The words contained in the title are not particularly related to the content of this post beyond the fact they are words I couldn’t get out of my head for these 4 weeks of study.
After my last post, some people on the course asked me what I was going to write in this one. Which made me curious about what I would actually write and what people would think. When a group of 30 or more people are shoved together for 4 weeks there’s going to be some drama. In fact, there wasn’t really that much, to be honest. We were – mostly – adults.
As new faces started appearing on the weekend, our peaceful processing of all things grammar quickly faded to distant regions of the brain. By Sunday evening the place was abuzz with faces from across the globe. It was quick to see that there was one Muslim group and another Chinese group of people. They were all split across separate smaller groups on the first day, though that didn’t mean they didn’t stick together at most other times. This caused some minor divides but about two-thirds of us were from other places and we all mixed together well enough. It became apparent to me fairly quickly that it was good to talk to as many people as possible to get different points of view and different ideas – this made the idea of sticking in your little clique seem slightly self-defeating though it was an obvious comfort.
The Muslim group introduced themselves early on. They were a group of teachers from Pakistan, seemingly lead by one, who we found out later was more a department head rather than teacher herself. She asked if we like Thailand, to which we confirmed, only to be told that Pakistan is better. As they walked off, she called back “Don’t mind me, I’m a jolly one!” which I thought rather odd and cute.
It worried me that there was a high percentage of teachers on this course. Surely they would have a real advantage over those of us with no experience at all. Thankfully they were given the task of teaching before the rest of us, which at least gave us an extra day preparation. I also gave us a view of how other teachers go about their work.
So it was that on the second evening of the course we would watch the experienced teachers perform. Whilst having nothing to compare with, I was mostly just concentrating on things that I saw that I thought I could use myself. The following evening would be my turn and as I prepared during the night time and that morning I soon found the templates we could use to plan our lessons. Although not needed at this stage it was obvious to me that they were useful guidance even not knowing how to fill them correctly. I also made good use of the internet to see how previous students had done things and found valuable resources that would help with the assignments too. Most of these were posted without comment so there was no clue as to whether they were good/correct or not but they at least provided ideas for the way to do things. The CELTA folks are also pretty on the ball about plagiarism so straight copying would have been no benefit anyway.
During the daytime we were attended our own classes to learn all about the processes and skills needed to perform to meet the course requirements. This is where I think that having no previous teaching experience was a benefit as starting with a clean slate was easier to deal with. Experienced teachers were being asked to unlearn their methods and also they could see that the methods they were being taught may not be useful in their own environments, hindering their motivations somewhat.
So I opened my brain and let everything in and quickly adjusted to the tempo of the course. The third evening was my turn to teach and despite sweaty palms and stuttering heart rate I went really well considering it was the first time I had ever done such a thing. I could see that a well prepared plan made for a successful lesson so knew that this was where I should be concentrating my energies. From here on out I enjoyed the planning and thinking about ways to improve my lessons based on what we were being taught each day. And we were being taught a lot.
Again, I quickly surmised that there was no way we could learn, remember and incorporate everything we were being taught. Based on feedback after each lesson you were advised what needed to be improved so it made sense to concentrate on that.
But then came the assignments. Each week a new assignment with ever decreasing deadlines. They really interfered with lesson preparations, especially if you had to resubmit them as I had to on two of the four. But again, it was apparent that there was no penalty for resubmission so it made sense to do your best for the first submission and follow the advice provided for the second. This at least gave an extra few days here and there.
Everyone was warned at the beginning of the course that they would have to deal with critical feedback during the four weeks and some didn’t handle it so well. I think I had a somewhat blasé attitude to the course after the first week. After the initial stresses, reassurances from Amy to just do my best, and fairly positive feedback from my colleagues as well as our tutors I ended up concentrating on the end date and when it would all be completed and I would have my CELTA certificate. This enabled me to cope with criticism of my teaching in a positive way. After all, we were being told these things so that we could improve and ultimately so that we could pass the course. Our teachers were obviously trying to help us, without spoon feeding us.
At one point, one of the teachers from Pakistan complained to me that they weren’t being taught anything and that they were just being given advice on where to look to go and find out things for themselves. Their background shows this method of teaching where someone stands at the front of class and tells the students A is A and B is B. This is how they were taught (pretty much how I was taught too) and this is how they teach.
What was particularly surprising about the comment was that just 10 minutes before, everyone had agreed that this method wasn’t the best way for students to learn. Being guided to discover the solutions for yourselves is generally a better way to retain learning. At this point I realised that I could be a teacher. If some of the people I met on the course were already teachers with years of experience I found myself thinking I could easily do a better job than them. Whether I actually can or not in the future remains to be seen. At least all these things put me at ease.
I was dealing with the stress of everything well enough, even as experienced teachers started coming to me for assistance with their plans and assignments. The 50m swimming pool outside my window often begged my attendance but I rarely got chance to use it again. I also found the best folks amongst my colleagues to ask for advice and guidance when needed. One in particular, Iranian, London girl, Hedie stood out with her calm and methodical approach to everything, even as everyone around was in a spiral stress ball. I was also lucky that she was teaching the same subjects as myself so we could understand and advise each other about approaches and develop ideas, whilst not just copying them directly. Our own teachers were also very supportive with this and at one point our teacher jokingly challenged us to teach a lesson without speaking at all. Fortuitously my next lesson seemed to fit the bill and when I told that I planned to have 0% speaking time she pulled me up and said she was only joking and that it would be really weird to not talk at all! My hopes for the challenge slightly dashed I did however manage to keep my talking time around 10% and the class was brilliant. I was really starting to get into the groove by this point and continued to push myself constantly, rising to the teachers challenges for the final lesson of the course, which unfortunately saw me come undone. It was a slight bummer to end the 4 weeks on a less than positive lesson but again, I didn’t want to take the easy option and was just trying to push myself further. All good learning experience.
So it was, by the last day, everyone was now more relaxed and looking forward to their next adventures, whether continuing traveling or returning to teaching. We headed into the city to partake in some alcohol, something I had purposely been avoiding this 4 weeks, but for me I couldn’t shake the sudden lack of stresses which resulted in a tired lethargy that saw me bow out earlier than the rest.
The final morning as a few of us walked up the road for a big breakfast I got a sudden feeling of Stockholm Syndrome. I didn’t want to leave. This place had been my life, fully consumed, for 4 weeks and now it was a return to reality. That reality was now uncertain. My head still spinning with 3rd conditionals and how to make a good reading lesson I would be thrust back into the world of gardening and job hunting.
There were many more stories, much more gossip and a whole host of feelings skipped over in this writing. I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach this post and with time marching ever onward I wanted to get these words down before the memories fade further.
And the title of the post? Some folks worked their way through their stress with meditation, relaxing music and yoga, some with alcohol. I don’t know why, but the abrasive noise of Circus Lupus and Chris Thompson’s screaming put me right in the frame for writing lesson plans into the early hours. Their two albums will now and forever be associated with this time.
“We’re all good people, all my people, just sitting around, drowned in sound, Open your eyes……… Ennnnnnnd.”