Saturday, November 26, 2005

Bangkok Calling

It's 7.30pm and I'm in my room at the A-One Inn preparing for next Tuesday's lesson. The language point is 'future intentions' (I'm going to...,I'm planning to..., I'd like to..., I'll be...) If you have suitable lesson plans or ideas, shout. Constant stress for the past three weeks, but I can safely say it's probably the most enjoyable, but stressful, 'academic experience' I've had so far in my almost 20 years of schooling. The rumours are true; the CELTA (see last entry) is one heck of a formidable course. I thought the folks at ECC were joking when they included a health warning in the application form. I can now see the necessity of this disclaimer. The course started on Week 1, Day 0, a Sunday. (In this course, like being in a casino without a clock to be seen anywhere, dates and deadlines are all referred to as Week X Day Y, for added dramatic effect.) With a quick orientation out of the way, we were given instructions on the teaching points for Monday. Yes, with no formal teaching experience (as in the case of yours truly), we had to give a 15-minute lesson the next day.

On Tuesday, this was ramped up by 100%; the next lesson was 35 minutes. The lessons progressively increased to 40 minutes, and now it's up to 55 minutes. I never thought this would ever happen, but by the end of Wednesday, I was quite sure that 10 days had already passed. I've never been so refreshingly stressed in my life before (with the possible exception of Basic Training in the army). Bang, bang, bang! Life was lived in 30-minute intervals. You didn't know what was going to happen in the next hour because you're forced to react to whatever happened next, and there was very little time to respond to a completely new problem that you're ill-equipped to handle. And that, I thought, was what made the thing so interesting because I realised early on that this was not some flaw of the course. It was by pure design that the course was structured this way.

The good thing is that all of us want to do well, not just to pass the course, but because there are people who are actually learning something from our lessons. They're really great. We have Thais as well as Cambodians, Japanese, Burmese, Vietnamese, Sri Lankan... students, and it's fun to watch them get something out of our lessons. Also, I'm pretty lucky to be in my teaching group (there are groups of 5, 5, and 6). Maybe it's due to the close knit nature of any activity involving boot-camp mentality that folks stick together, the guys in my group are perhaps the best classmates I've ever worked with. Alice (inspiring teacher, really), Bianca (solid, gets the job done with minimal fuss and zen calmness), Jas (possesses a rare 'warmth' delivering lessons), Lenore (non-native Dutch speaker who stays two doors away from mine and will mostly likely top the class, a tour de force in class, and all-around great gal), Richard (a special fliend who'll take care of you for flee, and who's improved so much since Day 1!).

Everyone is extremely helpful and supportive. The rest from the other groups are wonderful too. Like the other day, I chatted with Gary and he found out that I haven't read The Alchemist before. Two days later, he went to a bookstore and bought me a copy. He's really nice... So, I've one more lesson to go next week, and will write a conclusion entry for future visitors from GoogleLand.

Anyway, on Week 2 Day 1, I took a risk and decided to use poetry as the main focus of a task-based lesson. The first half sort of flopped (because The Poison Tree I chose as my first poem was just too 'deceptively simple' and most of the learners didn't understand it, but I managed to save the ship from sinking further by using a second 'simpler' poem. By the end of the lesson, most had written some lines of their own poems, which was quite wonderful even though some later told me they didn't like it! Still, maybe reciting a good poem or two in the class is worth the effort anyway. Here's the second poem; Gary read it to me, he does it sooo well...

Dreams Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly. 

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
 ~Langston Hughes