Lessons from Virtual Summer Camp: PRYSE Academy Pt. 2

Though much time has been spent by everyone at PRYSE (including myself) learning how to use the various parts of Zoom, I have gained many other skills and insights at my internship at PRYSE Academy. Though the first week showed me the importance of patience, flexibility, and communication skills, since then I have been pushed to develop a multitude of other essential soft skills. Due to the fact that nothing can be completed in a straightforward manner anymore, rather it be teaching ESL lessons or building relationships with the kids, I have had the unique opportunity to grow my creativity. In the past, I would have never listed “creative” as one of my three greatest strengths on a job application. Though I would have considered myself a good problem solver, I never had to rethink things that I already knew how to do. Now, a lot of my previous lessons that I had developed through time and experience were difficult to apply to a online setting. In the larger class sections, partner work is out of the question. PRYSE has forced me to think out of the box in order to address these challenges, calling on me to exercise a creative side I did not even know I had. I have enjoyed become acquainted with it and think I am a better instructor for it.

Just as I have developed soft skills during my internship, I have gained some technical skills that have helped my instruction ability. One skill I have improved upon is my ability to give clear, direct instructions. In an ESL setting, word choice and ability to explain is everything. If the directions for a lesson cannot be effectively communicated, it tends to lead to frustration from both the teacher and the pupil and usually a total stand still of the lesson. In the past, I had used too many complicated or unnecessary words to try to explain something without meaning to. I tend to get lost in a train of thought anyway, which made it even harder for me to accurately explain things. The thing that helped me improve upon this was tutoring someone who I spoke a common language with for the first time. I had only ever tutored Arabic-Speakers (which I have no ability to speak), but at PRYSE I have gotten the opportunity to work with a Spanish speaker, which I have moderate proficiency in. One problem I had with learning Spanish was trying to say things that I did not have the vocabulary for, instead of using the vocabulary I already had to express a though. Using my Spanish once again to communicate with my student I was experiencing the same frustration, and used phrases I was comfortable with instead. It was not always grammatically correct, but it got the point across. I realized the same thing was true in giving instruction in English. I had never planned out how I was going to explain the game I wanted to play with the student, so was working on the fly when I attempted to do so. If I took the time to plan out what I was going to say, conscientiously using things we had worked on together which I knew would be understood, my ability to accurately explain concepts and instructions became instantly more effective. This saved time, frustration, and allowed us to focus on the things that were supposed to be taught rather than random things from my explanation that would probably not be retained for future use. This will be extremely useful for me in the future.

The last two weeks at PRYSE have also challenged my notions of leadership, including how to lead in a virtual classroom. My role during classroom sessions is a supportive one; meant to assist the counselors in activities, explanations, and anything else they may need. I am a doer, and without a doubt show my leadership through showing initiative. If camp had been in-person, I would have been having conversations with the kids before and after class to get to know them, helping the kids with activities in smaller groups, or promoting the kids to work together to solve problems. In a virtual classroom, there is little to no room for 1 on 1 or small group assistance which takes that ability away from me. Instead, I tried to “do” or “fix” in a different way, and found that a challenge. Some of the biggest obstacles facing the various classrooms is convincing kids to turn on their video and convincing them to participate in class discussions. There is only so much that can be done for the former, as you can keep your camera on all day and ask students to do the same if they feel comfortable. The latter also has limited solutions, as I can share and answer questions all day, but the lessons are not about me and if the first (or second) attempt to engage does not succeed, continuing to talk about myself does nothing other than allow the students to continue not participating. I was truly stumped as this is not something to be fixed or lead by example. By watching the people around me, I realized that sometimes being a leader just means being present. I was doing everything I could do- which was not wrong. Saying hi to people, participating when I was appropriate, making sure the students saw I was with them and paying attention, this was all me leading by contributing to the feeling of community and safety which would give the kids a chance to gain confidence and grow as they want at their own pace. It may seem crazy, but this was a radical conclusion for me as my life has been made up of action: always going as fast as I can, doing as much as I can. But Rome was not built in a day, nor by one person, but instead a group of people committed to creating a community committed to being there and supporting each other to build a place where they could thrive, which is a beautiful form of leadership in itself.

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