You know that term, Imposter Syndrome -- when you feel like a phony and you're afraid that somebody is going to call you out at any minute. Excuse me, what are you doing? Do you call yourself an educator? (In China we're actually called foreign experts, fer pete's sake.)
Sometimes I really have had to fake my way through. See that picture above? That was the room after the kids left a completely jam-packed demo class offered by a local private school. I had filled in on a few classes before at this school and when they asked me to teach one Sunday, I said sure. I had assumed, fatal mistake, that it would be like before, maybe 12 to 14 kids. I didn't think to ask. So I showed up and there were 75 kids, so the class plan and the handouts I had prepared were inadequate and I had to improvise and modify on the spot.
But because I refused to do the lesson that way, I found myself with 30 minutes to fill with this group of teenagers and no back up plan.
Out of the blue, I thought about conjunctions -- the words that link up sentences like the couplings between a train. (I drew a little picture of trains and pointed to the couplings, I didn't use the word 'coupling.') Then I started a fairy tale on the white board: "Once upon a time there was a...... and told the kids each kid had to a sentence or part of a sentence and finish with "because" or "but" or "and" or "then" and so forth.
Glory be if they didn't go mental, charging up to the whiteboard in an enthusiastic tangle, writing a story together, all talking together and having a great time. Full engagement. That's what we teachers live for. I got lucky that time.
A few days later, I rolled in and I was told, this is a new class of kids, we won't be using the regular textbook. In other words, I've got to work with eight teenagers for three hours with no curriculum supplied. And I'm like, fine, no problem. At that moment I realized that I was not a complete newbie teacher any more.
But far too many times I've walked into class wishing I had prepared more, looked over the textbook more carefully, thought of some good supplementary activities or thought of more engaging ways to present and review the information. Or I've walked out feeling, well, you kind of phoned that one in. I'm not as bad as Tim Allen in Galaxy Quest, bumbling through his guest appearance on the alien spaceship, but if you've seen that movie, you know what I mean.
Recently I was determined to introduce One Fish, Two Fish to some 8-year-olds. I uh, sampled, the first pages of Dr. Seuss's book, scanned them, and fiddled around for ages making a little booklet. Then I spent several hours waiting at the printer for them to be photocopied. Then I had to cut them up and staple them. By that time I was in a fairly foul mood, asking myself, why do you spend so much time obsessing over things? Nobody said you had to do this.
But during the class -- how I loved watching the magic of Seuss take hold. First the kids read along with me with a power point on the wall. One Fish! Two Fish! Red Fish! Blue Fish! Hey, I'm reading!
Then I gave each of them their own little booklet and each of them in turn sat with me and read it to me. I noticed how many of them proudly put their name on the front. Take this home and read it to your moms and dads! It was a good day, spreading the gospel of Seuss.
Example: My Mother, my friend so dear/ throughout my life you're always _________, A tender smile to guide my way, You're the sunshine to light my ___________
Once the kids had filled in the missing words and practiced reading the poems aloud, they swung into action and made their own Mother's Day cards. By the way, I've noticed that in China you can get away with doing activities involving crafts and stickers with older kids than would be possible in the West. The kids I teach are sweet and guileless and not at all sophisticated and cynical.
It's exciting when you deviate from the teaching plan because a question from a student or a flash of inspiration takes you down a different path. Bottom line though -- it also feels great to wrap up a class that you planned from start to finish and it all worked out as you planned, down to the timing of the bell. That's when I don't feel like an impostor.