07 February 2011

Observations of an English Teacher

I am majoring in English teaching.  I am currently enrolled in a field experience class for English teachers for which I spend six weeks in secondary schools observing English teachers and students.  BYU's method, however, for student observations is active rather than passive: I perform the work of the teacher under his or her instruction (lesson planning and execution, answering student questions, grading papers, marking roll, etc.) much more than I sit in the back of the classroom scribbling notes. 

One day, when I was reading an article with a seventh grade class, a student from another university came to observe the class.  When I had a moment to talk to her she seemed surprised that it was only my first semester in my program, yet I was already teaching in a public school.  Her observations consisted of choosing a different classroom each day and observing that teaching for a few class periods.  She'd ask the teacher any questions she had and then head to a new classroom the next day.

Aren't these Tibetan students adorable? 

I tell this story because after reading Spradley's "Doing Participant Observation," I've begun to conceptualize my project in terms of a physical classroom.  My teaching professor always told us to be proactive, to stand up and walk around the classroom answering questions without being asked, in order to have the best experience with student observations.  I agree that actually practicing teacher tasks like answering questions is the best way to learn about teaching, but I wonder what will be the best way to learn about digital literacy in the TCV?

In many ways, participant observation is simply a matter of survival.
The participant observer comes to a social situation with two purposes: (1) to engage in activities appropriate to the situation and (2) to observe the activities, people, and physical aspects of the situation.
When you're living in an unfamiliar culture, you must observe natives in order to understand and imitate proper behavior.  However, participant observation is also a crucial part of my project.  I hope that I will be spending time in the classrooms of the TCV, and my role in there will not be the same as my role in the aforementioned English classes.  Will I sit in the back and scribble notes?  Will I talk to individual students?  Will I perhaps even have opportunities to teach English? (I would love that!  I am adding a TESOL minor soon, and I would love to teach English internationally.)

I imagine that I will find myself in a TCV classroom, but I do not know what my level of participation will be.  That depends first upon communication with administrators (who will inform me of the rules and boundaries in the school system) and second upon my project, the actual day-to-day procedures that will yield the information I seek. 

In any case, I "plan to spend 2-3 hours every working day of a participant observation study writing up field notes, working on [my] diary, and coding interviews and notes."  Since this information will eventually shape my honors thesis slash final product, I need to be diligent in recording my observations and thoughts no matter the capacity I serve in the classroom itself.

Photo credit rudenoon

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