Monday, November 16, 2009

Adventures in Real English 6

In one of my classes there was a brief exercise about talking on the phone. A WRITTEN exercise about talking on the phone... how lame is that! I spoke with my students about why talking on the phone is more difficult than talking in person, and let them in on the fact that the phone totally freaks me out too, especially (oh the horror!) answering machines. We carried on with class, going over a few other exercises in the textbook, reviewing some grammar, blah blah, blah, and if anyone was looking, they may have seen a little cartoon light bulb pop up over my head. I told my nine students that they had one minute to think of a question, because we were going to make a phone call (GASP!) to my MOM in Canada. I explained that she has worked for years in schools with kids of all ages, and that she loves to talk to anyone or anything that will hold still long enough to listen to her, and ran down to the staff room to grab my cell phone. It was about 8 PM at this point, so I told them it would be very early morning for my mom, and that this was a surprise to her too. They all cowered in nervous anticipation, and argued about who would be so unfortunate as to go first. My mom was a little surprised at first I think, not expecting to be hearing from my students at 6 AM, but she went along with it happily and seemed to have a unique conversation with each student. She got questions ranging from "how old are you?" to "what is the weather like in Canada right now?" to "if Miss Ashley were at home, what would you do?" and the kids seemed delighted with the responses. They were absolutely flabbergasted when she said it was about -5 C, which is pretty warm for November... how could a temperature below freezing feel warm???? I described the average winter temperature in Alberta, as well as the brutality of a cold snap in January. Mouths were agape from one end of the room to the other. "Miss, we would die in that weather!" one student exclaimed, and I laughed and responded with "why do you think I am spending my winter in Indonesia?!" When our phone call ended the students, had some really sweet questions for me, and were concerned that I would not be seeing my family until next July at the earliest. We chatted for the next 15 minutes about that conversation with my mom, and I think it was my most memorable class so far. I spoke to my mom later that evening, and she was just as excited as my students. She told me that she struggled with some of their accents, while others presented no difficulty at all, and commended them on having the bravery to talk to a stranger in a second language that they are just beginning to feel comfortable with. I had to give my self a little pat on the back for this impromptu idea, as it drew my family a little closer to me and let them in on a little slice of my life here, and it also gave my students a unique learning opportunity and a major boost of confidence. Only one problem now, how do I top that???

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Learning from my students

Something I am enjoying very much about being an English teacher is the endless ability of my students to surprise me by saying things that have an immeasurable sense of sincerity, or wisdom, or poetry, rendering me speechless and awed by these shy moments of profundity. A few of these such instances stand out to me.

~ Upon asking about the incessant rain and cool weather we were having a few weeks ago, a young girl of only 14 solemnly told me that Indonesia was in mourning for the people that had died in the massive earthquake that hit Sumatra, and the weather was reflecting these feelings.

~ I was observing some of my young students at work on a textbook exercise, and looking down at the little girls, some wearing jilbabs to cover their heads as a measure of modesty, I spoke my thoughts aloud without realizing... "I wonder what your hair looks like under there?" A very bright and well spoken child, who I happened to be standing next to looked up at me and said in a voice older than her years that her hair is a secret between her and her family.

~ The culminating assignment of my conversation classes involves a presentation in front of the class on whatever topic you feel you can speak freely about. I have heard students talk about where they grew up, typing skills, the dangers of skin whitening creams, saxophones and self defense, just to name a few, but I was particularly touched by one student's topic. A quiet girl, always dressed conservatively and seemingly quite traditional shared with the class her views on why women can and should be more than a housewife. She told us passionately that a woman must use her education and find a way to assert independence even while looking after a family and a husband, so that she is self-sufficient. My independent feminist streak was doing a cheer-leading routine while she spoke, and it is refreshing that in culture steeped in rites and tradition, girls are finding a way to balance the expectations of society with their personal goals and dreams.

~ A young gentleman said to me one day that he is learning English because he wants to speak to the world. How lovely is that?

These moments, and there are certainly more, leave me feeling that as I am passing on bits of grammar and pronunciation and vocabulary to my students, they are leaving me with bits of wisdom that go far beyond language learning, always sneaking up on me out of the blue, to remind me of how much there is to learn in this world.