I believe that one of the most beneficial gains that come from when we write, is using our abilities to formulate thoughts, feelings and emotions conveyed in the form of words that are in essence, symbols ascribed to have meaning, and by which provides a medium for self-expression. Self-expression through writing helps us regulate, explore, and create emotions, explore meanings, and to rhetorically write a new narrative of an experience we’ve encountered or to simply share our experiences and observations with ourselves and others.
So, yes. This post is all about me working through my first negative teaching experience at Maun Senior. I knew one day it would arrive and sure enough, today was the day. Even as I write this I reel at the fact that I could not know what was going to happen, as if I should and must be able to tell the future.
As I’ve learned, teachers will utilize a syllabus to guide the lessons and activities they will teach and use in their classroom. Prior to arriving in Botswana, I created a syllabus and lesson plan to not only gain practice in creating these important aspects of teaching a subject, but to utilize the syllabus and lesson plan when applicable.
Although, I’ve asked to receive the syllabus for the English subject in my school, that is-- what are the skills and products the department would like for students to have learned, I have not yet received my copy. So, based on a previous test my students took and based on student scores, I’ve been teaching the skills that are very necessary for them to be able to use on their final exam in October.
Those skills in short are understanding the context within a passage to decipher meaning of a word, improving vocabulary, being able to write coherent subject-predicate sentences, answer comprehension and evaluative questions, and being able to write creative stories based on a prompt or subject matter.
We’ve been practicing these skills for 3 weeks, especially because most of my students need more practice, and need to improve. In class today, however—a student asked me if we could move on to the next lesson in the syllabus. She seemed apparently, annoyed with doing context and evaluative practice exercises. Her main concern, however, was that the class just took a test where there was a question about writing a formal letter and that they did not know how to answer the question because I have not yet taught it to them.
Apparently, I was supposed to teach them how to write a specific type of formal letter. However, I have not received the departmental syllabus to know that alongside the skills I’ve been teaching, learning how to write the formal letter was a decided product the department wants the students to learn. Writing that specific formal letter might be on the final test, so they need to know how to write it.
Feelings of Failure
I feel absolutely upset and regretful that I have not taught them how to write the formal letter. Granted, the reasons for why I could not teach it to them was out of my control. I made sure to tell the entire class of the circumstance, and will be sure to tell them that they’ll have a break for that particular section/question on the test. We will review how to write the formal letter after the test so that for their final exam they are prepared.
Her second concern was that she wanted to move on from was practicing how to decipher the meaning of a word, based on the context in the sentence or passage. She said it, “takes a long time” to learn. For the second concern, I cannot budge from it. We will continue doing context exercises because, that student, along with all of the rest of the class, had very low scores on previous test within the section of context ( 30-60%). If we were to stop practicing how to decipher meaning or find the synonym of a word based on contextual clues, they’ll continue to generate low scores.
But still, at the end of the class I felt like I failed my students. For each class session, I plan, practice and prepare what we’ll learn, how we’ll learn it, the duration for exercises and activities, and mechanisms to check their growth overtime. But, I let them down. I failed my students.
It is a horrible feeling knowing that I did not live up to what I set out to do. I understand it is not my fault, but most of me think that I should have been hounding management to receive the information I need to teach the class. I should have been checking in with departmental management about the work because, I just need to. The educational system here is new to me, and incrementally, I learn how the work of the department is conducted. Most of my learning is through experience and trial and error, and with that, comes moments of learning lessons.
One of the departmental managers will talk to my class about the circumstance (whew!). I'd hate for my class to loose their sense of trust in my ability to teach.
I learned that new teachers (or maybe all teachers) will experience such emotions— they’ll have good days and bad days. They’ll try a new type of exercise and maybe it won’t work. I actually believed that as long as I plan and prepare, nothing would go wrong.
But things go wrong, your fault or not.
We make mistakes, we have shortcomings, we don’t always live up to our expectations. Other people you depend on will too, make mistakes, have shortcomings and not live up to their expectations.
How do we handle such moments in our lives? How do forgive ourselves and others and improve?
I think my only way forward is to have a positive attitude, trust my ability to do a good job, be sure to check-in with management more frequently, remember what I'm trying to accomplish (help students improve their skills) and know that it will get better.