Monday, November 30, 2009

Teaching my Native Language

I am now teaching English three to six hours a week. I've from three to eight students and my main role is to get them to use whatever vocabulary and grammar they've gotten into their heads. Thus, I ask questions, I encourage dialog, I get them to read articles, I ask them to write about what they did last weekend, where they went to school, what they want to do tomorrow, or as a job in the future. I ask them about their best memories, and their dreams. I get them to practice various past tenses, to describe meals, to tell me about people in their lives. I get them writing up and acting out conversations and dialogs between customers and hotel receptionists, restaurant waiters, etc.,

It's challenging for me. I speak more slowly than normally -- by necessity as anyone who knows me will confirm! I prepare all my classes with relatively minimal advance notice -- zooming through the internet, seeking ideas, vocabulary, descriptions, texts, etc., And, as each class is a three hour marathon with minimal breaks (the two smokers in the group are good at making sure these happen), it is rather intense.

However, what I find most challenging is simply being confronted by young and middle-aged, out-of-work chomeurs struggling to make sense of this life. They are more than a bit sad and depressed. If I ask what they did over the weekend, the answer is often as not watched a film on TV, slept late, ate lunch with my mother. I feel at times like I'm pulling teeth, but also that I'm there to encourage them in their accomplishments, to reinforce the possibilities of finding a new job, getting their lives in order, etc.,

I feel the weight of the ruts they are in, and at times fear being pulled in with them. I too am juggling, coping, seeking, hoping. I too am sending out resumes for other jobs in marketing, teaching, translating. I too am wishing to hear the phone ring, get my chance at an interview, eager to move forward and upward in this world. I too am scared and at times demoralized, before I get out the bull whip and kick myself out of my seat and get back to work.

It's a curious sensation.

My mother taught beginning French for years. And I wonder how it is that I am revisiting this world of beginning language study. It is not an easy area of study for the students, particularly when adult. You have individuals with a certain limited vocabulary left over from their high school years-- perhaps just 5-6 years ago, or twenty--. Their lives keep them somewhat busy; they have limited resources to learn what you're teaching. It is necessary on the one hand to move along slowly, so they have the time to absorb, take notes, etc., Yet on the other, if you move too slowly, they get bored and annoyed and stop taking said notes (I noticed this when I was putting quite a bit of vocabulary for food on the board yesterday).

And, I don't have the brightest of the bright in front of me. I have the individuals who are not coping in many areas of their lives. They are here having failed elsewhere. It is brave to strive to acquire a new skill, not sure if they're even capable of it. It is clear that too few actually study and work at home. So much of what I've tried to put across each week has simply gone in one ear and out the other (or gotten clipped into a notebook and shelved). As such, the building blocks to more interesting conversations, more depth and greater comprehension are only very very slowly coming into place. For every two steps forward I think I've brought them, I realize that I need to take at least one step back, and perhaps three.

It is humbling, fascinating, challenging and more. There are days I get stumped, and days I get them laughing. Do I dare bring in pop tunes and try to get them singing?? I remember reading about a teacher of English in Cuba who began with the Beatles, "I want to hold your hand," and with time brought his class up to the level of complexity evinced by "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." May I do so well.


Zuleme said...

That sounds like quite a challenge and yes to the rest of it which is very true in the States now too. We're starting a new business on top of what we still do and it's a challenge, to put it mildly.
I have French class tonight and we will end in the spring with a month of French movies and music.
You can get Ratatouille in English and play the French subtitles. I watched it that way with our French friends and it was fun. I can almost understand our teacher now but I have been lagging on doing Rosetta Stone during the week. I feel guilty if I am not working in the video business and then I am tired at night. But taking a class keeps me learning.
There won't be a group trip to France in the fall, sadly. I don't know if we will be able to make it on our own. There's always hope.

Madeleine Vedel said...

glad you're working on your French! and yes, travel plans are hard to put into place... so much can come up.

- M