Friday, March 7, 2008

Judgment calls.

A class-by-class appraisal of the cutest and most trying children on the planet:

1. School One's fourth graders are all right. I love the girls, and the boys are really polarized between the awesome ones and the two idiots, or three depending on how W* is feeling that day.
2. School One's third graders are just a big class. Here are twenty-three eight year olds. Teach them English. Oh and make it communicative and fun. Oh and they can barely write French, let alone decipher written English.
3. Marie-Pierre and I agree: her class of fourth graders at School Two have really strong personalities and really weak personalities. They've made it into a Students versus Teacher thing. They hate me no matter what and are rude and disrespectful. They pass notes, they get out of their seats without permission (a big deal in my schools apparently), make fun of me and my French, talk despite multiple punishments. Eeesh. We get so little accomplished.
4. Catherine's class of fourth graders at School Two are so well-behaved, minus the two sets of little boys with the same names who just piss everyone off. And the Roma girl who has fully accepted her role as the school pariah. Catherine also has been giving me fewer mildly disapproving looks from the back.
5. Sylvie's fifth graders at School Two only behave when she's in the classroom. There's a group of students who couldn't care less, a group of students who are all about English, and third group of the most lost little souls ever. I swear, they all have permanent puppy dog faces. In general, they're okay but they're not so much fun.
6. Christophe's fifth graders at School Two are my favorites. Hands down. I gave them a conversation activity today and would you believe it, but I heard ONLY ENGLISH for a full ten minutes among them. They are amazing. So smart, they work quickly, they pay attention, they make an effort, they try. Ah I'm so adopting the M4 girls (four girls in this class have names that start with M and they're all best friends. One of them actually takes German at the same time but I didn't know that this was her FIRST year of English because she's one of the best students). I love Christophe and his group of wunderkinds.
7. School Three's fourth graders are so cliquey. F* does not belong in English. He cannot function in a regular school environment. He cannot follow instructions. He has no filter. The rest of them do fairly well, and I like when Z* decides to participate.
8. I hate hate hate School Three's third graders. If I could, I'd take C*, O*, and K* and leave the other seven. They are so below the level of intellectual maturity required to learn English. This class really makes me question the wiseness of second languages in elementary classes.

The point of all this is that I'm in a rut, pedagogically speaking. I cannot expect the same lesson to work for all students or for all classes. School Three's third graders need either super-quiet busy seatwork or forty-five minutes of Simon Says and Head Shoulders Knees and Toes. Which would probably kill me but anything for the students, right? School Two's difficult fourth graders need more structure and responsibility, I think...whereas their classmates in the other section of fourth graders do just fine with teacher-centered activities.

I'm discovering the same problems I had in student teaching. I'm so worried about "losing" control in the classroom that all the activities and teaching methods I use are teacher-centered. Not only is this exhausting on the part of the teacher, but it also relieves the student of any personal responsibility for learning the material. The best activities I've had - Guess Who, Telephone Conjugations - were student-centered. They take more to plan and a lot more confidence in my own abilities to effectively introduce the material and in my students to properly follow the instructions.

The difficulties I'm seeing in my lessons are not a result of me not following the textbook. If anything, I believe my students are learning authentic and richer English than what I see in the textbooks I've been told to use. I do use some ideas from the books, and on a few occasions I've used some of the recordings.

I wish I had more training in FLES than just the three-credit course with Profesora Martinez. Even that was FLEX - just exposure, "look how cool Spanish/French is!", not "Here are vocabulary words that you will need to know for your middle school placement exam." Teaching, from what I've seen and heard from family and colleagues, is twenty percent training, ten percent instinct, and seventy percent experience. I am brand-new to this biznass, I just graduated, and I'm not a natural teacher. It's hard but I like it. Really. It helps that I truly do care about every one of my 144 students. I hope they know it.

In this marking period, here are the next topics that we are going to cover:
Third grade (CE2): Aminals! I just don't know what set or where to draw the set animals? Jungle animals? Forest animals? A random mix? From one of the textbooks or a storybook? A storybook from the liberry or my own?
Fourth grade (CM1): Other Foods Part I. This means meats and starches. Basically I picked some out of the food pyramid that have cultural significance on both sides of the pond.
Fifth grade (CM2): Places in school.

As my tutoring student canceled this week's lesson (she's visiting her two-year prep school!!), I will make a real effort to creating some engaging, student-centered, communicative, and productive activities for the lessons to come.

Four more months...

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