Reflective Practice: a Challenge to Describe (RP3)

by Zhenya


Introduction and References

The idea for this post comes from John Pfordresher

Think about a negative interaction you have had in your classroom. Not an entire lesson, but a single interaction that occurred between you and someone else (a student, another teacher, a parent, etc).

Perhaps a student was sleeping in class, or being disruptive or inattentive. Perhaps we, the teacher, reacted to a specific stimuli in an unhelpful way. Maybe someone walked in on a lesson and caused a negative disruption to us or our students.

Our task today is to take this negative interaction and describe it. It is important that we describe and describe only.

Before I begin to share my own snapshot, I would like to invite you to read more classroom descriptions available by:  Hana Ticha (first and second descriptions of the very same moment), David HarbinsonAnne Hendler  and John Pfordresher.

I have to be honest and admit that I did not follow the instructions completely. Similarly to Josette LeBlanc I modified the task to suit my own reflective needs at this moment. Before she starts her description, Josette says: What I have decided to do instead is change the word “negative” into “challenging”

I also decided that it does not have to be a challenging classroom experience, but can be an interaction in the training room, or with the site administration, and still impact the (potential) learning. This means I also modified the initial task.

Background, or Setting

(which can be a part of the description, as I am aiming at sharing only facts, not my feelings about them, and not interpreting anything at this stage)

It is a teacher training site, which has been in the market for the last 8+ years or so, helping teachers to receive international TESOL certificate using communicative methods. Besides TESOL, there are several types of courses for teachers, and one of them is about preparing teachers to ‘help other teachers’ in the context of their own schools, to mentor their colleagues by helping in lesson planning, observing and giving feedback, sharing teaching tips and ideas during interactive workshops, etc. The specific job description after the course (or expected role) depends on the school/city the teachers work in, and the course is tailored to the needs of the specific course participants. For the purposes of this post I will refer to the course as ‘Teacher Helper Course’ (not the real course title) The part of the course on the site lasts 10 working days and consists of 90 contact hours with trainers. The trainers are hired for the course, and as in our case, don’t speak the local language.

The Actual Description

It is Monday, about 4.45 pm. We are at the training staffroom in the Center. There are five of us at a table, sitting in a semi-circle: my co-trainer, the site academic director, program manager and a secretary. My co-trainer and I have just finished a lesson planning session with our TESOL course participants, and the abovementioned Teacher Helper Course begins on Wednesday. We are asking a number of last-minute questions about the rooms, the course schedule, the details of the formal introduction on the first day, paper journals for the participants, etc. The site representatives answer. The Secretary does the actual talking in English, and the Program Manager often nods and smiles. If there is a question the Secretary is not sure about the answer, she translates and waits for her colleague to respond, and then gets back to us with the answer. If she is sure, she first answers, and then translates to him. I hold my list of questions on the table in front of me and take notes of the information we hear, and ‘check off’ the questions I received the answers for. Both my colleague and I nod in understanding and smile. I do the talking. The site academic director is listening.

After my list of questions is over, I ask if there is anything else I need to know as a lead trainer of the course before it begins. The Secretary translates the question, we wait for the reply. The she says: ‘There will be one participant on this course who is going to miss a part of the course’ I ask which part, and how long he (or she) is going to miss. She tells us the name of the person and then says that this person will attend the first three days fully, and then leave to the USA to take another course for his professional development. My next question is whether they are asking us to approve the situation, or agree with it. She says that this is something that had been decided already and that I don’t need to approve or agree but rather have to think of a possible ‘Make Up’ written assignment for this participant so that he was able to pass the course along with everyone else. I say that there is no Make Up assignment I am aware of that can help someone compensate for the 70% of the experience everyone will have had on the course, and that such absence is especially noticeable in the intensive course we are about to start, and that such participants are usually not able to catch up with the group. The Secretary translates what I say into the local language and talks to the Program Manager. He listens, then nods, and then says something. The Secretary translates his reply: yes, we understand what you are saying, but there is nothing that can be changed in this situation. I ask if he had been given a permission to leave this course. The answer is ‘yes’.

My next question is if there anything else we need to know about the course participants. (I am not going to repeat the whole thing about asking a question, waiting for the translation, waiting for the reply, and then for the translation back) Trying to be brief: they told us about one more participant who would be combining two courses at the same time (one is ours, and the other is in another training site) and would have to miss either the morning sessions or the afternoon sessions for 8 days on our course.

A couple of notes:

I was trying to describe without any feelings. After we finished the conversation and the site representatives left I asked my colleague if I looked (or acted) nervous, or annoyed, or angry. She said that I was looking serious, but none of those emotions were visible. I am writing about those feelings now because I think I had them all, plus felt really helpless to change anything in the situation described.

Thank you for reading till this point, and hope I did not bore you too much. I will keep my interpretations and reflections (as well as the reasons for choosing this moment for the description) until the next Reflective Practice Challenge.