Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Pick yourself up and dust yourself down

Although I have completed a full circle and am back to where I started out when I first arrived in Hong Kong - searching for a job - this time it feels different and I do too.  My previous experience has taught me to bide my time and not leap blindly into the first job that is offered to me.  I feel less manic than before and am endeavouring to remain that way.  I have a plan and, as long as our cash flow allows, I intend to stick to it.  Starting a new career in teaching, I am keen to take time experiencing one-to-one tutoring with adults and children, as well as teaching part-time in a school or kindergarten, before committing to a full-time role.  Up until yesterday the plan was on track with my tutoring work taking off and an interview lined up for a part-time kindergarten job.  Naturally, as with all the best laid plans of mice and men - mine went astray with the kindergarten interview going awry in spectacular style.

It had all started so well.  I had dedicated a majority of my weekend and Monday morning to familiarising myself with every aspect of Jolly Phonics.  I had learnt the actions and songs for all the letter sounds and I had even read the entire UK Department of Education's Letters and Sounds programme to promote speaking, listening and phonological awareness in children.  I felt prepared to answer any question directed at me about phonics.   In addition I had successfully negotiated my way through the MTR system, onto a mini-bus and through a maze-like housing estate, and found the kindergarten.  Then disaster struck at 2.40pm - five minutes before my interview.  I received a phone call to say that I may be expected to teach a class as part of the interview.  Oh brilliant!

I am a highly organised person and I plan things meticulously, as a result I am rarely put on the spot.  I went from feeling confident that I had prepared all I could for the interview - the job was in the bag - to feeling exposed, caught-off-guard and a quivering wreck.   Perhaps naively, it never crossed my mind that I would be asked to teach at first interview stage without prior warning, and as a result I had nothing prepared.  I had no option but to jump straight back onto the minibus and head home or I was going to have to wing it.  Unfortunately, I chose the latter option and I experienced the most humiliating 15 minutes of my life.  And it keeps playing back in my head, over and over again, causing me to repeatedly cringe with embarrassment.

According to the TESOL training I have recently been immersed in, the key to a good lesson is developing a detailed lesson plan with clear objectives for each stage and executing the plan with strong materials to engage your students.  It is vital for the teacher to get the students communicating as much as possible, with the teacher directing and prompting but not doing all the talking.  It would be fair to say that I failed on every single one of these counts.

I was let into the school by the headmistress (slightly lacking in social skills as she couldn't bring herself to say 'hello' to me) who directed me straight to a classroom and pointed at a cupboard to indicate I may find something within to help me teach.  I was given five minutes to prepare before I was faced with twelve little faces waiting expectantly for the English lesson of a lifetime.  Sadly what they were presented with was a deranged English woman who thought it would be a great idea to start the class by singing a song to learn their names.  In retrospect, a bit of a waste of time, seeing as I will never see the children again!  In case you are interested, the song in question goes 'Hello, Hello, What's your name?' to the tune of 'London Bridge is Falling Down'.  The children had literally just woken up from their post-lunch nap so I was greeted by a row of glazed faces while I sang away dementedly, demanding they tell me their names.  I should have got them playing musical chairs, as even though it wouldn't have got me the job, at least we all could have had some fun.

Once the children were 'warmed up' or in reality, still glazed and now post-traumatic, I reached for the phonics book to teach them some letter sounds.  Due to my detailed pre-interview research, I knew this group of kindergarten kids were learning the sound 'th' this week, so I thought at least it would be relevant if I selected this sound for my fifteen minutes of ritual humiliation.  Teaching the sound 'th' requires a bit of tongue sticking out and the odd bit of escaping spittle - an attractive look for an interview.  I managed to supplement the spitting with a Jolly Phonics song about a rude clown making this sound and that sound, which a couple of charitable children joined in with, to my relief.  However, I had no games or materials up my sleeve to make the class interactive or engaging so the next 10 minutes were spent getting the children to repeat or guess words featuring 'th', while I quietly shrivelled up and died inside.  Finally I managed to generate some excitement as I asked the children to sing the 'Bye-bye' song to me.  They waved me off with the most enthusiasm they had shown since they had arrived in the room.

I was hustled out of the classroom and out of the building with a curt - "we'll be in touch".  The only four words the headmistress uttered in the twenty minutes I was at the school.  There was no interview.  Unsurprisingly this was followed-up two hours later with an email to confirm that I had not been successful in securing the job.

I have spent the past 24 hours reliving my heinous loss of face, but finally I am seeing the humorous side.  On a positive note, I know for next time to arrive at an interview with a lesson plan and materials fully prepared.  It is also apparent that this business of changing careers is not going to be smooth sailing all the way, but I will keep plugging on and the plan will fall into place eventually.

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