Tuesday, July 03, 2007

What It´s Like To Be a Teacher

I don’t know. It’s those three little words I have repeated again and again since beginning to teach English. The students I work with are absolutely great, almost too great. When I was in high school, I loathed Spanish. Perhaps it is something in our culture, but I could not wait until my two year requirement passed and I could at last stop taking foreign language classes. But these kids are in my class because, in addition to the required English classes, they want more English.

And so day by day, their fascination creates both wonder and confusion in my own struggling mind. Often, as perhaps anyone who has taught a second language might identify with, knowing how to speak it is one thing- teaching, quite a different thing.

Day after day, questions like this come in. “Profe, would I say he is a person that is nice OR he is a person who is nice?” Usually my answer leaves them looking confused, the smarter ones on to the game I am playing... Either works I tell them. Then I quickly scramble to a computer to review English language laws.

But perhaps the greatest trick the English language has played on me as a professor comes in the textbook I have to use.

On my first day of class when I had yet to even see the book we were using (I got thrown right in), I wrote an example sentence on the board. “It is an honor to meet you Mr...” and before I could finish, one of my most intelligent students interrupted me. “Profe, you spelled honor wrong.” I did a double take, spelled it in my head, and disagreed. “No, profe, really, you spelled it wrong. If you don’t believe me, look at page 20 in the book.” I flipped open the book to see the word honor spelled HONOUR. Reading on, academe and other flippant words popped out at me. I was horrified.

I befriended a wonderful priest named Martin Hardy during my time in Bolivia, and we used to go back and forth between the languages, English vs. American as he might say. I have to believe this is God’s way of siding with Martin.

It is a struggle to teach your own language because what comes so natural for one is so hard for the other. But day by day goes by and more and more I get comfortable in the classroom, sensing when my students understand and when, in the universal world of high school culture, they are utterly lost but much too afraid to raise their hand and admit it.

The questions ring on, the answers come stuttering out, and I find myself learning as much about English as I am Spanish anymore. (=

1 comment:

Gisella Mendizabal said...

I bet Patricio. This post reminded me of asking people what to say in the kitchen or on the kitchen. This in and on is sooo confusing. I'm still trying to figure the whole thing out :)Gise