December 6, 2010

Adventures in Teaching {Hungarian-style}

About one month ago, I disclosed that I am now teaching formally in a local Debrecen high school. This was such an unexpected thing for me and has provided me equally unexpected experiences in the classroom!

To begin with, I am only teaching two mornings a week, five lessons each morning. I have four different classes of students between the 10 lessons--classes 9G, 10G, 12N{K} and 12N{H}. My schedule is as follows:

7:45-8:30 -- 9G
8:40-9:25 -- 9G
9:40-10:25 -- 12N{K}
10:35-11:20 -- 12N{K}
11:30-12:15 -- 9G

7:45-8:30 -- 9G
8:40-9:25 -- 10G

9:40-10:25 -- 9G
10:35-11:20 -- 12N{H}
11:30-12:15 -- 12N{H}

The number represents the grade level, and in the case of the grade 12 students, it is a single class divided into two language-ability groups. The 'K's are beginner-level English and the 'H's are advanced-level.

The class I teach the most {5 lessons per week} is my favorite group of students: 9G. There are only six students in this class--four girls and two boys, all age 14. They are friendly, pay attention {most of the time}, and interactive. Their language ability is intermediate at the English comprehension level and beginner at the speaking level. I feel the most relaxed in this class and I also feel that they are learning the most from me {due to their attentiveness}.

We joke around quite a bit and I have fun coming up with games {educational, of course!} to play. The four girls requested to be my "friend" on Facebook and they write silly little messages to me. In class, they love to say "in the toilet" and burst into giggles. You see, they learn British-English, and one day I asked where someone was. A student replied, "She's in the toilet." This is a totally correct phrase in British English, but since I'm American, I often explain the different words and phrases that are used in the two countries. So, I explained that in America, if you say "in the toilet," we literally take it to mean that the person is inside the toilet. In addition, I drew a toilet on the board with tiny people inside to make sure they understood me. Of course, they thought this was hysterical, and now it's kind of like our inside joke.

The 10G class only has six students, and I have yet to have all six in attendance at once. I only have these students for one lesson a week, and they are mostly attentive, although two of them tend to doze off or be in their own little world. This is also an intermediate level class and for the most part, they listen to me and are quite interactive during my lessons. One student is probably nearer to the advanced level, and sometimes he borderline gets on my nerves because he's been to the US and Canada before, and therefore thinks he knows everything about both countries and the English language in general.

But the two 12N classes...they are completely in their own category. Let me preface by saying that this high school is not "normal" compared to other high schools in Debrecen, which is what I've been told by other teachers and what I'm relieved to know. It's almost as if this high school has no rules, and the students are allowed to do whatever they want. I have been given no authority to rule out any punishments, dismiss students from my class, send them to the principal/director's office {something not practiced here}, or even take attendance/tardies. Nearly every student would get a tardy with each class...often students are still trickling in 10 or 15 minutes after the bell has rung. Some students ask permission to use to the restroom, while others just get up and leave randomly. They can eat, drink, sleep, listen to music, or use the Internet on their phones in the classroom. All of this results in a limited few who are actually listening or interacting at all.

I've been told from the other teachers that it's not just me...this is normal in all the classes. Why more rules are not put into place and enforced is beyond me. I was also happy to learn that my two encounters with a student/students playing with fire in class is also a common occurrence. {Um, really?} As a whole, I enjoy the students as people and no one has been unkind to me, but rather the opposite. It's just that these kids have never been taught appropriate classroom behavior. At all.

Of course this is very frustrating, but I have decided to not let it get to me. I can do this! I just keep reminding myself that this is a great experience for me and it is definitely stretching me and growing me in many ways. Despite my frustrations with the 12N classes, I find myself feeling a fondness for all of them {of course some more than others}. It makes me sad, however, because nearly ALL students in this high school have little or no regard for learning. They are simply at school because the law forces them to be. They cannot be motivated to do homework or study, and getting bad marks is of no concern to them.

Now I am the official "Lektor," meaning teacher of English, also being a native-speaker of the language. But as I mentioned before, I'm not an official, under-contract-with-the-school teacher, but rather like a volunteer on behalf of the Trinity Church. I show up and do my thing. Basically I was given no instruction whatsoever by the school except that I will be teaching conversation--whatever and however I want--and that I will not be teaching curriculum and I don't need to give homework or tests. Also, I was told nothing about how to manage my classrooms or anything about disciplinary measures {which now I've learned--there basically are none}.

Maybe it sounds like I'm complaining, but I'm not! I have just been surprised by the way some things are done {or not done} at this school. Regardless, I love the teachers and I love the students even more. They really are good kids with lots of potential, but they have an immeasurable lack of guidance and discipline.

I am so grateful for this opportunity and the ways I am being taught things myself as I take on this new role of teacher. I look forward to each day of teaching more and more, and I pray that I can impact these kids' lives in some way, however small it may be. It's quite ironic, isn't it? That as I am teaching my first "lessons," I am in turn learning some very great lessons myself? Life is funny like that.


Meg said...

Deanne! I know you're a fantastic teacher! I too was amazed by how much I learned from teaching. It taught me so much about being a parent! Hang in there with your 12th graders. I taught in a low-income school in NYC and faced similar challenges. It's great that the kids are nice to you, but I know how tough it can be when you feel like no one is listening or that they don't care. I honestly believe the kids DO care, but (it seems) they haven't been taught HOW to succeed in school. Maybe they've just never felt success? It sounds like the expectations just haven't been set for them. I would so give them tests and homework. It holds them accountable. Do your best to establish discipline in the class. I never thought it would work, but sometimes just asking them in a firm, serious voice (I sooooo had to learn this) several times will make them put down their ipod and pay attention.... Good luck, girl! You're doing an awesome job! I would love to have you as a language teacher!!

Deanne Maureen said...

Thanks for your sweet comments, Meg! I have tried the homework thing without success, but I have also given them tests! I've had to do the firm voice thing also, which I don't enjoy, but is needed for sure. I remembered that you taught in NYC and had some pretty tough teaching adventures of your own--tough, but rewarding. :)


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