Thursday, March 16, 2017

On middle of the night musings

Ah...sweet sleep. It doesn't want anything to do with me. Not this morning (evening?), as I've been up since 2:00, and in a wide-awake, forget about going-back-to-sleep way. Checking in with the demon Facebook doesn't help my cause. In fact, the political news that fills my news feed, my own timeline that I add to (just one way to release the pain of watching every civil right fall away), shocks me awake.

And so, I take my seat. Try to come up with something. I'll begin with yesterday. In the tutoring center, politics take a backseat, in fact, no seat. There is no room, and that's a relief. A few students fill the chairs around the tutoring table. An Asian student struggles to write a literary criticism essay about a story I never read. This is her second semester of English, which means she's been through the basics. But I'm at a loss as to how to help her. I'm not a trained English as a Second language teacher. As noted, I don't know the work she's writing about. The assignment is vague: write a response to the story. All the student brings to me is her essay--the one her professor returned to her with no written notes, save one: revise. I can help her with grammar. However, I think I'd be fixing more than teaching.

I'm frustrated. So is she. And that's the part that's so hard to remember when teaching. Students whose first language isn't English go through incredible brain-work, translating language, grammar rules, pronunciation and teacher's instructions. While the students may seem to be not getting it, they are miles ahead of their professors, including me.

And yet. The student bursts out crying because she feels beneath her peers. She tells me her professor asked her, How did you ever pass English 101? I have to confess. I've wondered that too when I've had students with poor English skills. But I've never said it to them. I never will.  But with that question out on the table, I finally know how to help. I tell her, if I went to school in Spain or Korea or Turkey, I'd have to drop out. All that translating and trying. I'd forget college. I couldn't do it.  She smiles and takes the tissue I offer her, although she's still tearful, doesn't believe me.

And so, yesterday at the tutoring table it was my turn to learn.  My turn to think about whether my own assignments are clear enough for non-native English speakers, whether my attitude reveals my frustration or admiration. I think it seesaws between the two. But present moment: I urge the student to visit the ESL lab, to get the help that will really teach her. She thanks me and another student arrives. 

My teaching life has settled into a comfortable routine. Two courses--have I mentioned the utter pleasure? The low low stress of it? I fill in a few hours as a tutor; that is harder work than I imagined. Each student brings a new assignment to wrap my brain around. Sometimes the hardest part is not criticizing their professor for the tangled up instructions. I believe in simplicity--I keep my assignments in the realm of realistic. I hope I'm not shortchanging students. .

It's now almost 4:00 a.m., a decent time to greet the day, at least in my world of loving the early  morning when I own the world.  Later, I will enter a lovely universe: a private school where the walls are plastered with posters.  (see right).

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