Thailand University Teacher Extraordinaire

The trials and tribulations of a young English teacher

And so it begins…

on Mon,Dec,2010

Hello everyone. Allow me to introduce myself. I am a 20 something year old English teacher at a top university in Thailand. Needless to say that I will be a little fuzzy on specifics for the safety of the innocent and the guilty.

Let’s dive straight in shall we? I’ve been teaching for 2 and a half years, and I’m starting to feel the pressure. I’m not really clicking with one of my classes. We’re about halfway through a 16 week course that aims to teach grammar and academic writing to Economics students. We’ve reached the point where roughly 50% of the students in the class are unhappy with lessons. With the 8 weeks that remain, I’m going to do my very best to turn this class around.

Before I can do that, I need to examine how we got to this point. The most obvious reason, which shrieks away in my head like a banshee, is a lack of planning. With the huge pressure I’m under for my 5 other classes, my time has become very much a premium. If my workload was a slice of bread, and I was a tiny dollop of butter clinging to the knife of…I’ve been spread too thinly. There’s too much work and not enough of Teacher Eric to go around. I’ve neglected this course, and I’m now deservedly reaping the seeds of apathy that I was so quick to sow. No more attempted metaphors today, that’s a promise.

My lack of preparation for this course inevitably led to disaster in the classroom. Leaving my notebook of answers in my office, or even worse, not having written any at all before the class was not unlike cooking naked. It couldn’t have possibly ended well. This is particularly true for a course where the answers themselves are tricky sentences joined in a complicated way with specific words and grammatical patterns needing to be used. When you’re forced to “ad lib” when explaining what the right answer is, you’ve got problems. To quote a mediocre American TV show, PPPPPP. Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Take note Eric, take note.

So why was my preparation so bad? Simple, because of poor time management. I didn’t handle my 5 other courses, write exams, deal with Ajarn Rose, mark exams, and write new course materials in a timely fashion. I allowed a huge backlog of work to pile up, and I failed to look out for myself by saying no when asked by colleagues to take on extra work. I’ve learned a valuable lesson.

Sadly for my battered self esteem, there’s more. My classroom management skills have been less than stellar for this course. I’ve allowed my students to regularly stumble into class late without fear of reprieve. It’s not unusual for class to start 15 minutes late due to a lack of students, and for students to shamble in more than an hour late. A few of the students weren’t punctual in the first couple of weeks, and I’ve allowed this to snowball. My failure to tale any kind of action has only exacerbated things.

So what I hear you cry, how do tardy students lead to poor teaching? Allow me to explain. As students continually turn up late, they have to complete work which has already been done by other students. This makes me delay giving answers and explanations (to make sure the late students do the work) and it has a knock on effect on everything. The punctual students find themselves miles ahead, and because of the lack of timely feedback, their work begins to decline. Of course I monitor vigorously and give feedback to students individually or in pairs, but as the students find themselves doing a vast range of exercises and activities, I find that monitoring is all I do. I get no respite from students (which should normally come when they read through the materials), and any structure the lesson is supposed to have just falls away. As the class ends, everyone breaths a huge sigh of relief and is happy to escape, myself included.

So that’s my first entry: a healthy dose of self deprecation at worst, or critical reflective teaching at best.

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