MAN Model is a big school. I teach ten classes every week, and that doesn’t cover even the entirety of the tenth grade. Trying to reach the larger student population and offer my services as an ETA is a daunting task. Fortunately, generations of ETAs before me have been fighting the same battle, and I had numerous ideas I could attempt to implement. A friend from last year’s co-hort had waxed rhapsodic about her “English Corner,” a white board in the school courtyard on which she could put up information about English Club and other English-related activities, facts and figures about American Culture, and short English challenges for students to try.
I seemed to remember that the ETA who was at my school last year—a fabulous individual very much missed by her students—had also had an English Corner (I was right). So in mid-October I approached the English teachers to ask if it might be possible if I could set up an English Corner as well. They were completely on board, and one week later there was a shiny new white board at my disposal.
The middle school teacher in me was thrilled. I love bulletin boards, but I haven’t had too many opportunities to work with them, since I have yet to have my own classroom. I bought copious amounts of colored paper, foam, and patterned tape, and set to work.
In many ways, the English Corner was an immediate success. Students flocked to it between classes, and all I had to do was sit on a nearby ledge during breaks in order to have the opportunity to talk to the eleventh and twelfth grade students who wanted to practice their conversational English. My own students asked about and commented on parts of it after class, and even the teachers got excited when something new popped up.
But it wasn’t perfect. My English Corner throughout the first semester a little too ambitious. I created six different sections of the English board: “Daily Word,” “Weekly Idiom,” “Weekly Challenge,” “Monthly Project,” “News,” and a section which I intentionally left blank, so that I could use it in any way I needed. I vowed to change out these various parts of the English Corner accordingly. I thought that was completely doable.
I was wrong. I had ten classes which I co-taught with four different teachers, English Club, Bahasa Indonesia lessons, various off-campus commitments, and my responsibilities as a returning ETA. I often found myself overwhelmingly busy, and when I had to cut drop something from my daily to-do list, it was often my English Corner. The “Daily Word” section would stay the same for three or four days in a row, the “Weekly Challenge” wouldn’t be updated until Wednesday. I had clearly bitten off more than I could chew.
I was also continually fighting the location of my English Corner. The wind would steal the sticky notes on which my students had written their favorite hobbies. Elementary school children who would play in the courtyard after school would take the leaves I had painstakingly cut out for the Thankfulness Tree (I don’t really blame the kiddos—they had no idea what they were for, and who wouldn’t want a bright red leaf to take home with them?—but the amount of time I spent cutting out leaves in the month of November was a bit ridiculous).
All of this, while somewhat frustrating at the time, was an opportunity to learn, and improve. When I came back from my December travels and the new semester began, I made some pretty significant changes to my English Corner. I decreased the number of sections, and I completely eliminated anything that required me to change a section daily or weekly.
Meanwhile, I kept the elements of the English Corner that had already proven to be really successful. The students love interacting with the English Corner and filling it with their own words (and if I’m honest, I’m really fond of that as well), and so I am always certain to include elements of that. But this time, instead of using sticky notes, I tape a whiteboard marker to the side of the English Board, and have students write their responses. I also make sure to include lots of culture, for my ever-inquisitive students whose curiosity is absolutely insatiable.
And since then, my English Corner has bloomed. My most recent English Board included multiple sections related to Black History Month, including a focus on Black American Heroes, a timeline of important dates in Black American History, and a word bank full of vocabulary they need to understand those other sections. The other sections were an interactive section in which students could write about their own heroes, and information about an upcoming English speech competition. A crowd of students helped me to put it together; they were so impatient to see what the updates would bring.
I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity to learn from my past attempts in order to create something more useful for my students. At some point during my time as an undergraduate education major, I remember a professor explaining what she felt the difference was between the lessons from a new teacher and an experienced one: the lessons of the experienced teacher are less flashy. While the young teacher is determined to be bold and exciting, the experienced teacher doesn’t want anything to do with bells and whistles. The experienced teacher wants tried and true, she wants what she knows will help students learn. This is not to say the experienced teacher is boring, or that the new teacher is not in any way effective. But the experienced teacher has had time to tweak lessons and classroom elements, fiddling with its wires and gearboxes, so that even if the paint isn’t quite as bright, it runs like a dream.
As I take in my new English Corner, with its faded lettering and slightly-dusty edging, I can’t help but feel this is true. My English Corner no longer looks as flashy as I might have once dreamed it would, but that’s okay: it’s more effective as it is.