Unplanned Lessons

Guest Article by Kelsey Grab
Brandeis University
Students join ETA Kelsey Grab’s Art Club after school hours
I’m really into setting goals, crossing things off lists and other similar modes of empowerment. I am currently trying to put together a list of things I have to do while I’m here, because that’s what I do in the face of new experiences: make lists. It makes the impossible attainable. I remember once being told that if you keep your goals in plain sight when you wake up, they’re more likely to be achieved. I’m a firm believer in this. But what are my goals here?
Goals have been the topic of many of the conversations I’ve had with fellow ETAs. Two of my closest friends here have shared their frustrations with me in regards to trying to create goals and objectives for each lesson they teach. We’re still learning what our students are capable of and in this, finding ourselves crashing and burning… often.
How much English are we trying to “fix”? How much vocabulary am I to impart?  How much do my students need to understand to call a lesson a success? When your students can’t make out a word you say, how does one create goals for said lesson?
We’re all of the “over-achiever” mentality in regards to most things. That’s probably why we got a Fulbright grant. Similar to TFA grantees, we ETAs are successful people. This experience is potentially one of the first times we’re set up to really struggle and maybe even fail. No one said teaching was easy, and I don’t think any of us expected it to be – we’re all just frustrated trying to gauge success at this point in our experience.
And it’s still early.
It’s really early.
I have classes I haven’t seen yet. I’m diving into the deep end trying to create extensive lesson plans for faces I have yet to meet. But isn’t that what I’m here for? I’m here to teach English!
Of course that’s what I’m here for. I am an English Teacher! But I am not a trained teacher. I do not have a degree in teaching. I did not go through an intensive month course on how to teach. I have two weeks of TOESL training and that’s about it in regards to classroom etiquette and technique.
But that’s not it.
That’s not it at all.
We weren’t chosen because we were teachers. From what I’ve seen of the 75 of us, we’ve got a lot of guts and we’ve got a lot of enthusiasm. I’ve got a weird spring in my step that makes it possible to have the same conversation with every student five hundred times a day. (HELLO MISS, HOW ARE YOU? I AM FINE, AND YOU? I AM DOING WELL, THANK YOU. *STUDENT GIGGLES AND RUNS AWAY*) This enthusiasm may wane at times,  I know this place will have its way with me some days.  But I am determined to make something of these next nine months. I’m excited to be here. I was chosen for this adventure in large part, because of that intangible stuff that has made me successful thus far, and that’s mostly just a lot of energy when the going gets tough. To calm the nerves of my friends, I reminded them we’re not just here for the classroom. We’re here to make English accessible. Fun. Worthy of my student’s enthusiasm. I’m here to make a language come alive.
I wake up with this foreign freckled face whether I want to or not. Nine-hundred students pass me each morning and giggle, “Good morning, Miss!” I am doing my job.
My thoughts on all this are somewhat dissimilar from other ETAs in part because of where I am right now. In the hostel office. Waiting for the wondrous sound of my students’ feet, back from their evening prayer. Tonight they are going to help me build my side table and standing fan.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my priorities here. Where do I need to be spending my time most? I know I have often found myself weighted down by the stresses of planning meetings, sending emails, writing proposals.  Isn’t that what success is? Showing everyone you can do a million and one things? Seemed that way a lot in college. Seems that way here sometimes.
But I go to dinner and outside the door on the girls side, there are a hundred pairs of flip flops. Inside the dining hall are two-hundred faces. We sit and we talk each night. They still don’t quite know how to respond to me when I ask them how their day was, but I think they’ll get it soon. Before I know it, we’ll be doing thorns and roses just like I did at summer camp this past July. And I will learn their names and I will learn their family and I will learn which vegetables they like more than others. Simply by living with them. Simply by being present with them.
Sure, it is nice to have a plan. Indeed, I will write goals. But the most important thing right now is in half an hour, I’m going to get ten boys to read directions in English and together we will build a table.
I think we’re all going to learn something.

Students throw a surprise birthday party for their ETA, Miss Kelsey

One thought on “Unplanned Lessons

  1. Hello my name is Amin, from Kelantan, East Coast of peninsula malaysia. Some foreigner often seen in my vicinity,but I never got the chance to say hi,maybe they busy looking at the map. I would love to improve my English by conversing with foreigners rather than reading something else. Please feel free to share your thoughts so that we could have a pleasant atmosphere of conversation. Boleh kita jadi kawan? (Can we be friends?)Yours sincerely,Amincumicumi5@gmail.com

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