It is hard to believe that I am only in South Africa for one more month! I have learned so much from both of my placements during my time here, and I look forward to the three visits remaining at each Victoria Primary and the Good Shepherd School. One area in particular that I have been able to improve my skills is classroom management. I have been independently planning and teaching lessons at the Good Shepherd School since my second visit. (Reminder: Good Shepherd is a co-ed, free school and I teach English to grades 4, 5, 6, and 7.) I am often left completely alone with the students. At first this made me nervous because that would probably not be allowed in the United States, but at the Good Shepherd School it is often a necessity because they do not have substitute teachers. When the teacher is there, she uses the time to plan or grade assignments, leaving me completely in charge.
Since I visit Good Shepherd on Fridays, Mrs. Herring wants me to plan fun activities for the students that are still relevant to the topics they have covered during the week. This has been an excellent challenge for me. I have had to learn to balance the fun and the educational value, while still keeping the classroom under control. Usually I only have half of each grade at a time (15-20 students), but it becomes more challenging when I have an entire class (35-38 students). I strongly consider the class size when planning my lessons. I have learned that some activities work really well with the smaller group, but are impossible with a full class. I have also learned to create very specific rules and explain expectations to the students for every activity. At first, I would orally explain an activity. I quickly realized that the students also needed my to write the instructions for them too (either on the board or in the handouts I give them). Still, I have to repeat instructions multiple times during every activity. My biggest challenge is getting the students to focus. With so many children in a small classroom, they easily distract each other. Also, it is clear that my CT does not have strict standards or deadlines for the students. While it is good to set reasonable deadlines based on the students’ progress, I think many students have realized they can take advantage of her leniency. Students often ignore my warnings of “5 minutes left” or “this must be done before you leave”. I have found that when the activity is fun and I give specific, clear instructions, the children are more engaged.
At Victoria Primary, I was mainly observing until a few weeks ago. (Reminder: VP is an all-girls, fee-paying, public school and I am in a kindergarten classroom) This gave me a great opportunity to see all of the classroom management techniques that my CT uses. In this classroom, the girls are much more obedient. There are many factors that go into this. First, there are only 19 students in the class, making it much easier to manage. Miss Dixie is also more strict. If the girls misbehave, they are sent to the “Grow Good Mat”. This is similar to time-out, where they must think about what they have done wrong in order to grow good. I have rarely seen this punishment used, though. While Miss Dixie is more strict, she is in no way harsh with the girls. The girls simply know that they will be held accountable for their actions, good or bad. Miss Dixie also has a routine that keeps the classroom in order. The girls know at all times what they should and should not be doing. For example, they understand that at “tidy-up time” they must all help clean up. Personally I am more accustomed to Miss Dixie’s style of classroom management and prefer it.
One of the biggest differences in classroom management at Good Shepherd and VP is space. At Good Shepherd, the students sit in cramped rows of two. Often times, we have to push desks out of the way to make space for simple activities. At Victoria Primary, Miss Dixie’s class has their own playground that they use nearly every day. On Thursdays, the day that I visit, we do primarily gross motor skills activities. I am able to plan lessons that use the playground, a huge field, and even the school’s swimming pool! Yes, this week I actually taught my lesson in a swimming pool! The girls played Jack and the Beanstalk -themed games that helped with their gross motor skills. Both placements have made me realize how important space and resources are in planning lessons and managing a classroom.
This semester I have had to take on much more responsibility than I ever expected when I agreed to an International Practicum. Each week I am planning and independently teaching four to six lessons. This experience has made me much more confident, especially in a whole-class setting. I am grateful to see how much I have learned, and I look forward to continuing to grow in my future practicums!