Friday, March 29, 2013

One down, three to go!

Another term is over! I always pinch my self at the end of the term because yet again, I've suprised myself by making it through another busy term.

Sadly, the holiday is too short. I'm being ambitious by taking home some marking with me. It would be foolish to begin term two with marking from the previous term. We already have assignments and tests lined up for the first week of term. Second term is my least favourite term because of exams and all the behavioural problems established in the first term will continue. There's no sense of a new beginning but I get the feeling kids will be gatvol  with school as early as the first week.

We have assembly twice a week. In each assembly meeting there's a section called "devotions". Unlike the prayers and hymns we sang and recited when I was in school, staff and pupils have to share something enlightening in order to get people to think about something. Christian staff members share some lessons from the Bible, others share a poem or an inspiring story. Last year I read from the Bill of Rights from the Constitution. My turn to do devotions was close to Human Rights day so I thought it apt to read from the Constitution and ask a learner to share what they think about Human Rights Day.

I'm a little stumped this time around because I have to say something in the first assembly of the term. There's the obvious pressure of saying something about working hard because it's an exam term (my worst nightmare). If anyone has any ideas for what I could share next term, please leave a comment below. I promise I'll reference your contribution during the assembly. It could be a video, an interesting short story a poem etc.

Here's to a week's holiday!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

On being a writing teacher

It's near the end of first term. I have marked nearly 500 assignments given to me by the four English classes I teach as well as the lone Social Science Grade 8 class (over 150 students in total). I have survived the extra hours spent with debating trips and going to watch evening plays (coming home at 9pm or later) and tagging along to the Grade 8 camp (with wonderful colleagues and spirited teenagers). I have played "mother", been  a shoulder to cry on more than once, trying to comfort teary teenagers who come into my classroom or simply welcome my hugs when I've noticed they need a good cry. I am exhausted.

The marking required me to pore over was some creative writing. I had to mark stories and essays. Some were brilliant and thought provoking. Others made me wonder whether I've done a good job as an English teacher this term. While reading the stories I realised  I wish I had more time to write stories.

Telling a story and sharing it with others is akin to opening up one's emotions, taking a risk and showing the rest of the world that which has been created in the mind. I have always been less confident when writing fiction. I find it difficult crafting characters and recreating the characters in the story. My students are equally daunted by the task of writing. Forming stories and exposing what one thinks on paper is not an easy process. My kids do not know how to edit their work. They make careless errors with words they know how to spell. They do not follow instructions. And most of the Grade 8s don't know how to write a fairy tale.

As a writing teacher and a blogger I have often wondered how to change this in my kids: how can I make writing a valuable exercise for them to enjoy in order for them to see an improvement in their work? I have developed an intense hatred for teaching grammar. I don't see the link between teaching  kids abstract rules about language (whether or not English is their mother tongue) and an improvement in their engagement with reading and writing in English. I am of the belief that if kids read more, their writing would improve because they would (unconsciously) want to emulate the kind of writing they see in their books. I was taught English grammar until I was in Grade 7. In high school I remember a few grammar lessons and I didn't understand their purpose. In high school my English teacher would give us a module that we were required to use in our own time to teach ourselves the grammar. I became a better writer not because of grammar but because I was reading more. I was never taught grammar in isiXhosa but I know how to speak, read and write isiXHosa and that's mostly because I started reading isiXhosa (and isiXhosa has easier phonetics to understand)

 I wish this could be the case with the kids I teach. My negative attitude towards teaching grammar means that I'm a horrible teacher where grammar is concerned. I confuse the kids and myself while trying to pretend that I know what I'm talking about. I apologise to all my students at the beginning of every language lesson as though I'm preparing them for a torturous hour of their lives.

However, the truth is, many of my kids have no desire to read anything other than the scrapings they pick up from time to time. Where they do try to emulate writers, their writing becomes a regurgitation of the Americanisms they hear on tv or read in the teen literature.

I don't know how to change my attitude towards teaching grammar. My only strategy has been to ask my colleague-friends to teach my classes grammar and we can swap lessons. I have no desire for understanding nor appreciating transitive and intransitive verbs. When kids speak, they do not stop and consider whether they are parsing correctly. Granted, language rules are important for explaining why certain ways of speaking and writing are not allowed, but I'm not convinced that teaching grammar is the only way to do so.

I have survived the first term of my second year as a teacher in spite of my horrible language lessons and the mountains of marking I have been buried under. Now I'm counting down the days until the end of the term...less than 10 teaching days, phew! Did I mention that I am exhausted?