Despite having been working with my collègiens here in Laval, France for the past 7 months, it still appears as though I don’t know them or really know how to teach as well as I thought that I did.
As I’ve mentioned in many of my posts, teaching is difficult, and just when you feel like you’ve finally found your footing, the rug gets pulled out from under your feet again, sending you slamming on the ground, leaving you with a sore tooshie.
This was my experience last Monday. As I was going into my second to last week as a English teaching assistant here in France, the teacher with whom I work with at the middle school said she’d like to try separating the class into two groups, with me taking half, and then we would switch after 25 minutes. Splitting the class into two groups is something that I do often with my high school students, but I had never before done it with my middle school classes. However, I thought it was a good idea because it would give me the opportunity to challenge my teaching skills with the middle schoolers as well as to spend some individual time with them.
I failed. I failed big time. Middle schoolers are still very much children, so I actually ended up spending half of the already split in half time with them just managing their behavior (or rather, attempting to).
A few students would not stop talking repeatedly, even after asking them to be quiet and listen while I was teaching. Then, they even went so far as to say rude things to me and about me in French (because some of them still don’t fully realize that I speak and understand French). Then when I asked for their carnets (a handbook of sorts that allows the teachers to write notes to each student’s parents about their behavior), one student gave it to me, at which point I set it on the teacher desk (my mistake. I should’ve kept it in my hand), and I spent almost a full five minutes demanding the carnet of another student. I had two options: continue to stand there even though I was wasting the time I had or give in and just not take it from said student. If I just stood there and waited (which is what I ended up doing), I waste the rest of the class period. If I give in to the student, then the students will never learn to respect me, which was still important to me even though I only had two weeks left at this point. However, I was unsuccessful, despite my waiting and insistence, because of his straight up direct refusal during which the bell rang and at which point said student got up and walked away despite my demands while the other (without me seeing) stole his carnet back off the teacher desk and ran out of the classroom.
Not only was I completely frustrated, but I felt completely embarrassed, especially when telling the teacher what had occurred. It made me feel better that she said that she has trouble with the same students, but I still felt like I had completely failed, because I basically had.
I went home and was so frustrated that I almost cried. It was not a good moment.
Moments such as these teach me that I’m still learning though. I’m still a student myself. During this class time, I realized that even though I am more comfortable teaching than at the beginning of my contract, I have no idea how to actually manage classroom behavior and teach through the terrible behavior. I felt at a complete loss and as a complete failure, especially because in addition to not being able to discipline said students, the rest of the class was robbed of a proper lesson with me due to the behavior of those few students.
Despite frustration, I’ve grown just a little bit more because of my failure. I have to ask myself how I could’ve managed their behavior better. How do I properly gain the respect from my students, not just here in France but in future teaching positions? What do I need to do to make the expectations that I have for my students clear?
I’ve tried very hard this year to be a resource for my students as well as someone that they can look up to and feel comfortable having fun while learning. However, that’s difficult to do when you are also trying to establish respect with your students at the same time. How should I go about creating a balance between the two?
These are all questions that I still don’t have answers to and will probably be continuing to ask for quite some time.
Despite the unanswered question though, situations such as these make me reflect on my progress, what I’ve managed to learn and what I still need to learn. It’s a reminder that I am and always will be a student myself, no matter what age I’m teaching, what I’m teaching, or where I’m teaching.
My failure pushes me to want to succeed and to learn even more. My failure is making me better, at my job and as a person. So, though I was frustrated, I’ve decided to look at it in a positive way, knowing that I can and I will do better next time.