Hi ho, hi ho

It’s off to work we go.

I started at NOVA this week. I’d heard that NOVA is commonly referred to as the McDonald’s of English Language Schools. I started the first day with 5 other people at Orientation, all of who(m) arrived last week, fresh off the plane. Only myself and one other had any teaching experience. The first day was paper work, and general “What is NOVA” sort of propaganda. First thing to learn, don’t be late. Ever. If you’re sick, phone in. Always. Before the designated time. Or you are docked salary, and quite a bit.

The next three days were OJT. On the Job Training. Where we observe and then do lesson stages piece by piece until we build up to a whole lesson. So, lets see, CELTA was 127 hours. NOVA was, um, 28 hours. Gosh. But there is follow-up training, so we’ll see what I can get my hands into.

So, what’s a lesson?

A lesson is 0 to 4 students (yes, sometimes they are a no show) and a lesson lasts 40 or 45 minutes. I work from 5pm to 9pm at night. I have 5 lesson slots (I might not be always allocated students – and so have a free.) Lets do a quick bit of math, so um:

5pm to 9pm = 4 hours = 240 minutes.
5 lessons at 40 minutes = 200 minutes.

Leaving me with 40 minutes between lessons, so I have 4 gaps between 5 lessons, which means I have 10 minutes to:

  1. write up 0 to 4 files of student information about how they went
  2. pull out 1 to 4 files for the next lesson
  3. review the files to work out what they have left to do
  4. go through the text and plan a 40 minute lesson

The advice I was given was that there are 4 things you should do once a lesson has been picked.

  1. Identify Target Language
  2. Decide Lesson Objective
  3. Devise Application Activity
  4. Create Warm Up Activity

By planning the warm-up stage, as the students spend 5 minutes playing a silly game or discussing which is better – takoyaki or okonomiyaki, you start to think about the rest of the lesson. So, in simple terms, you have NO TIME to write a lesson plan, to research the grammar point, to build a witty and exciting game with realia. You do it on the fly. Go! Go! Go!

I tend to write down really important information, like what time we start and finish, what room number, and what lesson number.

But that said, watching experienced instructors walk into the staff room, and finish writing the notes (because they started them while the students were working out how to tell someone where to buy good coffee) and put the files away, pull out the next ones, glance at them, and then spend the next 6 minutes reading their novel or talking to us, was interesting.

So, one gets to know the text book really well, really, really well. One instructor, after I said, maybe we could do #45 for a 7A class, said “yeah that’s okay” So I said, “um, do you want to look at it?” She said “No, …” and started to repeat the text of the passage, verbatim, from memory … “Joe Carter goes …”

By the end of three days, that’s it. In we go. Off to our school to start real work.

Students are graded to 9 levels, (7C, 7B, 7A, 6, …, 2) where 1 is a native speaker and 7C is like my Japanese, functionally useless. So, I know pretty well what their ability is, and also from the notes from the student files. I have different students every lesson, every day. There are maybe 2000 active files at my branch. But one still gets to know them, eventually.

The lesson plan is a formula, that we don’t have to follow, but usually do unless the students ability doesn’t really cope, and it helps the planning. We have a warmer, a listening, pattern practice (model and drill), a reading and an application stage. The focus is on natural, spoken english rather than harsh grammar lessons. The are usually really good at writing and reading, so listening and vocabulary tend to get done more depending on their level. (Well, that’s what I think.)

There are also Kids lessons (gosh, perhaps I just won’t take the training for that) and VOICE which is a room where they play communication games for an hour, etc. Much less planning, and so on. Fun, relaxing, and not too bad.

Experience of the first few days. Well, things I remember (besides lesson #36?) When I had to do my first, full lesson (but was observed) I sat down with the students and said “Hello.” Then realised I had forgotten which lesson I had chosen from the book, and had to jump up and quickly ask the instructor which one it was. Also, getting back to the staff room and then forgetting which student file was which student. But again, after a while you get to know all the students by name quite well, and subtle tricks about record keeping.

Best student. We were doing expressions like “Excuse me, is this seat taken?” And we got this guy to stand up. As he stood, this long line of dribble fell from his mouth to the book. Ahh, the dribbling student.

I will survive. The advantage of NOVA is I can get transfers, do fill in, move around, visa sponsorship, etc. The down side, the pay is poor for the conditions, other schools are better – but I needed experience to go work there.

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