Taking the reins… for about ten seconds

I meant to post this Thursday, May 23rd:

As part of my master’s degree, I’ve been sitting in on English language classes every semester. It’s been a very valuable experience, and kinda wild to see all the different styles of teaching. The first instructor was a short, chubby Caucasian man who had a very gentle manner and an excellent rapport with his students. He taught a great deal of pronunciation and asked the students to tell about their personal experiences.

The second instructor was a Filipina woman with a thick accent who spoke almost non-stop during the whole class without giving almost any chance for the students to speak or participate. As a result the class was disruptive, chatted among themselves and often didn’t pay much attention. Regardless, she reminded them constantly that they needed to continue their English classes, and shouldn’t give up on their education.

The third instructor I observed was a Caucasian woman who had married a Mexican man, and could speak fluent Spanish (but almost never did). Her lessons had a very predictable rhythm: speaking, reading, writing, dictating. Everything seemed very carefully planned, which demanded that the students pay attention and respect eachother.

This semester, the instructor is an odd mixture of scattered and organized. He teaches a level 1 class that consists of a large range of academic abilities: some students are barely capable of writing (having never been to school before), while others are fully capable of moving on to the second level by the end of the semester. As a result of this discrepancy, only some students consistently participate, and many of them are incapable of sharing detailed stories about themselves, which seems to cause many of them to lose interest.

I sat in the back and watched, taking notes on my laptop and occasionally circulating around the class to help with an exercise or answer questions. The students who sit in the back near me became accustomed to me, and often turned around to ask questions (sometimes related to the lesson, but often personal: Do you have a boyfriend? Do you cook for him? No? HE cooks? Really?).

vayate, gringa

vayate, gringa

A couple weeks ago, an older man who had not been in class for more than a couple of weeks turned to greet me when I sat down.
“Hola”
“Hi.”
“Como esta?”
“Bien, gracias, y usted?”
“Bien, bien…”
Then the instructor came around and we chatted while the class copied some vocab from the board. When he left, the older man turned and asked if I was from Argentina (So specific! Do I have an Argintinian accent when I speak Spanish? Why would that be?).
I said, “No, soy Americana. Soy de Los Angeles.”
He asked if I was Mexican (ethnicity). I said “No, soy, uh, una gringa.” He and a couple others at his table laughed. He said there is lots of discrimination against gringos, and pronounced gringos with an American accent. He and the people at his table asked several questions about pronunciation throughout the class, and felt free to catch my attention in between activities. One asked my name, and had trouble understanding (I’ve never met a Hispanic woman with my name). I said, “Es una flora,” which was met with “Ahhh” and nodding from the table, as though they understood.

The instructor gives me a chance to teach the class occasionally, which is intimidating but very valuable. The worst part is setting up the first question to the class. After that it’s easy and fun. I’m fascinated to hear what their responses will be. I looked for where we might be misunderstanding each other. I can tell I’ll get better at this with practice.

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About Toph Beifong

www.tigerlilytoph.com View all posts by Toph Beifong

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