Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sort of a nightmarish week but I've come to the happy realization that it no longer gets to me quite so much. When I first started teaching I would freak out every Sunday morning about the coming week and by Sunday evening would be popping a second dose of anxiety pills like it's hot (I'm neurotic). Now, not even the dysfunction and despair of my worst class can get me down. More or less.

My worst class this week was the same one that's always bad. This was also the first class I ever taught at Colegios Madres Concepcionistas way back when, which ended in my co-teacher bitching them out and putting her arms up in the air while saying - es un desastre -"It's a disaster". Well this week my co-teacher was not there and do you know why? Me neither, at least for the hour I was with this classroom of rabid preteens, although I did get an explanation afterwards. During the class however, the kids would not shut up. NOT SHUT UP. We were doing an activity with a song and listened to it several times in peace before I told them to get in groups and compare the answers they'ed come up with before we filled in any missing lyrics as a class. Groups grouped, chaos ensued. I confiscated two TechDecks and still no improvement. Finally - and I've used this threat a lot but had never had to make good on it - I told them if they couldn't handle listening to the song than they'ed do compositions instead. Well they couldn't handle it para nada, so I tell them all to go back to their desks, take out a piece of paper, and write me a composition. This failed: Students couldn't understand that I wanted a composition - "A competition? What teacher? You want us to write a competition?" This was bullshit, by the way. Composition is composición in Spanish. they knew what I was saying, and if they couldn't understand that, the fact that I had written their punishment on the board. In Spanish. Should have served as a clue.

Minutes pass, they're still not following my directions. One boy in the back of the classroom waves me over and hands me a piece of paper. But what? This boy never does his work and he hasn't been writing. How can he possibly have finished the composition already? Oh no, this is no composition. This is a list of Spanish/English translations, such as "Quiet," and "Pay Attention," and "Please listen class". It seems these kids were shits in the past as well and some native Spanish teacher thought to give them some key phrases they would be hearing throughout the course of their academic careers. Some of the students evidently haven't quite caught on that I speak Spanish and since some of them are rather not in the least bit bilingual, showing me the Spanish commands was his way of giving me a hand and/or rubbing it in my face that this class was an ABOMINATION.

Meanwhile, some of the students have started writing their compositions. Three of them. The problem here is that they were happy about the composition assignment. Happy, wha?? I can't be having happy students?! Normally of course happy is good, but in this case they clearly did not understand that boring individual written work = punishment, meaning my efforts at discipline via said boring individual written work were fruitless. At the end of the class they told me they hadn't finished but wanted to know if they could work on it at home and turn it in for me to read next week. Sheesh.

Class ends. I go to the teacher's lounge and see my co-teacher Ana. Tell her it was una pesadilla - a nightmare. "But where were you?" she wants to know, "Which class?" Third of ESO, I tell her. "Yes, they're the worst class," she says. Then she gets a stricken look on her face. Ana thought it was Thursday. She was a day ahead in her schedule and so she forgot to show up to teach with me. Oops.

Classes weren't all horrible. I had two 12-year-old boys tell me I was very beautiful after they asked me to choose which one was more handsome. "You are equally handsome." What? "Equally handsome." What? "Igualmente handsome." Ohhhh. I also really enjoy my Bachillerato classes because their English is high enough that we can get into more of the nuances, which their other English teachers, who are native Spanish, don't necessarily know. It's like, I'm filling a necessary role! Ahh, good ol' English.

I find this to be a really fascinating aspect of learning a second language, particularly when you speak it at a high level. To me it seems as if there's almost more danger for miscommunication when you speak a foreign language quite well because for all intents and purposes you can communicate, but tiny nuances can throw off the exact meaning of what you're trying to say. There's so many weird little tricky bits to language that don't always translate exactly, but if you do them wrong, can really change how you sound to a native speaker. It's not just vocabulary that makes people who speak different languages express themselves in different ways, and if you just try to substitute words or word orders or even cultural forms of expression, you can get something that's almost right and sounds almost right, but the tiny little bitty bits of the language just take so long to internalize that it might not be there.

Example: It's Christmas time. You've just finished eating your Christmas meal and now you go into your host's kitchen and offer to help clean up. You're host might say, "Could you clear the table?", or "Would you mind clearing the table?", or "Why don't you clear the table?", but even though you're offering to help and it would mean essentially the same thing, the host probably wouldn't throw out a straight command to "Clear the table."

Just some thoughts..

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