Day 1 – the new cohort

So, day 1 was a long one. Not only did my new cohort of students start but we ended the day with a meeting with mentors from various schools and to top it all it was my birthday and I’d had no time to even see my kids and husband before setting off to school…..wallowing in self-pity. Ok, let it go, Louise!

I have twenty new students, 11 women and 9 men. All bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to enter our wonderful profession. Should I tell them? Do you think their eyes are fully open to the realities of teaching or do they just see the good bits (and there really are plenty of those)? Following on from recent blog and twitter comments (Tyson Seburn, Phil Wade, Brad Patterson, Marisa Constantinedes to name a few) it is obvious that these teacher trainees are not heading to a life living in the lap of luxury. Are they aware that if they don’t jump on the barricades and change things they will become like our generation and the one before us who have sheepishly (I over-generalise here for effect!) toed the line. The rise in interest in the Finnish model has shown us that it can be done differently, that teaching can be held in high esteem, that salaries can reflect education and quality of work – and yet why are we still voting for governments and working for employers who seem so scared of change? Ok, my whingeing is over and I’ll get back to the normal stuff:

A couple of weeks ago I mailed the students to ask them to send me a photo of their workspace, i.e. the place where they would be spending a lot of time over the course of the next twelve months, be it a sofa, a desk or whatever. I pasted the photos into a prezi and each time a new photo came up the students indicated what it was about the photo that was representative for them.

So we filled in our 45-minute class with this introduction session. Quite a few questions arose from the group after each student’s introduction such as “why did you choose to paint your wall green?” and “what’s that weird thing outside your window?” Note: these TTs have all got a Masters of English or American Studies so their level of English is already pretty damn excellent.

Forty-five minutes was basically too short to really make something of the presentations (especially since it was actually reduced to 35 minutes as the previous session went over time) but if nothing else it gave me a chance to assess the level of English in the group – although they all have a masters and I said they are excellent, there are still varying degrees in “excellent”. What do I mean by this? Well, some have stronger L1 accents in their L2 than others. Some have a slightly smaller vocab (this was BICS-style vocab but maybe their CALP vocab is better) and others could afford to touch up on their grammar. I realise I’m in a position of luxury – my students have level C2 (some C1) in English and I am basically here purely for the didactics so what I’m doing now is simply nit-picking. I don’t have to think about what I have to say – slang, accents, sloppy enunciation – it’s not really a challenge for them; but there’s always room for improvement – that goes for me, too!

So what can I say about my students after having seen so little of them? Well, they will no doubt already have formed an opinion of me (strange clothes, dodgy teeth, funny, weird…..goodness only knows what goes through their minds) as we tend to ‘judge’ (assess) people very quickly. Well I have already spotted two students who will have comments from their schools on their accents (let’s call them Jade and Lisa) (in the Netherlands the expectations are high for our First Degree Teachers – see here for more info), one who risks having big classroom management issues (Jim), a couple who are going to have to work really hard to pass the various exams in time and a couple who are likely to become excellent teachers (Anne and Elaine). Obviously I can’t use real names here and can’t be too specific as this blog is public and who knows who reads this…. I wonder how my first impressions will pan out….

The lesson for Friday is ‘free’ i.e. not pre-planned in our curriculum. I’ve asked the students who already have a teaching job (many schools in the Netherlands are so desperate for English teachers they employ graduates with no prior experience nor teaching diploma – and often even employ students who have not yet graduated!) to bring in their text books on Friday and I will take a few that I have in my cupboard. The train journey home proved creative so I have the full 1 ½ hours planned and hope it’ll prove interesting and fruitful for the students. We’ll still be getting to know each other and I’ll still be madly trying to learn names (I’m good at faces but hopeless at names and, apart from the initial starting block, I only see my students once every three weeks which does not help!). I’ll evaluate Friday’s lesson here. Watch this space….

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