Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On being an ETA...

I've thought about writing this entry for a long time. Just what, exactly, do I do here? With no prior teaching experience under my belt I've tried to branch out a little and try some experimental teaching methods to see what works best. The truth is, I still don't really feel like I know what I'm doing sometimes. My role is to engage students in English conversations or speaking activities, and to share with them whatever aspects of "American culture" I see fit. The biggest challenge to figuring out how to do this is the wide range of grade levels and abilities between my classes. Because I teach three classes each of eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh grades, I can't just repeat the same theme over and over again. For one thing, what works for some classes doesn't work for others. What's more is that my head would absolutely explode if I had to have the same discussion twelve times in the same week.

On an average week, here's the run-down on my classroom activities: Monday I have tenth grade and sometimes assign them projects to present on in class. Otherwise I usually have them watch a short video to get a discussion going. This could be on any topic, from current events to drug enforcement policy to technology's role in society. Tuesday I teach an elective course on American culture and then I have lessons with the 9th grade. For American culture I try to present broader topics like immigration and the civil rights movement on Power Point presentations, but I'm coming to realize that it might not be so useful for the students to learn the mundane details of American history. Rather, they find examples of culture in every day life to be more interesting. I probably spend far more time prepping for this class than I really need to. But I enjoy it and it gives me a chance to share something different with them. Ninth grade can be tough because there's a wide range of abilities at their level. But usually doing something interactive is what keeps them interested, and they help each other out if they need to. Wednesday is eleventh grade, and they're really great. I'm impressed with how mature and developed their language skills are sometimes. We usually debate some kind of issue or watch a video, like I do with the tenth grade, to open up a discussion. Thursday I have classes with the eighth grade. They are the most energetic grade level (which is no surprise, as they're all 13 or 14 years old- eek!) and because of this sometimes the most fun and frustrating for me. It's fun because they are so much more dramatic and creative at that age, but frustrating because it's so difficult for them to concentrate on a task for very long. For the most part we do role-play activities or I organize a game. If we're not playing a game they're usually asking me when we can stop doing whatever else we're doing and play.

As I consider my options for next year (one of which is staying in Bulgaria and teaching again) I'm trying to decide whether or not I'd want to do this all over again. I think that year number two would be much easier because I'll know what to expect and I already have a collection of lesson plans ready to use. But teaching is not really my chosen profession and I can imagine it getting pretty tiring after another year. I would definitely miss my students, though, and all of the funny/weird/rewarding experiences I've had working in a Bulgarian high school. I do enjoy my job and I think most of my students enjoy my classes (even if only for the fact that they aren't being tested and it's a break from the regular curriculum). But I'm also starting to miss home a lot and I'm looking forward to being back in Seattle this summer. Whatever I decide, I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to live in this fascinating and beautiful place and to learn more about another culture through first-hand experience.

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