Thursday, August 23, 2007

The word 'pedagogy' gives me the whimwhams

It's all starting to make sense. The thought of being a teacher has always been slightly comforting to me, and yet another darker thought always accompanys it. Scenario in Tamar's brain whilst contemplating teaching: Oh yeah, I forgot how much I wanted to be teacher. A truly meaningful job, summers off, you can't be a teacher, you'd never be able to stand in front of a class with 30 people staring at you for 8 hours! Or: I wonder why I never became a teacher? Everyone that I meet who is a teacher seems like a genuinely good person, I can't think of a job that effects so many lives in a positive way, what if I'm strict and rigid and treat my students like they're in boot camp and they all hate me?
I've looked for inspiration as an observer in different classrooms over the years, only to leave with more doubts. The whole experience just reminded me of how incredibly boring public school can really be. But not one to give up without a good fight, I'm back to exploring the field again. I took a Literacy Volunteer training class. Three full days of instruction on how to work with adult students. There's something about learning how to teach that makes me want to poke my eye out. It feels overwhelmingly stressful, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it has to do with teaching a language. I've experienced learning a new language in Israel. It was a language/cultural immersion program called an Ulpan that was taught for 5 hours a day, six days a week. I was a terrible student. My teacher Henya would often throw the eraser at me to get me to stop talking in class. I just couldn't stay focused for so many hours. Those ridiculous drills they give you with dated dialogues were a distraction. I did end up becoming fluent later though, when I moved into an apartment with a bunch of Israeli girls. I don't know if it was the Hebrew that I absorbed from my ulpan experience, or the fact that the language I used in this environment was immediate and relevant.. One thing the Literacy Volunteer material stressed. So back to my LV student. I called him, set up an appointment for our first meeting/lesson, and set out to design a two hour lesson that would hold his interest and not have me throwing teaching material at him. I realised in a short time, one big factor in my previous negative experiences on the road to becoming a teacher: Don't wait until the last minute to prepare. There was a 200 page book I was suppossed to have read in preparation for working with ESL students. I waited until the day before my lesson to do this. Halfway through the book, I decided to just use what I already know, and put together a really interesting lesson plan, as it was too late to absorb everything from the book. I looked at my refrigerator. I have an interesting collage of articles and photos that I've collected over the years. One of my favorites is this news story about a woman in Pennsylvania who was walking to the store, and on the way there, was attacked by some man. He stabbed her, and ended up running away, leaving his knife in her back. Apparently, the back doesn't have very deciphering nerves, and she thought she was merely punched. So she continued walking to the store with the knife in her back. She bought a newspaper and a box of Oreos (one of my favorite cookies), and walked home. Later when the police were reviewing the surveillance tape, they saw five people pass right by her, oblivious to the knife in her back. OK, it's a maccabre story, but still very interesting, I thought. So I brought it to class to help Jose, my student, improve his English skills. Now our meeting spot for the lesson was a friend of mine's office building breakroom. She works with a bunch of engineers, and apparently they really love coffee. Everytime Jose would ask me a question about the stabbing, one of the engineers came in to refill his coffee cup. I remember Jose having a hard time pronouncing the two consonants 'bd' together, and he was saying the word like it had two syllables: 'stab-bed'. I had him repeat it several times quickly to get that one syllabled sound. In walked the same engineer that passed through five minutes earlier. I started wondering if maybe I should have picked a different article? Anyway, I loved my student, he was so motivated to learn, and truly appreciative of my time. Luckily for me, he shares my strange taste in reading materials. Not sure how 'relevant and immediate' crime articles are, but I believe if it's interesting, and the student's understanding is improving, then the lesson succeeded.

Monday, August 06, 2007

'How I Spent My Summer' or 'Intuitive Living'

Well, for the few readers out there who have never found themselves with a little freedom from most major responsibilities.. I'm here to tell you, it's really great. That doesn't even come close to how good it is. I think along with all the other built in milestones in your life as an adult, taking off a few months (or years) to just live intuitively should be at the top of the list. A few weeks ago I attended a creative writing workshop at Omega institute. Lynda Barry was the teacher, and she was everything a teacher, friend, parent should be, but mostly she was extremely entertaining which allowed all 70 of us to relax enough to let the writing process flow. I'm going to share three stories I wrote during the class. They were all part of a simple writing exercise where you have 7 minutes to write on some chosen theme.

1. Walks I've taken..
I am 18 years old and living on a kibbutz. It's a six month program called an ulpan for young people interested in Israeli culture and kibbutz life. My roommate's name is Tikva. (It's really Hope, and she's from Chigago, but she goes by Tikva while she's in Israel). She's invited me to come on a walk of the kibbutz' date groves. Her friend Tzvi offered to take her. He's about 80 years old, and for some reason I question his motives, to myself. I guess it's just that Tikva seems extremely naive, and probably wouldn't know a come on if that's what it was. So I went, and was kind of glad to have something to do. As we were walking, Tsvi had a huge smile on his face as he played tour guide, explaining easily the various flora. We arrived at the orchards, and were standing in front of a huge open truck with crates of dates that'd been picked that day. We sampled them. They were really good, they had a nutty-buttery flavor that I'd never experienced in a date before. We walked further. Tsvi talked on and on about the kibbutz history, Israel's history. I started feeling really sad that I didn't have a boyfriend and couldn't concentrate on a thing he was saying. Before I know it I was crying hysterically. He turned to Tikva and said in response, 'Aw, he mitga'aga'at l'ima shelah'. She misses her mother. That made me cry harder.

2. Bad Food
You are sitting on the couch listening to Anna's call to the vet. Jennifer, her big fat black cat who you love but doesn't love you, is acting strange. She's not eating. She's not using the kitty litter box. 'Yes, Hi, this is Anna Lane? My cat Jennifer has been shitting on the floor'. You can't hold back a burst of laughter. Anna just said 'shitting ' to the vet receptionist. Anna looks nervously at you, and corrects herself. 'I mean she's going to the bathroom on the floor'. She answers some more questions. Then Anna grins, remembering she just said 'shitting' to a stranger. When she gets off the phone, you have a little conversation with her about the cat. How much you love her. Anna's happy you love her, eventhough Jennifer is such a bitch, she says. 'She's not a bitch', you defend her. 'She's just shy'. You love it when you're watching TV for hours and after a very long time of cowering, Jennifer stealthily sneaks a tiny corner of your lap to rest her front paws on. Then you and Anna discuss how you can tell if meat is bad. Anna says if she's not sure if her sliced ham is bad, she'll give Jennifer a little piece. If she refuses it, she knows it's bad.

3.(This story was based on photos of people sitting in impoverished conditions)
I am sitting around the table with Jasmine, her friend Charles, and many children that have appeared from nowhere, and may live in the house. The children are Cuban, and do not understand English. Charles passes around a plate of sliced bread for us. The bread reminds me of this story my mother told me of when I was five, and she baked a loaf of white bread. She took it out of the oven and cut the end off to let it cool. I walked by the bread, and when noone was looking, grabbed my hand into the loaf and pulled out as much of the insides as I could grasp, and shoved it in my mouth. When my mother returned to the loaf, she asked what had happended to her bread? My seven year old brother Josh explained it was probably an air bubble. I asked Jasmine to translate this story for the kids as I told it. She looked very sour at me, and resentfully agreed to the task. She translated into Spanish with her English accented annoyed voice as I excitedly told the story. At the punch line, only one adult laughed. The kids looked off in different directions, not seeming to have heard a word of it.