Sunday, January 22, 2012

Vacation English Camp: A 9-Day Rollercoaster of Language

It’s finally over. Two weeks of hard, solo work with 60 plus students has come to a close.  Lots happened, both good and bad.  

            The idea was planted in me by a counterpart of mine that offhandedly said that there should be some kind of prep work for the students coming into the first year at the institute.  Before this, the students had never received any kind of English education.  If they knew anything, it probably came from watching movies with subtitles or the occasional thing that an older brother or sister taught them.

            Originally I had hoped this could be a two-person job with me and a counterpart, but what with the professors taking full advantage of the break, it quickly fell to just me.  

            I remember how it felt when I first showed up to the class room.  I thought at most I’d have 15 students.  I had 32 the first day and it kept growing until I cut it off at 63.  

            I learned in the first two days that I lacked in classroom management.  Part of it is there being one of me and over 50 of them.  Their ages ranged from 11 to 15 and they saw right off that I was an inexperienced teacher and keeping some order in the classroom became exhausting.  

            But they learned quite quickly, and we accelerated through topics like, classroom objects, colors, personal introductions and even the alphabet.  Looking back, I think the class was, despite its flaws, a great success.

Tests proved to be a beast.  I had never written or given one in my life that was more than a swimming test in a Boy Scout camp.  I divided it into written and oral.  Giving oral exams to 60 plus students was mistake number one.  I started at 930 and wasn’t finished until 3 hours later even when I was taking them two at a time.

Grading drew out another experience that I would not like to relive.  On the whole, the majority passed well and those that failed were kids that really couldn’t care less about the class as something more than a hang out.  However, there was one girl that tried so hard, came every day, participated in every activity, but she just couldn’t pass a test to save her life.  Even with a very generous helping of extra credit, she couldn’t make a passing 60 average.  

When she started crying and ran out of the class after I told her I just couldn’t pass her, I never felt so terrible.  I felt like I had failed her more than anything.  But this is the reality of teaching classes of this size.  Some are going work their butts off and still not make it.  If I “pity pass” them, I’ve disrespected the hard work and talent of those that earned the passing grades.  And after that they would be less motivated to keep up those good work ethics.  

So after nine classes, every one of my students will be going into first year English a little more prepared, some better than others.  But in the end, learning languages is always a work in progress, and no matter what grade someone gets, it all comes down to successful communication.

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