Coteaching: A Success Story

Posted on October 28, 2011 by

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So hot on the heels of my complaint about how coteaching has been going yesterday, today I had one of the best coteaching lessons I’ve ever given. Here’s what happened.

Yesterday I got a call from one of the coteachers that I’ve had to give up working with due to scheduling problems. She told me that we had to give a lesson today at 11 because a representative of Macmillan Publishing was coming to our school to see how we – and, specifically, I – use the new English World books in the lessons. For a whole host of reasons, I was nervous and reluctant about this lesson, but I decided to put my best foot forward and make a really good impression on the Macmillan guy, because regardless of my challenges in the day-to-day grind of teaching in Georgia, there are obvious benefits to doing everything I can to make myself, my school, and TLG in general look good.

Then I got a call from TLG explaining that the lesson would be at 12 noon. My coteacher had asked me to come in a half an hour early to plan the lesson, but I thought that it would be better for me to give it the full hour, just in case, so I figured I’d arrive at 11 so we’d have a whole hour to talk before the lesson (although planning ended up taking about four minutes – then we had coffee and pastries and I talked to some of my former students in the school cafeteria.) Anyway I got a panicked call at ten to eleven demanding to know where I was and telling me that I had been expected at 10am, resulting in me running from the bus stop into my school in full panic, only to then be told that we were in fact, as I had known all along, meeting at noon. I try to be relaxed about the time thing – that is, the fact that making and keeping appointments is never really an exact science in this country – but this morning I really spiraled into wondering whether I’d be fired for being an hour late and keeping foreign dignitaries waiting and then bounced directly into passionate rage about being lied to about appointment times and then cooled into a sort of passive resignation that a certain imprecision in appointment times basically just comes with the territory and everything would be better once I got my coffee. It was.

So with that in mind, I got to my demonstration lesson a good fifteen minutes early and waited around while the kids’ homeroom teacher took them through some adorable Georgian childrens’ songs about body parts (now your hands play, now your hands rest, now your legs play, etc.) and whatnot and then had them all go to the bathroom in shifts so they wouldn’t have to go when the guests arrived.

At the appointed hour, a TLG rep and the Macmillan guy came into our classroom along with the director of the primary school at 51. He introduced himself to me in a perfect American accent, which surprised me because I assumed he’d be British, since Macmillan books teach British English. Anyway, we conducted the lesson, and it went really well. Basically, we started off with the opening song, then went through the alphabet a few times in a few different ways. We made sure to use the book to its full extent (normally we use a lot of extra materials) and we both walked around the class making sure that the kids were on the right page in the book, pointing at the right letter, and saying the letters and pictures along with the class.

When the kids became a little unresponsive, my coteacher asked me to take them through their “training” – a rhyme that exhorts the children to put their hands up, down, and on their hips and do various other activities like hopping and leaning left and right. The kids love when I do this with them because I like to ham it up and reach up really high, lean over all the way right or left, etc – it’s a bit of physical comedy that I can inject that my coteacher is not quite up to. After this brisk exercise, the kids did a counting and coloring exercise, and that was the end. Also notable – the class had a bunch of fruits and vegetables and plants decorating it for fall – persimmons, yellow apples, pomegranates, garlic, etc – and I used these to practice colors and numbers with the kids (ie hold up a persimmon and ask “what color is this?”).

Anyway, after the lesson I talked to the rep a bit about how we were using the book – i.e., what level for what grade(s), how many units we do per month/year, etc. TLG took us to the Radisson for lunch and we met a couple of other volunteers. When the Macmillan guy introduced himself, he said that he was in Georgia to look at the way Georgian education programs were being run so that he could try to align MES, US State Department, and USAID goals and make increased funding possible for Georgia from the Millennium Challenge Corporation and other such sources.

Boy, was I surprised. I told him that my school told me he was a textbook company representative and we had a good laugh. In any case, he commented that the coteaching that he saw in the classroom seemed really fluid and comfortable (which is a big improvement over the last time my class got observed) and also said that he was impressed that the children – who are in first grade, and thus in the realm of five to seven years old – were able to understand my English, citing a particular example when I asked a student “where is the pen?” and the student pointed to the picture of a pen.

So it turns out that, one, I may finally be getting a real handle on coteaching (despite often feeling overwhelmed and completely lost at sea) and two, my students – even the youngest ones – are actually learning to communicate in English.

Of course, the fact that this lesson occurred while we were being observed is probably a big contributor – it’s easy for everyone to pull together and put their best face forward one day out of sixty, but harder to work together effectively on a day-to-day basis when there’s no real observation or accountability. That’s why I think that it’s important that the Ministry has set up so many different groups all watching the same thing – the TLGVs, the school administration, and yes, even the Mandatoris – because often the motivation to do your best comes from a fear of looking bad to your bosses. Sad, but true – not everyone can be self-motivated.

It’s amazing what we can do with the right incentives and just the right amount of pressure. Of course, TLG’s coteacher training sessions did actually help a great deal, and I’m glad we’re receiving more training and support this year than we did last year.

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