“Okay, class is done.” No reaction.
“Class has ended. The end.” I make a chopping movement with my hands. Still no reaction.
I point to the clock. “Class is finished.” Still, 39 faces peer blankly back at me.
“Class is over,” I try again. As if by magic, the students collectively murmur out “OH”s. This is the phrase they’re used to hearing. This they understand.
I’ve always loved teaching. There’s something incredible in watching someone’s eyes light up when they get it. When the puzzle pieces fit together and they suddenly understand. When things just make sense.
Getting there, though, is the difficult part. Because it’s not about just teaching –it’s about teaching well. How can you lesson plan a harmony of fun and serious with even the most tedious of topics? How can you make brute memorization entertaining? How can you teach a class as interestingly as possible? Most importantly, how can you encourage students to want to learn?
Teaching English at Dandelion is challenging in all these ways and more. Part of it is the need to question the language I grew up with –asking why sentences are structured the way they are, why some verbs’ ending consonants are doubled in the past tense, etc.- and figuring out the best way to explain its irregularities. The most defining portion of the experience, though, is remembering the setting I’m in: the situations of my students, the context in which I teach them and the school at which we are volunteering at. Getting to know my classes outside of the classroom -through meals, field trips and sports- mean they’re no longer just bodies in a class. They’re kids I’ve gotten to learn about and learn from. They’re people I can match personal stories, histories and personalities to.
Which makes my job both more and less difficult. I’ve learned how to tailor teaching styles to my different classes and the students in them. But I’ve also become more personally invested in their success, and the great pressure on these classes to perform has been translated into a self-motivating pressure to teach all the better. And like a roller-coaster, there’s been good days, bad days and the in-betweens. It’s definitely a journey I’ve been learning and growing a lot from.
The chairs screech against the floor. My students stand up and chant their appreciation, as they do after each class, “Thank you, teacher. Teaching is hard. Teacher, goodbye.”
I’m still awkward every time it happens. Mainly because yes, teaching is hard. But so is being a student at Dandelion. And yes, it’s true, I am the teacher. But they’ve done a great deal of teaching me too.