Nervous Beginnings

Hello, this is Sarah, and welcome to our GTL blog! I will be teaching debate and natural science in Trieste, Italy for the next three weeks. I’m excited about the location because Trieste is just a few miles from Slovenia, and Slovenia seems more exotic and exciting than Italy for some people. In fact, the high school that I’ll be teaching at is a Slovenian-language school, so they don’t even speak Italian in this Italian school. My host family speaks Slovenian primarily at home. Unfortunately, Duolingo does not support Slovenian so I am not to prepared for that particular language barrier, though I’m doing my best with the Italian. I’ll mostly have to rely on the classic “speak Spanish and French in an Italian accent” strategy.

I’ve been having mixed feelings going into this experience, but I hope my expectations will be exceeded. I did not do competition debate in high school (or ever), so I feel unqualified for teaching the subject. I justified being able to teach debate in my GTL interview because I did Model UN (United Nations-style debates and negotiations) and took public speaking classes in high school.  However, part of me thinks I should have declined the spot on the basis of inexperience. The natural science classes were added by my school as an afterthought, just a few weeks ago. I have no idea what they’re expecting for those classes. My worry is that the students will not gain anything by me being there, and I don’t want to be viewed as just there for a free trip to Europe.

I spent much of winter break stressing myself out about this. What made the nervousness worse is my school told me not to prepare any classes before getting there, as I will be creating lesson plans with the teachers in person. The thought of arriving in Italy with no preparation gave me lots of anxiety over the break. Eventually I broke down and planned some classes. I started to get excited about activities I could run, some based on the public speaking activities that I used to hate in high school (they’re good activities, but I hated having to practice public speaking in general). I’m excited to pull out something my English teacher called the “coffee can of fate,” where each student’s topic and/or partner are chosen randomly from this frightening little jar of paper slips. I’m hoping they’ll let me teach a weather forecasting class, though I have some feelings about the high cost of the European weather forecasting models. I might have to restrain myself there.

I’ve mostly convinced myself that this will be an overall net-positive experience for those involved. Hopefully the students will have a bit of fun, learn some English, and maybe even some public speaking/science. If not, then at least I will gain valuable teaching experience and self-confidence. It’s highly likely that I will learn more from the three weeks than the students will. I’ll keep track of this and keep you updated.

P.S. I was planning on writing this on the plane, so it would be literal Splash on Planes, but that didn’t happen. This was written on a train instead.


One thought on “Nervous Beginnings

  1. I empathize with your concerns about what the students would gain from our presences at their school. Last year, I think some students didn’t quite understand why I was there either. Was I in the process of getting a teaching certification? Did the school pay me to give some guest lectures for whatever reason?

    The mission of GTL suggests that our role is to share MIT’s method of teaching, mind and hand and whatnot. I was teaching some calculus, and I don’t think MIT does it so differently. (I did try to emphasize the underlying reasoning, so when I taught the multiplication rule for differentiation, I derived it on the board, which is something I’d never seen in high school.)

    I also found that even doing something unexpected led to a memorable class. When I taught free fall, instead of talking about how similarly shaped things of different weights fall at the same rate, I had a simple 5-second live demonstration. I think the students remembered that more than anything else I did for the rest of the hour.

    The other half of GTL’s mission is for us to learn via teaching, and that is a good thing as well.

    I actually think my most interesting lessons were the ones where I explained the U.S. school system. Tuitions here are much higher than in Europe, and the college admissions process (its partially subjective nature and affirmative action) is very different. The students found those concepts crazy.


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