Dawes Road Public Library
I am very happy that I have just finished my practicum, and I am one week away from completing my TESOL certification program at the University of Toronto. Last week was certainly one of the most interesting in the program, and the practicum itself was very instructive.
Before the practicum began, I had anxiety about all the unknown variables that could come into play. I worried that I might not get along with the resident presiding teacher at my placement, or perhaps that I would have problems with the students. I also worried about all the possible missteps that could happen, since I would be in front of a class for the first time. I was wrong on all counts. I respected the teacher at work at my placement. I enjoyed the students. I felt good teaching.
Let me explain some of these factors further. Mr. Quin, the resident teacher,presented grammar points with a great deal of insight, and as something tangible that students could use in very practical ways. I enjoyed the company of the students thoroughly. Each one of them had a different life story, wealthy with all kinds of experience that I have never had. Lastly, although the teaching hours in the practicum are only an introduction, speaking in public is generally a really confidence building activity. Prior to the lessons, my fears (False Evidence Appearing Real) got the best of me, and this in itself was something great to learn. Preparing a lesson is stressful, but if the preparation is done, you will have the confidence to step out in front of the class.
Who were the students? There are 21 students from all over the world, with a majority in South East Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. There are many students from Bengal. Many are married with kids, and older than thirty years old. Overall, these students are professional and highly educated. Their length of residence and education in Canada varies widely. Many of the students are Muslim. About two thirds, or three quarters of the class are women.
I wondered, what do CLB 4-6 intermediate students want to know? Unexpectedly, the students crave grammar. The most important part of the teaching I observed was the exposition of all the verb tenses. This was done with customized handouts giving the explanation with communicative writing exercises allowing each student to use the tenses as they applied to their own story. The creativity went into making these explanations transparent, and the learning, as usual, is powered by the learner.
It was also important to discuss current events and analyze the news, connecting the daily news to language. During the time of the practicum, the Mayor of Toronto (Ford) was often in the news as a result of a drug scandal. Not a day went by without the front page posting a new headline about his scandal and the subsequent campaign by the councilors to remove the Mayor from office. His denial of the drug use, and exposure in a video document, along with his unscrupulous and stubborn stands in the face of demands to resign, became famous in the international media. The story spread, until the Mayor became the butt of many jokes by prominent comedians. Simultaneously, the prime minister of the country (Harpur) also faced damning allegations made by a Senator that he had appointed (Duffy). All this daily news, while it was an unfortunate indication of the lack of accountability of politicians, was important to mention. I t was very interesting to hear the observed lessons, because there was a degree of contemporization and extemporization that took place on the part of the teacher. He made it clear that he would not dum down his remarks, and would treat all students as entitled to hear about these large political events. Furthermore, he drew connections to language showing that communication is paramount, especially in the high stakes world of political leadership.
I believe that all of this was meant to be inclusive and make people feel more a part of Canadian culture. In the class nearest to November 11th, we also discussed Remembrance day in detail. The meaning of “In Flanders Fields”, poppies, veterans, war monuments, and all the relevant terminology pertaining to the day were discussed. This too, was an invitation to understand, and identify with the Canadian experience. During the practicum, we took a tour of downtown Toronto from St. George near the Royal Ontario Museum, Kensington Market, and to Nathan Philips Square. We also had a field trip to St. Lawrence Market and Front street. These field trips were intended to show more facets of the city. As newcomers, and second language speakers, students may not apprehend all the dynamic nuances of language in the news and the media, and it is partly the job of the teacher to prime them to track the current, topical events so that they can become fully participating citizens. I have never really felt a strong sense of civic pride, or nationalism, but I do endorse the idea that the more you know about your environment, the more included you will feel.
During this past week, I got the chance to interview 14 of the students and tape the interviews. The original motivation was for an assignment in level assessment. However, only one student was needed for this project. I voluntarily gave my time to record the other students, write comments, and pass on the information. Part of this was interest, and the other part was gratitude.
It is an exceptional gift to hear the stories of newcomers to Canada. This proved to be beneficial not only in helping me understand levels of proficiency, but also to gain a little perspective. Newcomers to Canada are often very determined individuals who have had to deal with extremely tough situations in their countries of origin. They seem to take these experiences in stride.