Thursday, 19 March 2015

Adventures from the classroom 21

My fifth semester here began in earnest a little under three weeks ago and I've been a busy man ever since. The first week of classes is always a write-off with most students not knowing where to go, or who the hell is their teacher. They pile up in droves outside the department hoping to argue their case about why they shouldn't have failed last semester or why they need a two week permission slip to miss classes.

This term I'm covering an extra class (again) and have been dealing with the usual cock-ups that happen when renewing your visa, so it's been a furiously paced opening to the 2015 academic year for this tall teacher. I've now taught enough students here that just walking to class can be an exhausting experience with the rounds of 'hellos' and 'how are yous' to previous pupils. Luckily most of the students I've failed don't bear a grudge and seem chirpy enough when they greet me with the ubiquitous "Teacherrrr!"

Saying  'goodbye' and 'hello' is fast becoming a theme as some teachers have used the song in class and the Magic Man is trying to organise a performance of it by the students in the town center. I'm doing another famous Beatles song with my students next week. It's lucky that none of the teachers are called Jude otherwise the students would be even more confused than usual.

Polar Opposites:
This time around I've got wide eyed little second semester kids, and the grizzled nursing veterans of level 7. It's nice having a genuine ability difference between classes as you can plan simpler exercises for beginners that give just as much satisfaction as the more specific study of medical English for the 'advanced' kids.

My level 2s are like startled little field mice who won't respond to much and spend most of their time staring in awe at the lanky one who is ordering them out of their chairs and doing something other than a PowerPoint lecture. One particular class have been cowering in fear ever since I got a bit frustrated about a cancelled visa trip AND the computer lab not working on the same day. They sat there biting their finger nails as I ranted and raved about the shit 'auto acceso' and cursed the manager of the lab for having broken his foot. I swear some of them nearly cried when I also gave them an absence for not bringing their books.

Level 7 is a little less pressured as we teach less grammar and teach English for Specific Purposes - with the specific purpose being their chosen degree. As ever, I've been lumbered with nurses who are traditionally the worst at English. This has since been confirmed by these three events:

1. One student failed to produce a single word after having an entire class to write and memorise sentences about a disease.
2. I joked with one particularly sassy student that our 'repartee' was like a back and forth game of tennis. "No" she said looking at her shoes "I have botas teacher".
(Tennis means trainers in Spanish and botas are boots)
3. I gave a small piece of paper to each student and before we could read what was on it one girl stuck her hand up requesting another one . . . because she had eaten it.

And this all in the first three weeks.

In fairness, I'm enjoying level 7 even if their spoken English level is still very poor and they cling to their dictionaries like new born babies. They seem genuinely enthused when learning about anatomy, illnesses or nursing procedures in English (although I often feel like I know more about the subject than them). Some of them thought nursing was a profession invented in the 21st Century, and one group told me today that 'children who fall off bicycles' are the most common victims of strokes. They're not ready to go off to work in the hospital just yet.

Office awkwardness:
Students are always a little nervous when they come to my office to ask for something. To ease the cringe-factor of the ensuing five minute conversation where I try to coax some English out of them, I decided to decorate my office in the off season.

They usually come in pairs, with someone attending for moral support of the poor student who has a question about class, and now they have something to look at whilst they're waiting.

One wall has been filled with maps of Oaxaca and campus pictures, and the other has an eclectic display of received post and Christmas cards, certificates and student drawings.

I hope you enjoy the virtual tour anyway.

English in motion:
On my last vacation, a waiter in Morelia told us that "English is easy. You just have add 'tion' to the end of every word."

The Spanish suffix of 'ción' directly translates to the English 'tion' ending. Here are some examples:
Atracción - Attraction
Estación - Station
Moción - Motion

Rather worryingly though, many of the students like to add 'tion' onto Spanish words that don't even end in c-i-o-n.

"No entendation!" is a classroom classic that I hear almost every day.
(Entender being the Spanish for 'understand')

It's a bit like people attempting to speak Spanish by adding 'o's to the end of every word.
"Yo want-o muchos beer-os amigo!"

One of them made me laugh yesterday when I asked what dancing they liked "Salsa? Reggaeton? Banda?"
"BANDATION!" they shouted back.

To be fair to the little darlings, I remember applying an accent if I didn't know the word in French class. "errrr . . . le cabbage?"

Textbook teaching: 
We use a textbook for level 2, which can be useful and cuts down on the need to print so much. It also limits the need for boring board work too. However, English textbooks are usually written for students of a better educational caliber than ours. Many of them come to UNSIS without adequate literacy or numeracy, few study skills and zero ability for critical thinking. The books aren't always the best for them.

Once they have the book in their hands you can't amend the exercises and they will always do their best to guess what to do rather than read or listen to the instructions. The textbooks are also so crammed full of material that it will confuse the hell out of them and not aid them in quest to speak 'Inglish'.

One major problem with the books is that the students are so preconditioned to copy. It can be maddening that they copy pictures, questions, instructions and anything from the page into their notebooks instead of completing the exercise. Every day I deal with blank stares when I ask them "Why are you copying??? You already have the questions in your book".

"No copy teacher?"

Essentially, however you set up an exercise, they will spend 18 minutes sharpening a pencil or 25 minutes reading the wrong page. They may lack study skills, but they've got mightily impressive procrastination abilities.

A day at the races:
Finishing on a positive note, I set up this little exercise today for my level 2s after learning about sports all week. I asked them to make a poster for a new race they've created - no, not like "American-Arabs" or "Nouveau Riche Russians", but a distance race with a start and a finish.

We had done a reading exercise on amazing races in the USA, like the Alaskan dog-sled race that takes 12 days. I tried to get them to use their imaginations by giving an example about a race by jet pack from my house to the moon with the winner receiving the prize of dinner with me. However, many groups were predictably useless, coming up with names like "Race Swimming" or "The 2015". I had imagined horses riding people, backwards running or a food eating race!

Other groups did get creative and started scribbling away on some of the designs you can see above. Some of my personal favourites were the cockroach race in the Parthenon with a prize of 100 cookies, an obstacle course on Cat Island in Japan, and a wheelbarrow race where the top finishers received a food voucher and a kiss from Miguel. One year-long race involved sending monkeys into space and one team offered the prize of 'life' for the winner of their "Swimming Race of Death". Charming.

Most of them went to pot when presenting their work. They fell about giggling and conferred for around ten minutes on how to pronounce '$1,000'. At least they make up for poor speaking with their colouring-in skills.

Until the 22nd instalment.


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