Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Being a Student Makes Me a Better Teacher

When was the last time you learnt something where you had NO prior knowledge, where you felt that blind panic that everyone else 'gets' it but you're too stupid or incapable, where tears sting your eyes as you fight back the frustration to hurl your book at the teacher's head?

Before last week, I had forgotten.

Last year, when I was also in Germany, I took a month of intensive classes. It was challenging, but I worked hard and did well in the tests. So, without hesitation, I decided to follow that up this year with the next level up. I sat the entrance test as required and made it into the expected group.

It started well. I understood the rules, learnt the grammar, did my homework, participated in class - everything a dedicated geeky, good girl does to succeed. And then came the test. It was challenging - that's fine. I was worried about doing well so prepared for hours. Now this isn't where I tell you I failed...I have not received the test back yet so I have no real idea on what happened.

But on Friday the class suddenly took a turn for the worse. You see, the teacher gave us some 'feedback' on our performance, which would have been great if it was preceded by: "you guys did great in this....but we need to work on....." It wasn't. Instead the conversation went something like this: " A couple (out of ten or so) of pieces of writing were great, but the rest had too many mistakes...". The cause of the worst errors was when people tried to translate directly from English and didn't think in 'German' enough. Now as the only actual English person in the room, and being one of three who speak any English, I felt that this feedback might have been directed at me. This was confirmed when exact examples of errors from my work were shared (anonymously) with the class.

I do not recall EVER having done this with my own students. I can tell you though that it felt like crap. I could feel anger bubbling inside me. It felt personal - both my failures and this particular method of conveying them to me, so publically was not on.

The situation worsened. We then hit some 'pointers' on the grammar test. Apparently we ALL got a certain sentence structure wrong. Fine, except the teacher seemed really aggrevated and as we tried to cluster together her advice in our heads was curt in giving us feedback. And by curt I mean :"No, that is completely incorrect" followed by an exasperated hand-gesture and eye-roll.

Being a teacher I KNOW how personal and upsetting it feels when your students fail to grasp what you thought you had taught them. I also know that when ALL students fail it isn't actually their failure, it's mine. On this occasion, they need apologising TO not made to feel like they are the ones to blame.

With ten minutes of the lesson to go, I wanted to open my mouth and yell. A primal feeling to get the hell out of there took over, so I with a threat of real tears I retreated to the toilet where I paced around wafting my hands at my face, trying to get rid of the blotches that form before I tend to cry.

It struck me at this point, that this is what learning feels like when you are doing it for the first time and when the situation is mishandled. It was how I felt in Mathematics when I was in Year 7 through to 9 and why I vowed at the start of my teaching career that I never wanted to make anyone feel like this again.

Except that I know that I have. Somewhere along the way I dismissed this in my head as teen hysterics. It isn't. It is the raw emotion of learning where you have nothing to grasp onto, no-one to depend on and with no excuse but to sit there and swallow whatever crap your grumpy teacher throws at you.

I could walk out and go to the 'loo' to calm myself down. Many teenagers can't or won't. So as someone who has been through a fairly 'petty' drama this week, which felt a lot bigger, I will try my hardest to remember it when I am dealing with those frustrations in the students I teach.

More than anything I needed to be told that I CAN DO IT and shown HOW. I will be doubling my efforts to build student self-esteem from September and be the biggest support I can be for my remaining term teaching in England.

Has anything like this happened to you? What was the best way anyone gave you feedback/confidence? Anyone fluent in German want to sit the next test for me? Pretty please?

*P.S. I learnt today, when I couldn't pronounce a word, that it is more useful for the teacher to give a ten minute lecture on why it was important to pronounce things properly, without any instruction on HOW to do it......well that motivated my lazy butt to be able to say the It motivated me not to speak for the rest of the class.....I just needed to share that. I'm done now. x

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Laura said...

Sounds like a lovely teacher. There is always one that seems to have it for you! Good luck, I'm sure your doing fine.

Dara @ Not In Jersey said...

doesn't sound like your teacher is a very good one. :(

Cocalores said...

Hopefully not what all teachers in Germany are like ;-) Well, I think you did the right thing in this moment and turned an awful situation into an optimistic outlook on the next semester. I don't know if this is the kind of class that asks for feedback at the end, but I'm sure you'll know how to give it.

Hey, and I volunteer for sitting through your next test - my German is ridiculously good ;-P (Thanks for not making me take any tests in other languages, though)

Let's talk more tomorrow! xo

Wenhao Guo said...
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