September 11, 2012 by travelinggrits
Newsletter articles, fliers, website content, media kits, the ubiquitous press release—my undergraduate career prepared me to be a jack-of-all trades when it came to writing and communications. But creating a lesson plan is a much different assignment from those I composed during my university career.
My previous teaching experiences were unconventional. As a peer health educator, I followed a set of predetermined scripts used by all of my co-workers so our university classes would receive the same information. As an outdoor adventure camp counselor, teaching exercises were spontaneous and free flowing, from pointing out flora and fauna on a hike to engaging in group reflection under the stars.
Thankfully, the Fulbright orientation staff coached us on classroom lesson plan development during our training, and we had several opportunities to practice during workshops and even during classroom hours of the Fulbright English camp.
But there’s nothing like the real thing. Now, I teach 20 classes a week in three different grade levels. The bell rings, and I stand before 36 students, calling them to attention for class to begin. Don’t let the school uniforms fool you—underneath their regimented appearance, they are still kids, with a desire to be engaged and entertained.
I take notes after each class in an Excel spreadsheet. I note trends in classroom behavior, areas of the lesson that were difficult for students to understand, transitions that could be smoother.
I’m slowly seeing the signs of progress. Students lighting up when I change the characters in a boring textbook dialogue to the stars of a well-known TV drama. Students laughing as I make a fool of myself, doing funny songs and dances for hard-to-pronounce vocabulary. Students volunteering to speak in front of the class, if only because they are acting out their own celebrity talk show. I celebrate these golden moments with a mental fist pump.
Don’t get me wrong—there are certainly still classes that bomb. Students staring at the speaking prompt on their desk, refusing to respond to my coaxing to read. Rowdy students getting dragged into the hallway by the co-teacher. Students writing incorrect sentences on their exit assignment even after being drilled on a grammar point. After these, I feel the need to hide under my desk. Sometimes I do allow myself to smack my forehead on the desk and breathe deeply for a few minutes. Then I regroup and move on.
Throughout my school career, plagiarism was strictly forbidden for essays and research assignments. At first I approached teaching this way; I resisted using ideas produced by others. But then I realized that originality was no longer a requirement. Best fit for your students is the ultimate goal—whether that’s achieved from the recesses of your own brain or the advice of other teachers or the suggestions of an online teaching resource. The greater exercise is to recognize what will work for your students.
And I’ve always prided myself on my creativity. But in teaching, creativity is not defined by the lesson itself but the lesson’s ability to build an alternate world where students are so engaged that they don’t even realize they are learning.
In some ways, public relations writing 101 does creep into my lessons. Have an effective hook. Be succinct. A picture really can tell a thousand words—in any language.
If I get nothing else out of this experience—even if I acquire no teaching skills whatsoever—I will have gained a better appreciation for my teachers over the years. The volume of work that goes into a single teaching hour—from brainstorming to preparing handouts to compiling presentation materials… I know what it feels like now. Each lesson is a small bird that you’ve nurtured. You know it has great potential and you look forward to seeing it take flight, but there’s also a lingering sense of apprehension at letting it spread its wings.
Teachers and mentors, please consider it the greatest form of flattery that I hope to plagiarize your material—to copy your perseverance despite the tough days and imitate your dedication to inspiring those golden moments.