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Hello. I'm Sean and I live in Japan. I'm glad you've come because I need you to do something for me.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Sum of the Parts

As I sit here typing, it is late summer, a beautiful night, and the eve before yet another week of work. When put like so, nothing seems paticularily out of place, or different from many of the Sunday nights of weeks previous. And, for all intensive purposes, you're right - it's not much different then many others. However, for me, it is slightly different; I'll tell you why.

I suppose the main difference for me is that I'm a little more tired than I would usually find myself at the end of a weekend. As I have mentioned before, my typical quanitiy of sleep during the Monday to Friday haul is relatively low. That said, I am often limping into the weekends, with Saturday and Sunday in the plans as days to fill the tanks, unwind, and prepare for the next 5 day span. I guarentee this isn't unique to me, but maybe you're an exception. The point of my digression is this: I was unable to get the amount of sleep I would normaly log on a weekend.

Yesterday marked the beginning of my 60 hour TESL course (Teaching English as a Second Language), that is held on weekends at WLU. It is a bit of a whirlwind trip of a course, running for three consecutive weekends on both the Saturday and Sunday for 9 hours at a time.

Now if I recall back to the few times I made the mistake of signing up for night lectures at University, I remember that sitting in class and paying attention for a period of even three hours was a grind. It was suprisingly exhaustive to sit in a dull, boring anthropology or history elective for three hours and pay attention. Therefore, you can imagine that multiplying that class time three fold and starting it at 9 in the morning is quite draining.

However, this was even more tiring, because I wasn't bored, I was engaged. You'd be suprised how much more wiped you are after a class where you are actively discussing and involved. Being bored may cause drowsiness, but actively thinking and speaking for extensive periods will make you tired.

Now at first glance this course seemed pretty short, even to me. I even remember questioning how much I could really learn in such a little span of time. Yet, when I do the math, 60 hours is equivalent to (you guessed it) sixty of the normal hour lectures you would take in university. If you figured about three lectures a week at an hour each, that would be 20 weeks of classes. Case in point, it is like taking a full semester course in the span of six days, without as much time to process it.

The course, as best I can explain it, is essentially all the basics of what is teacher's college thrust into a single class. The start is theory, moving into practical teaching application and followed by hands on opportunities to apply what has been learned in a presentation format. One of the suprising things about the content being learned is that it is really a lot of common sense - yet things we never take the time to think about.

The instructor, by most means isn't out of the ordinary in any regard. Friendly, smart, and well spoken, nothing on first glance would set her apart from many other teachers her age. And yet, I think what makes her stand out so prominently is that she is the first teacher I've talked to that has ever made the process of educating others seem so potentially overwhelming.

No, she never once said teaching was hard. The opposite is actually true, and she made the point of saying that one can auto pilot a course with very little inguenuity and still most likely get a contract renewal. This by no means will make you an effective teacher, or help your students retain a lot of what you present, but it can earn you a consistent pay cheque.

Yet, the way in which she talks about her teaching history is almost palpable. You can imagine every ingenious solution she had to what seems like a otherwise stymying dilemma. To reiterate, she never presents it in a way to be daunting, but what IS daunting about it is to imagine if you could have come to the same solution in a similar situation. Am I intuitive and creative enough to understand when a specific child is not learning on par with the other children, and then adapt and alter my educating methods to better incorporate that learning style? I know now, after two days, that I was by no means ready to teach in Japan if I had recieved a job. I'm lucky to know this. Luckier still are the Japanese kids I could have potentially taught.

As an aside, I am aware that at some point in her career she must have experienced a learning curve. Furthermore, as both an instructor for a teaching course, as well as a teacher in practice, the theory and ideas are always fresh and present to her now - which I can only assume is very advantageous. And after eight years of teaching consistently, it would be strange to me if she DIDN'T talk with confidence and experience. I have to remember that it's a gradual process.

When I think of the first two days of learning, the first thing that comes to my mind is the idiom "you can't see the forest through the trees". Although this idiom actually puts a negative connotation on paying to much attention to the parts and therefore missing the whole; it comes to mind because I feel like a teacher can only really effectively teach a class by focusing on the individual needs, and not the group as a whole. One really MUST see the forest for the trees if they want to teach, otherwise the needs of the few will be drowned out by the needs of the majority.

The 'new' theory in teaching is that of multiple intelligences. Essentially, different kids learn differently. Now as we were told when learning it, it seems to silly to think that this really is a new theory in any way. How does this not seem like common sense? Yet, how many classes in elementary and high school do you remember sitting through where a teacher dictated information while you sat and tried to absorb? This is great for the auditory learners (which fortunately for me I am), but is a tough way to learn when you need to be hands on or visual.

Now think about every kid in these classes that would fidget, be distractive and always do bad on tests and assignments. If you were like me, you'd assume they were dumb. I was a jerk. Yet, take that same fidgety kid and make him play a sport in gym class and all of the sudden he may excel. The point: being athleticly capabale is a type of intellegence. There are so many examples. So how can an academic course be altered to better incorporate the needs of someone who best learns actively and hands on? I can't give you a good answer on this yet, but I definitely excited to continue to explore the possible answers.

I guess the best summary to what I learned in the theory portion of this course is that every kid is intellegent, the distinction is on how are they intellegent. There are no bad kids, just bad teachers. I so desperately don't want to be a bad teacher.

As of right now, as I eluded to, I am slightly overwhelmed. I'm not afraid to try and teach, and excited for the chance, but it certainly can be daunting. Who doesn't want to emulate that favourite teacher they had as a kid. I want to be like that one teacher you had that is engaging and makes the students enjoy class, and just maybe I'll get my chance sooner than later.

Much Love



  1. Well put! I love how you put your passion and excitement about this TESL class (and teaching in general) into words. I think the lessons today definitely helped to solidify my dreams of becoming a teacher. It was awesome to see all of the different ways to teach and to see how teaching doesn't just involve paperwork, but can be an awesome experience through games, dances, songs... and colouring :)

  2. Thanks for the kind words Kristen. I hope that even a fraction of the excitment you bring to the profession can be imparted to your students.