Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Success in Quarter 2

Two quarters complete. One semester down. Half way through my first year teaching in Turkey.

My tumultuous first quarter prepared me for many of the challenges in this teaching context, including student motivation, last-minute changes, and difficult classroom management. However, the second quarter provided me a reprieve from the struggles of the first. I taught the top two sections of a CEFR B1 level listening and speaking class, using a textbook designed for English for Academic Purposes--my specialty. I also taught a mid-range section of CEFR A2, which kept me grounded in what the majority of teachers here trudge through on a daily basis.

Our classes work like this: based on proficiency and achievement test scores, students are sorted out first into A1, A2, B1, B2 levels. Then, within those levels, they are further divided into sections. The first quarter, we had 31 sections of A1 and handful of the others. The second quarter, 27 sections of A2. Our students basically progress en mass through the four levels. Each quarter, though, some teachers are assigned to teach in the other levels. I considered myself lucky to be one of the few teaching B1 students--they were absolutely awesome. My A2 section was fun in its own way, too. We managed to push through some very difficult material in A2, and I'm really proud of my students for picking up as much as they did. We had a lot of inside jokes in that class--"├žay accidents" for spilled tea; "BRReak, BRReak, BRReak" for the end of a lesson. It was fun.

While I can chalk up a lot of the success I enjoyed in the second quarter to awesome students and different classroom dynamics (every teacher can relate to the seemingly random nature of groups of students who are productive together, and groups who are...not); I can also congratulate myself on personal growth as a teacher.

I handed out a syllabus on the first day of class with my expectations about classroom behavior, homework, and where empty tea cups belong (this is Turkey, after all). I was consistent with my "lights off means silence" policy all quarter, and it worked much better this time.

I did my best not to take students' behavior personally. I often reminded myself that these  are 18-year-olds who are experimenting with adulthood, meeting new friends, and experiencing university life for the first time. They want attention from each other. They want to be social. They don't care about relative clauses. I thought a lot about something a very zen colleague once said. "When I see students not paying attention, I think, he isn't ready to learn today." I like how that phrase takes the burden off of me. I focused on students who were ready, and did my best to get the others on board when I could.

One of my favorite experiments this quarter was using Facebook groups with students. Each class had a group where we could post and share things. I assigned students to make videos of themselves speaking English, write paragraphs, answer questions, and watch YouTube videos using Facebook. It was way better than I expected. Some students really took to it. Some were nonplussed, but that's normal. The students who liked it really seemed to enjoy posting and commenting on their friends' posts. Many students took advantage of the chat function to ask me questions, or wish me well on the weekends. While sometimes I wanted to escape from the messages, they were almost always important things or messages that made me feel good as a human being. Sometimes that doesn't happen enough to teachers.

Of course some students dug through my Facebook with a fine-toothed comb, finding some pictures that I might not choose to show them otherwise. You can imagine the horrifying moment shared by me and a student when a third student blurted out "Jena! Can I ask you about a picture Mahir sent to me? I didn't know you were like that!"  Oh no. What did I forget to delete? By the way, Sent to me.??Yes, they've been texting my FB profile pictures to each other. Oh boy. I'm not sure who was more embarrassed, me or the sender, but we actually talked about the picture, featuring a friend and me decked out in gothic Halloween make-up from 2007, and I think we all felt much less awkward after that. Even empirical studies suggest that sharing Facebook inherently makes teachers a little more open with student, and this is part of building a trusting community. See Mazer, Murphy, and Simonds (2007). Of course, the natural consequence is built in--students know more about you, and in a digital world, there can be an awful lot to know.

Did I delete that picture after school? Yes I did. I thought I had eliminated most traces of my undergraduate life from Facebook, but I guess I missed that one.

So, I'm leaving the second quarter on a high note, full of momentum. There's a pretty good chance that I will be slowed by the one month break from teaching, and that my next teaching schedule won't be so awesome, but I can take comfort in my newfound confidence and my expanding knowledge of this student population.