Teaching the Teacher in Poland

Posted by Heather Tang in Poland 20 Dec 2011

During your time as a WorldTeach volunteer, you may find you are learning more than you’re teaching. Every day in the classroom offers a learning experience not only for your students, but for you as well. Cindy, a WorldTeach Poland volunteer, recounts how she came to see this paradox.

 

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If you want to really learn something, try explaining it to someone else! I’m convinced the teachers are the ones who learn the most in the classroom. It’s gotta be true for me.

 

Last week was the most challenging as far as classroom management goes. I discovered quickly that the group is older than my previous groups — some just graduated from Primary School so consider themselves to be Secondary School students, and wary of anything too childish. Although self-conscious and reluctant to speak, it was obvious to me that this was not the tender and easily tearful group of previous weeks. I would have to work hard to devise a whole new set of exercises and games to engage this group.

 

These students are from Jawiszowice and Przecieszyn, two hamlets in the commune of Brzezszce. This group was much braver and more prone to horsing around than the previous groups. After class the first day, Kinga, my Polish teacher of English and I talked with three students who were waiting for their carpool, and some who refused to speak in class were actually quite fluent out on the sidewalk. Good, that means they can take more challenge!

 

I am very impressed with each of the Polish teachers of English that I have met and worked with, and it has been a pleasure to work with them. Starting with Joanna and Pryemek who helped break me in the first week, then Ewelina and Barbara the second week, and then Kinga the third week. Several of these teachers spoke to me about the values their parents and grandparents taught them, and what a puzzle it is to live by these values and incorporate them into the classroom — in today’s ever more consumer-focused world. As I look over the Bop and Twister zines I brought from home, I feel reluctant to bring them into the classroom because of this struggle. If America’s teen mags ‘teach’ anything, it is certainly consumerism!

 

And talking about consumerism…one day, I brought in the Monopoly game that I lugged all the way from the US. As we played the game I heard a lot more Polish being used than English, and worse, some students began teasing a third. A little giggling I don’t mind, but not at someone’s expense. I interpreted this to mean the game had gone on too long and they were bored. So I said, ‘I think it is time to close the game now.’ My intention was to pull out the next activity in my pack. But the students cried, ‘Why? Why?’ Then they apologized, so I let the game continue. The atmophere was much quieter afterward, and I saw how effective that simple statement was.

 

When the game ended, Kinga told them to put the game away neatly using a quiet and gentle, but very clear manner. I watched this interaction with great interest and much gratitude! After class, she articulated the reason for asking the students to clean up. ‘Everything in school is for them,’ she said. ‘It is right for them to take ownership and contribute to taking good care of it.’ Once again, I think I learn much, much more than I teach!

 

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