Shadowing a Teacher, by Alexandrs Lapinski

The following is an account by an 18-year-old student at my former school, International House Riga-Satva in Latvia. Very interesting read, and plenty of food for thought. Thank you, Alexandrs, for your time and effort! I hope your ‘flirting’ with the idea of teaching leads to a lasting relationship 🙂

Shadowing a teacher for a day

In Latvia there is such a day called Ēnu Diena, which directly translates to Shadow Day. During this day, students in Latvia get to “shadow” (or, let’s say, follow around) people with jobs that they might want to pick up in future. I am currently flirting with the idea of becoming a Physics teacher so I shadowed a teacher who I knew is good at his job, my former English teacher at IH Riga-Satva – Alister McCarty (below). I participated in three lessons where I was kind of like a second teacher.

alister

1st lesson. 12-14 year olds.

The lesson started immediately without any faffing about. Immediately there were two questions on the white board to cause discussion and get the lesson to lift off. The topic was money and moneyless living.

During the lesson we looked at the case of Mark Boyle, a man from Northern Ireland (“Iron”) who tried to live moneyless for a year and succeeded at it. Listening to and reading the text about him practiced pupils’ ability to follow fluent english.

When learning English, it is important to have discussions, since they improve fluency of the language. I noticed this trend during my Physics lessons too. My Physics teacher often tells us to discuss and come up with an answer, instead of directly telling us.

I assume that provoking discussion cultivates thoughts that make understanding of the subject better. Whether it’s the so called feel of the language or understanding concepts in Physics.

During the lesson I noticed some pupils making repeated mistakes. After a quick consultation with Alister, he mentioned that it is crucial to find the root of the mistake. Why is the mistake caused? Then you have to fix and clarify the misconception the said student has. I imagine it being easier to find the roots of mistakes in Physics rather than in language. When students make mistakes in a state school, our teachers often point out why the mistake is made, pointing out similarities in either the Latvian or Russian language (the two most common native languages in Latvia).

2nd and 3rd lesson. C1 students (15-17).

These groups were more advanced than the previous ones and I’ve noticed a few similarities and differences in the way the pupils were taught.

I noticed the difference in how lower level students (1st group) read texts generally, but higher level students, like in the two latter groups were looking for specific information in a text. Both lessons had an identical programme, and the topic was money. It was also a nice touch, that in the second lesson, the posters made by the previous group were used to cultivate discussion.

The lessons also started immediately with a discussion. People discussed each other with each other, which makes a relateable topic: something anyone can say something about.

Also what I’ve noticed was that more advanced students have more tasks that really push their limits, proportional to their capability. To explain what I mean by this, I’ll use an example of what I understand the best – racing. Let’s say we have a regular road car and an F1 car. Even though the limit of an F1 car is much higher than the limit of a regular road car (in terms of track performance), F1 cars can be pushed to their limit more than regular road cars. Usually regular road cars break down when you reach the absolute limit of their performance. You don’t want kids to break down, do you…It would break down the motivation.

The groups of students had different levels of motivation. Which is also important. You have to understand that not everyone is as motivated as others and sometimes, as a teacher, it’s out of your control.

Obviously, groups with higher motivation perform better and allow for more information to be taken in during the lesson. At the end of the lesson of the more motivated group, there was enough time to add something really effective, as I see it. There was a quote written on the whiteboard, which cultivates thinking in English outside the lesson.

Summary

Teaching is a skill. Teaching is a whole other subject within itself. It’s not enough just knowing the subject you’re teaching. You have to know how to teach. Obviously, I would never become an English teacher, since language and linguistics have never been a subject of my interest, but, as Alister said, having been a Maths teacher himself, it’s approximately 95% the same as language teaching. I do often ”teach” my classmates and friends Physics, Chemistry, Maths and other exact subjects and I”ll use the patterns of teaching I spotted during the Ēnu Diena next time they need my helping hand. My interest in teaching definitely grew.

Teaching is a wholesome profession.

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