“Okay students, today you will teach me how to teach.”

How do students learn from volunteers? When there are transient people moving in and out of your life, how is it possible for the learning to be constructive rather then destructive. The past couple of days these questions have been discussed within our group and between Claire and I. We want to make a lasting impact, an improvement on our students language ability but I am concerned that there is a very strong possibility that when we leave our work will be for nothing. This worry has made me seriously consider the impact that volunteer teaching has on students learning of foreign languages.

When I began my placement I assumed that the organization would have a plan for how to teach, what had been taught and how we could assist the organizations teachers in enabling learning within the classroom. Unfortunately, this was not the case. They let two students, with little understanding of teaching or how to properly engage students in English as a Second Language (ESL) to run two conversation classes. As I sat there confused, nervous and completely unequipped the students told me what I needed to help them with. Aren’t the volunteers supposed to be the teachers? Why are the students teaching us? With this situation I couldn’t help but notice that this is probably the same situation every time they get a new teacher. Having to learn how to teach instantly makes it impossible to productively assist students in their learning. It creates lost days where the student are paying for courses and there is no one that is successfully teaching them.

It has been a couple of days now and though I have still managed to fall into situations where I was astronomically underprepared, the days have become easier to anticipate making it easier to plan ahead. Today was another situation, where Claire and I were asked to work with a class that we had never taught before, we did not understand the structure and were expected to successfully teach a lesson. There was a lot and a little amount of direction given. We were supposed to be talking about the previous days homework, but were able to play games to improve their English for two hours. This would have been possible if we had gotten advance knowledge, or some form of worksheet telling us what was supposed to be covered that day. Instead we were told only shortly before our lunch break that we had already delegated to course work.
This gives an uncomfortable amount of power because the director of the school believes we can teach because we know English, our students believe that we know the context of every word, and we have no idea what is going on. It has been years since I have learned the passive present tense. I could not begin to pretend to explain what it is made up of. Grammatical structures and understanding comes from years of practice and fluent English speaking,which means that we may know how to use correctly but have little understanding of why the words act as they do. The disconnect between volunteer teacher and long time student is something that I need to grapple with in my placement, how can I help them learn English while giving the organization the tools to continue once I leave.

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