Chapter 11

Yes, I CAN! (part 2)

I wait expectantly for the feedback of my five fellow student-teachers who are gathered with me in the classroom along with our instructor, Brent. I’m pretty sure I already know Tyson’s assessment, as his reaction said everything last night after I completed my teaching practice. He wasn’t a fan.

Almost two weeks into our training, we have since settled into a routine. Beginning at 8am, we are served a hot breakfast in the outdoor dining area by the kitchen staff. Breakfast is often something recognizable as “western” food, usually some form of eggs, “sausages” (sliced hot dogs), and bread, which we run through the conveyor belt toaster ourselves before adding butter and jam at the table. Instant coffee, tea, and water are also provided. If we desire, we have the option of purchasing a fruit smoothie for 40 baht. There are options available for vegetarians, vegans, and those with religious restrictions on their diets.

After we finish eating, we then have a few free hours to do as we wish, perhaps complete homework from the night before, do research in the library, or even swim in the pool. 

At 11:30am, our entire class, consisting of 29 students in this CELTA program, meets as a group in one of the classrooms for an input session listening to one of our instructors introduce various teaching methods. We also discuss vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar. 

There are learning games, for which we are often broken into teams for friendly competition. I don’t realize it yet, but these activities are meant as demonstrations of what we will be able to use in our future teaching jobs. 

The concepts presented aren’t too difficult to comprehend but some of the particulars we are expected to accomplish can be quite challenging. 

So far, we have learned how to construct a detailed lesson plan, fill out a lexical analysis of vocabulary we will introduce to our students, and to create worksheets and design activities that we will use in our teaching practices. The amount of information that we are expected to process seems astronomical. It’s like trying to drink from a firehose. 

Our first day of classes was mostly an introduction to concepts of why these lesson plans and preparatory work were so important. In the evening, we were split into five separate groups to observe as our designated instructor taught an English lesson to local Thai adult students who were receiving free instruction after they had finished at their workplaces.

We have two input sessions before breaking for lunch at 2pm. After enjoying a delicious lunch prepared by the kitchen staff, we gather with our respective groups to discuss last evening’s teaching practices. 

In my group, there is Jayne, a young woman from Australia; Nelly, in her mid-thirties, from the UK; two Chinese women who have introduced themselves with Anglicized names for our benefit, Danna and Catherine, from Beijing and Shanghai, respectively; and Tyson. Tyson is a California boy who is currently teaching English in Seoul. The six of us have spent quite a bit of time with each other, not only helping one another do homework, but also in our teaching practice time. 

The day after we watched the instructor teach a sample lesson, we were thrown to the wolves. Three of us were each assigned a 45-minute lesson to be taught beginning Tuesday evening. The other three would observe, but then have our own trial on Wednesday. We each have two teaching practices assigned each week. 

Not only are we required to turn in our lesson plans and lexical analyses before the beginning of our teaching practices, we must perform in front of our instructor and our fellow student/teachers who will take notes and present their thoughts about our execution of the lesson. For me, this is why I feel the most pressure. I am quite comfortable teaching something that I’m familiar with to others who are learning. But knowing that I’m being graded by not only the instructor, but also my peers, is a bit unnerving. 

Last night, my assigned lesson dealt with using the modal word “can” and its opposite, “can’t”. Being quite familiar with modals now, this should have been easy.

But my teaching of the usage also included proper pronunciation of the two words. While the accepted pronunciation of “can” rhymes with “fan”, we change it in our everyday speech when we use it to describe an ability we have. We rarely say “I CAN ride a motorcycle.” Instead, native speakers of English will usually pronounce it “Ikun ride a motorcycle.” Whether it’s considered being lazy or not is irrelevant. It’s how we speak. We say “Ikun”, “youkun”, “shekun”, etc. 

When asked if we are able to do something, then we go back to the other pronunciation. We say, “Yes, I CAN”, again, rhyming with “fan”. This is something that we pick up from hearing our parents and others speak, but non-native speakers need to be taught so their speech sounds natural instead of stilted. 

However, we do NOT do the same with the word, “can’t”. This word always rhymes with “rant”, no matter where we use it in a sentence. Never do we want to hear someone else tell us, “No, you cunt ride a motorcycle.” So this differentiation in pronunciation must be carefully taught to students learning English as a second language. 

I wanted to find a fun and effective way to teach this to the students, who at this time were all female. Our instructors had imparted to us the benefits of getting students out of their seats and into some type of active participation. So in a eureka! moment, I thought, “what if they were cheerleaders?”

Last night, during my 45-minute session, I used the whiteboard to show how the two words were used in speech, and gingerly modeled the correct pronunciation for the ladies. Then, after having them fill out a worksheet on which they wrote down abilities they could and couldn’t do, I asked them to stand up as a group and come stand in front of the room. 

I told them that we would be practicing a chant together. Putting aside my embarrassment of looking silly in front of not only the students, but my instructor and fellow classmates, I put my hands in pom-pom position, then began bouncing and gesticulating as if I were on the sidelines of a football game. 

“Ikun jump! Yes, I CAN! Yes, I CAN!”  

I then asked the students to do the same, repeating the chants after me. Among the other abilities we shouted about as cheerleaders were “cook”; “play”; and “run”. After that, I split the groups in two and had them question each other,

“Cun you swim?”, with the answers being “Yes! I CAN!” or “No, I CAN’T!”, depending on my head signals, either nodding yes, or waving my hand no. 

This took about five to seven minutes of class time, and I felt that it was effective, if a bit idiotic. I stole glances around the room to gauge the reactions of my peers, and Brent, our instructor. The expressions on the faces of the women in my group ranged from bemusement to wide smiles. At least a couple of them approved.

Brent was inscrutable, which was disconcerting. Tyson’s face, however, was hidden from me. He had put his head down and covered it with one hand while shaking it from side to side in disbelief at what he had just witnessed. Later, as we filed out to go to dinner at 8pm, I pointedly asked him what he thought of my class. He told me I would have to wait until the next day’s feedback session. 

So now I sit in the hot seat awaiting judgment to be rendered. The women are mostly positive in their assessment of my teaching performance, with a few notes of items I could possibly have improved. This is fine, as I’m here to learn. All of my classmates are already teachers, and even though I am their senior in age, I am happy to receive any insights that they have. 

Tyson looks at me for a couple of seconds before he begins to speak. He starts out with some nice things to say about my instruction, and about the worksheet. He then addresses my cheerleading activity by saying, “I wouldn’t have done that.”

I smile back at him, and try to focus on the fact that I had gotten the students to properly use and pronounce the words. 

Now it’s Brent’s turn to speak. I’m trying to not show my disquiet as I wait for his input. He points out that I neglected to turn in a lexical analysis for the assignment. Oops. I had gotten so wrapped up in creating worksheets and the activity that I had completely spaced that. 

He then turns his words to my presentation. 

“I thought that your cheerleading activity was brilliant and effective.”

Fuck you, Tyson. 

(Kidding. I really like Tyson and value his friendship)