Month: October 2013

Transcultural Education

Or, The Day Pitbull Changed My Life

I was watching a video the other day on the importance of different approaches when it comes to teaching. It’s not just about “here’s the book, now go get’em!”- it’s about what surrounds the students: their community, their background, their home life. Addressing these factors in an effective way can be what actually helps lessons stick in their brains, and have it make sense from the get-go.

The campus at X College where I teach happens to be in an area of town that is not known for its affluence. Quite the contrary.
Upon informing a friend of mine we had to drive through that area in order to reach downtown faster one night, she did the sign of the cross.
While this is a huge exaggeration of the safety concerns (or lack thereof) of those who share my commute, let’s face it- it’s an ugly area of town, surrounded by even worse areas, where poverty is palpable.

Now, the student population at this campus is not by any means homogeneous. Here is where the hub of the nursing school and the police/fireman training academy is. It is not unsafe. If anything, it has a pretty bad-ass student population (think about it- nurses AND cops!!) There’s a little bit of everything- it’s a microcosm of Miami.
Now, keeping all of this in mind, I have to deliver my lessons effectively. Though I’m still learning how to actually (fucking) teach, I have to stand in front of 20 people bright and early at 8am and tell them “Bonjour messieurdames, aujourd’hui on va continuer à travailler sur l’impératif!”
And so, after blank looks, and resigned sighs, the lessons begin.
During this particular unit (the imperative), I touched upon some verbs like “aller” (to go). The imperatives for aller are va, allons, allez. Everything was fine until I decided to go a liiiiiittle bit further and teach them how to use the expressions allons-y, allez-y and vas-y. Though I didn’t get into what y stands for (to prevent cerebral hemorrhages, and brain matter to leak from their ears), I used several examples.

“All right, so! Allons-y, treat that as your ‘let’s go!’. Allez-y, notice we’re using the formal and/or plural conjugation of the verb. Treat this as your ‘go ahead’. Vas-y, you use it when you want to push someone into doing something, or when you’re trying to get someone to go somewhere”.

Ok. Shut up.

Ok, ok, ok!! Um…you know, your friends all want to go to the beach, and so do you so you say ‘Oui! Allons-y!’
I dug into my arsenal of teaching aids- writing excercises, videos using the imperative- everything! Next up, I was probably going to whip out a stripper pole, if only to get their attention once more. I was slowly losing them.

Towards the end of the class, as my energy was winding down and their brains had already long been in shutdown mode, a young man in the back raised his hand.
“So, Miss, what you’re trying to say is that vas-y is like dále?”


And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the best example of transcultural education I have ever come across with.

I heard he’s opening a school. Maybe I should apply.
(Dále suciooo!!)



The other side of the desk

My first week as a College professor lolwut? has concluded.
It was, to say the least, the weirdest week of my life. I don’t recall booking tickets into the Twilight Zone, but it seems I was the lucky winner for an indefinite trip into a parallel dimension, with a panoramic view of my past.

It all happened my chance- I had grown *very* discouraged in my job search and I applied, for giggles, to a community college (will not disclose the name of it because, well, I don’t feel like it! :D). A week later, on a Friday afternoon, I was driving back from Ikea when I got a phone call from a very nice lady telling me that a French instructor at X Community College had to resign over a family emergency and they were now in serious need for an instructor. I pounced at the opportunity. A few hours later, I was getting bombarded with information, and 48 hours later, I had gotten a security clearance and background check, input into the system and launched into a classroom where I was to teach 21 people beginner French.

Being on the other side of the desk- to be the one with the information- is certainly a very interesting experience. It’s nothing at all like giving a class presentation. It’s serious business. It’s up to you to teach and teach right. Teach correctly, and teach passionately. It’s about infecting others with a desire to learn and to encourage them to not second-guess themselves because hey! if you did it, so can they! (and I must attest to myself as evidence- I picked up French my second year of Community College).

Now, all of this sounds very idealistic. I sound like a noob, like a rookie. And I am! But I also believe in teachers and professors. It’s these people that shaped me and pushed me to broaden my academic spectrum; the ones that pushed me to excel and get out of my comfort zone! It was also the terrible teachers/professors that I had that made me feel like I could make a difference- that anyone that comes under my tutelage will not only be taught, but taught well.
Some of the students I have took the course because, whatever, they needed an elective credit and they chose the first thing that came to mind which was French (again, maybe because we all feel entitled to all things French, as I’ve said in a previous post). Little did they know that learning French is not just about saying “J’adore”- no. It’s about culture, it’s about learning a violent history, about learning how the language they speak (English/Spanish/Creole) has been directly affected and touched by French. But aside all that, even if they don’t choose to continue, they will have been exposed to something else. Something that maybe will escape their logic, but they will remember despite the fact that it was “hard”.
It’s not about teaching a language, it’s about all the aspects that come with learning it. It’s a challenge- and if it doesn’t feel like it, if it never got weird or nonsensical at some point- then it was not done correctly.

All of a sudden I had more priorities and more things to be wary of: Did I word it right? Do they understand? Why didn’t you complete the homework? Can everybody see red on the board? Why are you not making an effort? did the photocopier seriously just jam?
I may blend in with the crowd but I can no longer check a guy out- that’s just creepy, even if there’s only like a two-year difference in age. Also, I have to deal with silly people from IT, who don’t seem to understand anything I tell them:
Me: I need the adapter to plug in my computer to the video projector.
IT: Well, there’s a computer all the way at the bottom of the desk.
Me: Yes, but it’s missing the adapter to plug the cables in. I have a Mac and have my own adapter, but the link between my Mac and the PC is missing.
IT: Well, if you have a Mac you need your own adapter.
Me: *Kicks a puppy*

Then again, this position comes with perks: Staff and faculty parking. Oh, yes. No more third-degree burns from walking in the sun. Only some pre-hypoxia when I jump in my A/C-lacking Ferrari.

So, yeah, there it is. That’s how I can condense some mayor points of my first-week experience. I will, of course, touch up on other things that I’ve observed- some injustices faced by my students, and some little victories and light-hearted anecdotes.

Stay tuned, because I finally may have found some inspiration to write again!