Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Start at the beginning, and when you get to the end, stop.

I have a new class. Boy, do I ever. I am teaching Level 1 again, my favorite group. I love teaching beginners for many reasons.

First, they want to be there. They have taken a rather large first step. They are willing to try something new and that is a powerful attitude.

Second, most of them know absolutely nothing about the English language. This being said, they have a clean slate to work with. They haven't yet picked up bad habits (that everyone has in a foreign language) and can be taught something correctly.

Third, as a foreign language student myself, I start the class with full Spanish (which is another avenue of practice for me) and slowly wean them off of it and before they know it, I'm only speaking to them in English, but they UNDERSTAND!

Fourth, there is no shortage of topics to teach. They need to know the basics, which depending on them, can take many directions.

Oftentimes students approach me before/during/after class to help them translate phrases they need for work. (Please put your suitcase on the scale. I need to inspect your boat. Are you a vegetarian? Fill out this form, please. Where do you have pain?)

I have nearly 50 students combined. A much longer roster than usual, as attendance in prior classes has curbed at no more than 15 per class. That's the beauty of small language classes - so much personalized attention from the teacher.

When I say I am teaching in a university, most people imagine a roomful of boisterous youngsters in their late teens and early twenties, like in the US. Not exactly. While I have many typical university students (same age group, familiar with the process of being a student, i.e; doing homework, taking tests, studying, attending classes regularly, etc), more than half are older adults. They are working professionals with homes and families. They work for the National Park, the Navy, the Police, the hospital, the city government, and various other institutions. This changes the tone of the class.

On top of that, I also have a few teenage high schoolers peppered in the mix. These students are 15 or 16 years old, attend high school classes during the day (including the English classes they are required to take in high school) and also attend the English program at the university in the evenings. Sounds like quite a mature and eager student to be tackling all that, huh? You would think.

So now we've started in on the third week of the intensive 7-week course. And they are all still coming. I'm tickled, don't get me wrong. But usually what happens is the first week is kind of crazy with new students showing up and then disappearing, or else dropping in a few days late and trying to get caught up, etc.

I thought that surely after I assigned them their mid-term project last week that a few would drop. But to my surprise, I will have 47 mid-term projects to grade. And I can't wait!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

This Is Just a Test

Or that's what I keep murmuring to myself, trying to keep all cool and all stoic right now.

Today my level 6 students are taking their Final Exam, which will be followed in two weeks by the program's Exit Exam. I have never been more nervous for a module to end. I know that not everyone will make it through, but I am so apprehensive that the ones who really deserve the success of receiving the Proficiency Certificate will be justly awarded.

And I have to understand that it isn't up to me.

It's totally out of my hands. Yes, I've taught them some vocabulary and grammatical structure and forced them to put their feelings into a blog and stand up in front of their peers and express their opinions and played the Devil's Advocate in class debates and tried to be available to them for any questions at all they might have had and offered review sessions and a hundred other things.

But I can't make them learn English and I can't force them to study hard and I can't require them to care. Not if they don't want to by their own accord.

And so here I sit, answering redundant questions during their exam, hoping the test is an accurate assessment of not only the program's ability to teach English as a Foreign Language, but also for their own ability to apply what they've learnt.

Also, living on the island, more friends have left, and potential new friends are soon to be arriving. Now I'm on the other side of the airport scene, the one who stands outside the gate and waves goodbye without a bag in hand.

People, especially if they are happy to be leaving this place for some reason (not satisfied, fed up with Island Time, homesick, etc), leave me with stinging accusations about how I could possibly like it here, why would I want to make this place my home, what in God's name do I think I will do here in the future?

These questions are good for self-examination; unless you know me and understand how I can over-analyze anything for days (and do) and end up crawling out of the rabbit hole on the other side, questioning everything that I've come to know and believe in, down to the rabbit hole itself.

Inversely, when new arrivals show up and they are bright-eyed and trying to get a grasp on this place and it's workings, I get many of the same questions. I hate feeling defensive, but I seem to always feel like I'm being attacked during these interrogations.

Because I don't know.

I don't have many answers about why I've chose this place instead of others, I don't exactly know what the future will bring, mainly because I know how suddenly life can change, and sometimes it's best not to have your hopes woven too tightly around something.

And I've always been like this. Not just in this isolated island where time doesn't seem to exist like it does in the rest of the world. Where rules and reality morph and bend depending on the day and with whom you are speaking (or filing paperwork).

But I am so happy in this moment! I am loving everyone and everything around me, even starting to laugh off the rude official letters, the lacsidasical way in which progress is sought after in this culture.

I am keeping my peace amidst all of this. Even though I aknowledge my nervousness, my lack of direction, my absence of life plans. I start to feel the familiar tightness in my spine and my belly, and then I kind of chuckle and say, this is just a test. And then I open up again, and everything falls away.