I arrived at my school early on Monday morning, signed-in and took my name tag. This was followed by a quick meet and greet session with typical ice-breaker activities. The course was fourteen of us; three English, a couple of Russians, some Kazakhs and a few random nationalities like Spain and Peru thrown in the mix. We jumped straight into an overview of the course – five assignments in total. Four Language systems/skills assignment (LSAs) each of which is a cold-hearted bitch made up of a 2500 word background essay and a 2000 word lesson plan. And a Professional Development Assignment (PDA) which is considered ‘the fun part’ – another 2000 words on our development and a 2000 word experimental lesson and review – divided up into five parts. One of which is due at the end of each week.
After we wrapped our heads around the sheer scale of the trial we are facing we got our first assignment: ‘Go home and write a thousand words on your beliefs as a teacher’. ‘Easy’ I thought – apparently unaware of just how little I had to say on my beliefs. This was slog and in an attempt to bulk it up I ended up adding, words, commas, and circuitous language.
The next morning was spent planning for our first observed ‘diagnostic’ lesson that afternoon. My lesson was ok, but there was no beating-around-the bush as my tutor let me know in no uncertain terms exactly what was doing wrong. Thankfully, they were mostly small items, but that I had never even thought about, for example ‘Why was I getting students to read a text out-loud?’ What were we working on reading? speaking? pronunciation? Did I even know or was it just a habit that I had seen everyone else doing and assumed was correct?
The next day we wrote reflections, then we were straight back to it. Research and planning our first LSA began. I was scheduled to be assessed on Tuesday and needed everything handed in by Monday, so this basically gave me four days to get it done.
For some stupid reason I thought I’d do ‘Language systems: Grammar’ specifically ‘Using and understanding articles’ I think my logic was ‘There’s only ‘a, an and the’ how hard can it be?’. Amateur error… Saturday was eight hours straight of reading. Sunday was around five because my eyes could no longer focus. I managed to get over the first hurdle and figuratively put pen-to-paper. By the start of the week two I had my forty pages of A4 in preparation for a single-hour of teaching.
Along with our ‘LSAs’ we also needed Part 2 of our ‘PDAs’ – another thousand words detailing our plan for improvement – in on Monday. All of which our tutors were not allowed to help with or look at drafts – we did however have consultation and input periods that involve a lot of questions.
My first assessment went well, I got a distinction for the essay and a merit for the lesson. This was because I hit the research so hard and did exactly what I was told in the lesson planning guidelines. For other members of the group whose feedback was less positive, things got very-real very-quickly and tears became a regularity.
By Wednesday morning a lesson analysis of another 500-750 words was due.
Combined with the regular teaching practice we did (2 afternoons per-week), preparation for the LSAs, the PDA and the stress of it all, people started to fade. The happy, excited trainees I met on day one were now mostly moping, pale and withered with bags under their eyes. Two out of fourteen dropped-out. To be fair, one of them had family issues, another just realized it wasn’t for him and left.
The weekend between 2 & 3 was all research. This time I was doing a skills assignment (at least one skill & one system are required) specifically, ‘understanding a native teacher conversation’. Again, I shortly came to realize many things I’d been doing for years were just straight-up wrong. I thought I had been teaching listening – I hadn’t. I’d been practicing it. Although the difference between learning a skill and practicing it are subtle, it is real.
Providing a thousand words of analysis of something you don’t know how to do is hard and I really learnt a lot this week. By choosing a weak area, I got the most from the assignment and although it was hard I managed to get through with a (low) pass.
Tensions were now running high, personalities were clashing and complaints were flying round – when you are in such a high-stress situation you get to see who people really are, that includes the good and the bad. One of the best bits of advice we got from our tutors was that ‘this was not an individual course’. We had to work together and help each other out or failure would be inevitable.