Saturday, March 31, 2012

Teaching One vs. Many

The schools here, and in Zimbabwe which is the curriculum I’m using, start their school year in January.  In Zimbabwe, first term goes for 12 weeks and then they get the month of April off.  Then second term goes from May to July and they get August off.  Then the third and final term goes from September to November with the month of December off and it is the end of the school year.

In Tanzania, they go from January to May for first term and get June off.  Then they go from July to November for second term and get December off which is the end of the school year.

I have officially finished teaching the first term with my student this week.  As a result, I find myself looking back and thinking about how different it is to teach one student after spending the last five years teaching from 20-120 students. 

One thing is, I have the time and availability to make sure he has mastered a concept before we move on.  For example, he was struggling to understand rounding, so we spent an extra day on it than what I had planned and he is now able to round like a pro :)  With my classes back in the state, I am more likely just to expose the students to the concepts than actually aim for mastery.  We would spend too much time on each subject and I would have some students who mastered the information quickly and would be bored if we spent too long on the topic.  For most cases, I try to get close to mastery for most of them and then we have to move on.

Another thing is the parent support is fantastic when you only have one student.  It also helps, I suppose, that the parents are missionaries.  But even if they weren’t, it’s much easier to discuss problems as they occur with a student rather than having to schedule a conference when we’re all available and then sit down and discuss it and have them support their child’s behavior instead of my opinions about his behavior.  I still find myself a little nervous when I give out a consequence to my student that he’ll go home and tell his parents about it and I’ll get a call or we’ll sit and discuss it and what they think I should have done instead.  That has yet to happen here and I don’t think it actually will, but that’s what I’m used to with my classes in the States.  It also helps that I spend a lot of time with the family as a whole so I can see how they discipline my student when he’s not behaving and I can follow their example in my classroom.  When I babysit, I would much rather watch kids when I’ve spent a lot of time with the entire family and know what is already expected of the child and how consequences are given.

A final thing I’ll point out about how teaching one is very different from teaching many (I could go on, but don’t want this post to be too long…) is that I put a lot more effort and time into preparing my lessons than I used to in the states.  Part of that might be because Internet availability isn’t the same as it is in the States.  Another is it’s more motivating to make worksheets from scratch when I know the student will do them.  In the States, a lot of kids don’t do the homework assigned to them and it feels like a waste of time to make fantastic worksheets that prove they’ve mastered the skill when the worksheet won’t get done.  But I hope my efforts while I’m here are making a new habit for me that will carry over in the states.  I’ve seen how important a well-thought-out worksheet or lesson can be.  I may still beg, borrow, and steal from the Internet, but perhaps I’ll put more effort into putting together the perfect lessons instead of just stealing and using one lesson without really looking at it to make sure it’s what I want my students to complete.

All in all, it’s been a good learning experience for me and there are a lot of aspects of teaching one that I’ll be able to transfer into teaching many.  Also, there are some activities that I used to do with my students but didn’t understand why I did them that I’ve done while I’m here.  Doing them with one student has let me see what the advantages are of these activities. For example, I always read a book out loud to my students but never really thought about why.  I’ve done the same thing with my student here and it has sparked a strong interest and desire in reading with him that was not present before I came.  It helped me see that by reading aloud an interesting and attention-grabbing story, I can spark interest in my students for reading other things on their own.

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