Teaching a Large Class: My Challenging Experience
Back in 2014, I worked at a nursery school here in South Africa. I was the English teacher for the three to four-year-olds at this school. There were 32 students in my class. My class was so small that during nap time two students had to sleep on one mattress. There was no space to leave the class once the children had fallen asleep. I had to make sure that all my belongings were out of the class once the students came in for their naptime or I had to leave whatever was forgotten behind once I was one my way to my next job. In unit 3 on page 21, they talk about the whole class grouping pros and cons and that is really explained well where they say "class grouping is suitable for activities where the teacher needs to be in control" or "have the attention of the class as a whole." Without control, I would have been lost.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Margaret J. M.
When we did class activities the class was so cramped that I was forced to divide the children into groups of eleven and had to repeat my lesson three times every day. In unit 3 page 5 it says that " you have to create a sense of belonging amongst the group" and this was very hard to do when you have to divide the children. My work hours back then were from 6 am until 1 pm and then I would get to my next job after. The daily program of the class that we were forced to follow was from 6 until 8 am and we had to do preparation for the day's activities and the students would arrive anytime during that time.
From 8 until 8:30 we gave the students breakfast and after breakfast, we had fifteen minutes for the student to go to the toilet and wash their hands. After the toilet breaks, we had circle time for 45 minutes where the students would sit on the floor in the class. On page 5 of study unit 3 they say "allow students to interact with any other class member" and in my class during most of the time, I couldn't afford for the children to interact with each other because I couldn't afford for me to lose control of the class. It was always funny when the children had to sit down for circle time because there was no space to make a circle with children in the classroom. On page six and 12 of the study unit 3, they talked about classroom seating arrangement and I find that what they say there are very true" you have to arrange your class according to space that is available "and that large classes are better managed in orderly rows. Most of the times there were not enough space for chairs so the children had to sit on the floor. I had to project my voice in order for the whole class to hear me for that 45 minutes and I felt the strain on my voice every morning. (Unit 3 page 4)
During this time, I would read the Bible and we would pray, we would talk about the days of the week and the months of the year. In study unit 3 there was also talk about the teacher's talk time and I found that I had to do most of the talking during the day. Then we would talk about the Numbers from one until twenty, we would discuss the colors and the shapes of the week. After we would talk about the theme of the week for example Christmas. I had to reduce opportunities of students to speak and when I did ask a question it was off-putting to the shy students who may not wish to participate in front of the whole class, just like study unit 3 says on page 5.
Choice of Activities
We would sing songs and learn rhymes. We would talk about the seasons and the weather. On page 10 where they talk about teacher talk time, I found that what they say about" the teacher should be able to provide the students with a source of natural, correct English that is specifically geared to the student's ability." is really true and in my class they did get a lot of that. I also agree where they say that" very few other resources can provide such comprehensible language input." Page 10 unit 3. All of this is really hard to do with thirty-two students in your class and not a lot of space to work with especially if you take their age into consideration. After circle time I would take all of the students outside (during winter and summer) and then take only one of the three groups into the class to do the daily activities with. Just like in unit 3 on page 5 I had to use" Quicker and easier organization". I feel that Teacher positioning is really important working with such a large group. I had to stand most of the time and was seen by all the students around the classroom and I agree with page 8 of the study unit.
Which means I had to repeat the lesson three times a day and that made it really hard to stay positive when you don't have a lot of patience. I agree with study unit 3 page 12 that “when you choose activities and materials that involve the students talking to each other and sharing personal ideas and opinions, using plenty of paired word group activities and get students to help each other and let students correct each other” but in my class, this really caused a lot of problems. In unit 3 page 13 they discussed maintaining discipline and that discipline will largely depend upon a number of factors like age of the students, the reason for learning, do the student wants to be there, class size, principals and atmosphere of the class. They also discussed reasons for problem behavior such as boredom and class size and the preventing problem behavior like being punctual and prepared consistent and fair, never lose your temper and that you should have respect for your students and this was very hard to do in that work environment”. Discipline was also hard to manage when the teaching assistant had to stay outside with the other two groups while you are alone inside with eleven three-year-olds. But I managed. In the conclusion of unit 1 page 10 there stands '' that an enthusiastic, sensitive, motivated and caring teacher is much more likely to have successful students who enjoy their learning and continue attending class", I tried but this was very hard.
ESA in a Big Classroom
There was only time in a day for each group to get twenty minutes (in unit 1 page 4 they say " equal attention should be given to all students") to do the engage, study and activate stage so I had to make sure that when I plan my lessons they will be understood easily and clearly. Unit 2 pages 21" during engaging and activate stage, however, we would want to encourage as much communication as possible, so the correction should be kept to an absolute minimum" there was no time to let them communicate much during the activities. There was no time to really help the kids that didn't understand so, therefore, I was forced to make the work really easy and the student that did find the work too easy was bord and that created problems in the discipline in the class. The disadvantages of teacher talk time on page 10 is true where they say “choose carefully the language for explaining and instructions, use gestures, mime or pictures, don't over-elaborate, be consistent with instructions, use language that is at or below the level being taught and basically keep it simple". On page 11 they say use visual clues and I used a lot of clues.
When I was done with the activities around 9:20 am we tidied up and had our morning snacks around 9:45 am. We had outside play time from 10 am until 11:30 am. After free play outside we had our lunch that the children were forced to eat outside because there was no space inside. At 12 I would read a story to the children before they had their afternoon nap. On Page 12 in unit 3, there stands "Support between the teacher and student plays an important part in determining if a class is successful and enjoyable" this was very hard to see as there were not a lot of communication between me and the children.
The thing that bothered me the most about sharing a mattress between two children was the fact that some children at that age can't control their bladders and will wet the child next to them. When they want to get up to go to the bathroom there was also no space for them to walk without stepping on their friend and waking them. Some students that took longer to fall asleep or would wake up early would also wake the children next to them so discipline was also very hard to manage during this time. The chapter on responding to problem behavior unit 3 page 14 was very interesting and would have really come in handy back then especially the part of " focus on the behavior and not the student, change the classroom dynamics and keep calm." I found myself getting frustrated a lot and that I had to leave the class a lot to keep calm or to calm down.
Keep in Mind
It was really horrible and I promised myself that I would never put my child in a school like that and that I will make sure that no parent pays that much school fees where their child is cramped into such a small class with so many other students and suffers because there is not enough time for the teacher to give individual attention to each child where needed.
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