Orientation Day 8: A Real SENA Class

After four days of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) training, today was our big test: teaching a class to real SENA students.

Two days ago we were put into pairs of co-teachers and had an afternoon free in which to plan our lessons. This was a real challenge because we had very little information about how much English our students knew. All we were told was that they would probably be sort of beginners.

My co-teacher and I decided to focus on food vocabulary and talking about likes and dislikes. Our lesson plan included lots of games and and activities, and plenty backup ideas in case our “plan A” didn’t work out (which was lucky, because everything seemed to take about half the time we thought it would).

Half of our group was scheduled to teach on Tuesday, and the other half on Wednesday. I was in the Wednesday group, but quickly heard the news that the Tuesday group got to the SENA center only to find that the teachers were on strike. They eventually found some students to teach at a different center, but not before driving all over the city.

With that in mind, I was doing my best to be ready for anything when I finally got on the bus early in the morning and headed for SENA.

When we got there the strike was over, and things seemed to be back to business as usual. I guess strikes in Colombia can be pretty quick affairs.

The lobby of the SENA center. There was some sort of activities fair going on, complete with a DJ/hype man.

After arriving, we all went to the library to listen to some remarks from two directors of the English program at that center, then we headed off to meet our classes.

Hallway at the SENA center

Each class of students got an hour lesson from a pair of teachers, and then another hour lesson from a second pair of teachers (lucky them?). Luckily for us the students were very patient and forgiving.

When we got upstairs to where we would be teaching, we got a bit of a surprise. Rather than being in traditional classrooms, almost all the classes were in one very long room, which was filled with about six groups of 20-30 students each. Imagine a row of classrooms, but without walls. (Why would someone make classrooms without walls? this question was never answered.)

SENA Bogota
The monster classroom

The level of noise made by hundreds of students in one big, long, tile-floored room was pretty overwhelming, and certainly made teaching (or hearing anything anyone said, for that matter) a challenge.

Co-teaching was also much harder than I expected. I had taught ESL classes before, but had always been the only teacher in the room. My co-teacher and I had very different styles and it felt like we were often working at cross-purposes, with very different ideas about how we wanted to run the class and behave toward the students. Co-teaching all the time will definitely take some getting used to.

Another group teaching in the monster classroom

The best part of the experience was definitely meeting our students. We had a group of about 20 who were all studying telecommunications. Most seemed to be in their late teens or early 20s. Some spoke only a few words of English, while others were able to hold a basic conversation and knew lots of vocabulary. Luckily for us, the more advanced students were happy to help out the beginners, which made our job much easier.

They were all very kind and excited to talk to us, as well as extremely patient in putting up with two hours of trial-run lessons in such hectic circumstances.

All in all, it was a fun but challenging day. I am definitely worried about what co-teaching will be like, but nevertheless looking forward to meeting the students I will be teaching for the semester in Medellín – and praying for a classroom with walls!

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