When you arrive at a school for your first visit, usually someone will become your sponsor and walk you around. They will introduce you to the principal, all the English teachers and find classes for you to visit.
Meeting with a principal is always interesting because there is the expected sit down and chat (How do you like it here? Oh, so your children are here! What school do they go to? Are you doing ok?) which eventually moves to (What are you wanting to do at my school?). First you have to establish that you are a real person and not a crazy person. I usually pass this test, surprisingly. Second you have to prove that whatever you are wanting to do won’t interfere with their teaching and won’t put them in a bad light. All of this I approve of. These principals don’t know me. By vetting my presence they are already proving that they have the best interests of their students in mind.
The second and following times I show up, people just smile and wave at you as you wander to the teacher workroom. Once you are there, nearly immediately, you will be offered tea or Turkish coffee. Usually I get Turkish coffee first, then tea during the break. I’m not a huge coffee person, but I can drink a glass when offered. My dad even managed to sip down a cup when he visited! The cups are really, really small so that helps.
When it is time to go to class, the teachers will check the schedule to see which class they have next. Here is one teacher’s schedule as an example. (Yes, I know it is Arabic, but the blanks are off periods and the filled in slots are classes. It is pretty self explanatory.)
Teachers will walk to the room that they have their class. Students stay in the same room all day while the teachers move around. (There is 1 school that I have been in which is an exception to this.)
Each lesson begins fairly quickly. The teacher will review the previous lesson. I love this. It takes time, but the continuity is there. Because the students are together all day, there is often some chatting. I rarely have seen teachers “move” students for behavior. Most just teach over whatever is happening. Occasionally they will call them out. Some schools are very quiet and focused (interestingly, it is usually the all-girls schools) and others are more chatty. There is a mixture of collaborative learning across the schools. A few places it would be harder to implement due to the behavior of the students or simply the number in class. The largest class I have observed was close to 40 seventh graders. I did not envy that teacher. The smallest was about 20 at the aforementioned school that let teachers stay in their rooms. The average is between 30-35.
Students sit in 2 seater tables or desks. Some schools have a mixture of both types of seating.
Teachers are fantastic about pointing out key vocabulary. They write it on the board for students to see. Students do not write during the lesson but listen and then go back and write down later.
A lot of the curriculum consists of things that I have never taught. It is akin to when a former student told me that adjectives have an order. )I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t know that until my 9th or 10th year of teaching. This was not covered in my teacher prep classes.) This week one teacher was discussing -ing vs -ed adjectives. For example, frying pan vs fried eggs. I have never taught this. I don’t think I have ever explained it, but there is apparently a rule. -Ing adjectives are active and -ed adjectives are passive. Try it. It fits. The class did a whole worksheet to practice this rule.
Overall though, there are a very few worksheets at most schools. Most of the work is done in workbooks (which the students purchase at the beginning of the year) or in notebooks.
Another excellent strategy I have picked up has been repetition. Every teacher I have seen is a master of repetition to help students get the concept. The English For Palestine book is set up with 2 sets of each exercise with the same vocabulary/grammar point in each one. The teacher will go over the lesson. Do one with the students. They finish at their desks, usually in partners. Then, the teacher will call on students to give the answer. After answering either the teacher or the student who answered will write the answer on the board. When they are finished going over the first exercise, the students will immediately begin with the second. I’m not a drill and kill fan. But there is a lot of research out there promoting it in the ESL/EFL classroom.
Teachers also run their lessons to and beyond the bell. They live under the adage that there is “so much to do.” It is expected that they should finish the text before the end of the school year so if they want to supplement at all they must run at a breakneck pace. I truly appreciate now the pace I can put my curriculum, but always knowing what is coming helps them pull every minute out of the class. Even if there are only 5 minutes left, they will begin the next lesson. It doesn’t matter if there will be a break before the next lesson because they review everything the next day anyway!