Thursday, July 19, 2012

get your stories, right here

Now that I'm not slaving away forty plus hours a week just teaching, grading, doing teaching responsibilities, etc., I have time to tell good stories about my esl/efl career which i intend to put here as a way of covering up the far more serious things this blog holds. It has been about three weeks since I retired; I've been packing to move but having trouble getting out in this 100 plus heat; I still love language and writing, so I thought I'd start filling this blog up with the good stuff, quick before I lose my faculties.

The two best stories I have at the moment come from my retirement: first, when I asked a group of people, including the director, if I could borrow a dolly, she said, literally, "anything for you". This I took as the highest compliment, especially since my stuff had really filled the hallways in the last weeks. Second, when I went to hand in my keys, the woman in charge refused to take them, wouldn't allow me to do it, until I insisted. But insist I did, and I'm now completely out.

The low point in my career, I could encapsulate in a single moment that I remember clearly; it happened about six years ago. A high-level student with no listening was in my office trying to understand some writing point probably having to do with plagiarism. He kept nodding his head at what I was telling him but it became evident to me that he had no listening; he couldn't understand a word. Sometimes they do ok with you if you go slowly and keep repeating, but, in this case, something had flipped a switch in his ear and he was at zero. But he kept nodding.

Finally I told him that if he didn't understand, he should stop nodding. Again he nodded. This was my mistake. If he was at zero, he didn't understand my direction at all. But I got frustrated, and raised my voice at him. Finally I said, "Stop nodding!" But he didn't. He probably didn't know the word "nodding". Much as I tried to describe it to him, I couldn't make him understand what I wanted.

Much of ESL is the cross-cultural misunderstanding that comes from being completely unable to understand why someone would do something that they are doing. In the case of our present students it is inconceivable to us how they could repeatedly copy and use old models for things we think are fairly easy to create. The ideal situation would be to be able to talk long and well with each student, to know what worked for them in the past, how easily they could and would copy, for example, or to really know how much they know about ways to cheat. If it's really that easy to cheat, and that hard to learn how to read, is it any wonder they would do what they're doing? Not to start complaining about the way things are; it's no longer my problem. In fact, the best points of the career were really just in the day-to-day classroom (which is why I'm embarking on these stories); the ironic thing about my career is this: when I went off to teach other teachers how to teach, I didn't feel I was all that successful. I saw some great places: Kiaoshiung, Arequipa, Santiago and Santo Domingo. You could even count Kean County and various TESOL locales in there. I shared my expertise the best I could. Yet I felt, in the end, that my best success was just with students in front of me.

I'll end this little recap with a story about an interesting day. It was the first day of class, and a student, a Korean woman, wrote furiously as I introduced the class. In the end she had produced a picture, the picture I now use as my profile on Facebook (people tell me: don't ever change it). At the end of class, when I asked her what she'd done, she gave it to me. Years later, I uploaded it. She was a talented artist who went on to a career in graphic design. But the class she was in was actually one of my best; they liked each other a lot, and remained friends for years. Maybe ten years later, I found her on Facebook and befriended her. But I was glad to see that not only was she friends with other members of that very class, she was even visiting them, in Japan, on her way home. I've had lots of evidence, over the years, that this is common. They may not remember the class itself as "fun," but they remember each other and are still close.

And that's how I feel about my fellow teachers, now spread all over the world. I keep close ties with them, even over time; we've shared experience, and have a lot in common. The main reason I've always loved the TESOL conventions is this: these are my favorite people. They tell good stories. They see the world the way I do; they have similar values.

More stories coming. It's an interesting world; maybe I can show you my perspective.


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