Preparation and Expectation
For my journal entry this week, I wrote about my first visit to my field placement. Expectation and preparation are words that frame how I am thinking of this first experiences. For this first visit, I traveled with students from the women’s mental health class. I had no idea what kind of program I’d be walking into, or what sort of participation would be expected of me. I knew only that I would be getting ‘oriented’ to a program geared at teaching functional spoken and written English to the mothers of children who attend preschool at the center. The four college student-volunteers were placed in different “offices” and rooms of the prefabricated building, we each worked with two or three mothers. The day’s lesson was intended to prepare the moms to order food in restaurants. The program’s leader had formulated a series of questions she thought would be at an appropriate conversational level for the mothers.
The women in my group had little to say about their experiences dining out, and instead preferred to talk about the foods they prepared for their children’s breakfasts and dinners, whether their kids willingly ate the same dinners they cooked for their husbands, and were delighted when I told them I loved traditional Mexican cuisine. Our conversation, shifted from the topic proscribed by the lead instructor, to a shy-at-first, then slowly more comfortable conversation about their kids’ experiences in school. I let the language shift back and forth between English and Spanish. It occurred to me afterward, that I was probably supposed to keep the conversation in English. I felt that it was more important not to stifle conversation, and I hoped that if I used a little Spanish, the women in my group might feel a little more at ease around me. In hindsight, it occurs to me that Spanish also seemed easier because I wasn’t adequately prepared to continue to ask questions and facilitate activities in English, after we’d exhausted the restaurant scenario questions. I came up with a few writing and dictation exercises on the fly, but they felt contrived, and I was nervous about my ability to fill an entire two hours with these sorts of activities.
I know that the structure of my usual visits will be different, because I won't be working as part of a group of college students. I feel an urge to be better prepared for my next visit. I want to arrive with a toolkit of activities so that I will be able to draw on those which seem appropriate in the moment. I think what I strive for is enough preparation to allow me to be competently spontaneous, and appropriately responsive to the group's energy on a given day and the individual needs of each student. In many ways, this brings about largers questions for me about how I might create spaces for opportunity and creativity in the context of teaching a set of functional language skills. In many senses, I think this will require a sense of balance between being deliberate and explicit about the sorts of competencies I hope students will take away, while allowing individual needs to shape which material is covered, and which conversations take shape.