes, I ask them questions that they have covered in previous classes. Students usually end up reviewing each question about 4-5 times. I ask the questions randomly, so students have to listen constantly in case they're called on to answer. An example: "Where is the most exciting place you have ever traveled to?" Answer: "The most exciting place I have ever traveled to is Lithuania." The students practice target vocab and grammar by imitating the structure they hear in the question.

Some of the questions are really ridiculous, though. "Is it good to be alive?" is one of my favs, along with, "Do you have anything expensive in your bag?" Whenever I ask something like that, I make sure to add, "Because I want to steal it later." Always gets a laugh. There are lots of questions that I consider invasive or too personal, like "How much was your last phone bill?" "Have you gotten a raise recently?" and ones on religion and other somewhat taboo topics.

The second 40 minutes is typically spent doing new work, which involves actual teaching. Although, again, it's teacher-centered. So, I have to just talk them through things like new vocabulary and grammar structures instead of giving them tasks to do in order to learn the material. Then I ask them the new questions that go with the new work. It can get a bit tedious, as I'm sure you're imagining. I've found that it's significantly more enjoyable if the group I'm teaching has good chemistry. If they are easy to laugh or to make fun of themselves, and there's a good vibe in the room, then it makes my job a lot more fun. If they all sit there stony-faced and bitter...well, it makes for an excruciating 80 minutes, let me tell you.

We constantly rotate groups, so I never teach the same group twice in a week. Working hours vary enormously. I can have a lesson at 7:15am (the taxi to the company where the lesson is held leaves at 6:55, which means I have to be conscious at 5:45 in order to throw on some clothes and make it to school on time) and then not have another until 6:20pm. Days like that are fairly rare, though. Usually, I have at least one lesson in the early afternoon, at 3:20. Still, it is possible to have to work until 9pm. Split shifts are an undeniably annoying aspect of this job.

In direct contrast to my adult lessons, I also teach children. Thankfully, their curriculum and the expected teaching methods to be used with them are much more communicative and student-centered. This still doesn't mean that every class is a treat, unfortunately.

I have two groups that I refer to as "my babies." They are 6 or 7 years old, and each group has about 8 kids on a good day. I dread these classes as much as one can possibly dread 40 minutes of anything. I am simply not a lover of small children, it must be said. There is nothing in my history or personality which indicates a desire to sing the "Hello, hello!" song while dancing around like a retarded Barney. Every time I walk into that classroom, I feel like a giant fraud, like one of the students is going to call me on my shit and say, "Who the hell do you think you are, clapping like an idiot like that? If your friends could only see you now, they would never stop mocking you. Ever." I need students that I can take out for a drink, not students that are only a few years off the tit.

Other than the babies, I also have a group of 12 year olds. I actually enjoy teaching them, even though they occasionally get on my nerves with their constant urge to chatter and annoyingly pubescent attitudes. I often feel like a real teacher when I have them, so that's good for both my resume and self-esteem.

I've only been observed once since starting to teach, and it was, naturally, one of my baby classes. I have each group for 40 minutes, and they're back-to-back. I was going to be observed for only the second half, so I figured that the first lesson would be like a run-through. Oh no, not to be. First, only about half of the kids showed up, and the ones who did come didn't feel like getting out of their damn chairs that day. There is no sadder sight to see than a 32 year old woman dancing alone to the "Hello, hello!" song, let me tell you. The rest of the lesson was like pulling teeth, but the lesson plan did last until the very end of class. Unlike the lesson for which I was observed, where the kids were hyperactive and the lesson plan was finished with 15 minutes left to go. 15 minutes is an eternity with kids this young, especially when one is being observed! So, we ended up playing a couple games with flashcards and the realia I had brought with me to class (basically hide and go seek with the glue stick and pencil case). It was a torture, and I was sweating buckets of frustration and embarrassment by the end. I won't get my feedback until Monday morning, so I guess we'll see how much I'm to be punished.

But, before you start thinking that I must hate my job, I have to say that I really don't. Mostly, I don't hate it because I work with some really excellent people. My fellow teachers and the staff are all my age or younger, from England, America, South Africa, and Poland. It makes for a great working atmosphere, and I do really love just hanging out with them, either at work or some pub (as we seem to do quite a lot, actually).

I feel positive about my job, overall. I'm sure I'll get the hang of the kids' stuff one of these days. But if I ever turn into someone who actually enjoys dancing around like a retarded Barney...please, just shoot me.

No comments:

Post a Comment