Friday, August 26, 2011

Two weeks in...

Two weeks into the school year now...
As I'm coming to know my students this year, I've learned that they make up the most diverse group I've ever had in my decade of high-school teaching. Here are their countries of origin, starting with the obvious:

     U.S.A. & Mexico...
     and then, in no particular order:
El Salvador
Sierra Leone
Nepal (with Bhutanese parents)
Congo, D.R.(Kinshasa)
Congo, (Brazzaville)
Tanzania (parents from Burundi)
     and if I'm included,
half Korea and half Canada--does that add up to one more country?

...for a grand total of over two dozen countries of origin!

(if you include parental backgrounds...Plus, a handful of students from the Pacific Northwest, which may as well be a different country from Arizona. One of those kids said, about moving here, "I like all the good Mexican restaurants, but I don't know how to pronounce them." Ha! You'll learn, m'ijo, you'll learn...)

The past couple of years I've had exchange students from Belgium and Germany in my classroom, as well as Navajo and Tohono O'odham students, but never have I had a 'grand total' number as large as this year's.

Nepali, Twi, Kirundi, Arabic in the background of my students' brains as they learn French and Spanish conjugations...Tucson has never been more international...and the world's never had a greater number of displaced people, either.

So it's been busy, but all was going well until Tuesday afternoon, when I suddenly felt like the proverbial hit-by-a-truck victim. (Why do we say that, anyway, 'to feel as if one has been hit by a truck?' Doesn't that usually result in death?) A summer cold. Noooooooooooooo!

It's inevitable in Aug/Sept., with the sudden return of kids to enclosed spaces. No amount of antibacterial hand gel can prevent the back-to-school cold season. But it's particularly unpleasant in August in Tucson; the normally soothing therapy of soup ends up feeling more like torture when the temperature outside is ONE HUNDRED EIGHT DEGREES!!! (Even for Tucson, that was a record earlier this week.)

I can't remember the last time an illness came on so suddenly; I'd had a good run in the morning before school, a good day with classes, felt good about after-school planning, drove home in an energetic mood, and then half-an-hour later, as I finally sat on the couch to watch the news--BAM! This early in the school-year, I just CAN'T miss work, so...thank goodness for pseudoephedrine, which gave me just just enough 'control' to be in front of adolescents for several hours a day the past few days. I will admit, though--yesterday, by the end of day, I just couldn't be 'active' any more...So I popped in a DVD for my advanced class. It was a documentary; I'm not a bad teacher, I'm not I'm not I'm not.

And I did have a bit of germ-inspired juvenile vocabulary-fun with my first-year Spanish students. I'd previously showed them how they already know thousands of Spanish words already without realizing it--the magic of COGNATES! (ex. nation--nación, objective--objetivo, etc...) Now, using my cold as the segue--I demonstrated the danger of false cognates...such as: 'constipado.' No, it does not mean that one needs prune juice. It means (in many parts of the Spanish-speaking world, at least) that one has come down with a cold. Perhaps more commonly heard in parts of Latin America is the adjective 'resfriado'...At any rate, I am emerging from my constipado-ness, just in time for the weekend...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

a couple of cartoons for La Rentrée

First of all: definition of "La Rentrée"--French for the post-summer-vacation ritual of returning to school/work. In the U.S., this is Aug./Sept. and mainly is 'back-to-school'; in France it's Sept./Oct. and applies to everyone, not just students...

I like this cartoon, even if might seem a bit twisted:
My wife and I have a parrot--worry not, we take good care of him. (We arrange house/bird-sitting when we go out of town, just so you know.) And, in case you didn't already know, for work, I am a language teacher. (French I, II, & III, & Spanish I this year.) I am not abusive in the classroom. And I don't teach German. (alas) Anyway...

But I like this cartoon. It's been posted on our refrigerator for a year-and-a-half now...
If only it were so simple to encourage students to become fluent speakers...

And now, something from Dilbert:

Ahh, the contemporary surfeit of self-esteem...

A recent issue of The Atlantic magazine had a lengthy article entitled "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy."
The cover of the magazine proclaims this: "How the cult of self-esteem is ruining our kids."
Indeed, the perils and unpleasant side effects of showering too much praise, cultivating self-esteem without substance--what I get to observe, in its myriad adolescent manifestations, during my workweek!

Don't get me wrong, I like my job...I mean, to a reasonable degree...
but I'm not among those overly idealistic teachers who insist, almost religiously, that 'they give their heart and soul to 'their' kids,'...those educators for whom 'financial compensation is not a concern' since 'the opportunity to touch lives' makes up for substandard wages and being the punching bag for society's complaints. 

Teaching in 21st-c. America--it's both better and worse than you think. When I first went back to teaching high-school (wow, a decade ago already) after being in the college/university environment for a few years, concerned friends and acquaintances would, when approaching me to say hello, lower their voices and cock their heads with concern before asking, so sincerely: " ARE you?" At first I was puzzled and I wondered if I must've looked terrible or something...I mean, all these well-meaning people touching my shoulder and expressing concern--really, I was okay! This lasted about a few months, and then they realized that I had not become a target for spitballs nor were my tires being slashed...

But even now, when meeting people for the first time and answering the question 'so what do you do for work'--I still get that 'oh, wow' eyebrow-raise when I mention that I am a high-school teacher. Truth be told, sometimes in the mirror, I give myself that oh-wow-eyebrow-raise...

But I'm okay.

Monday. Back to the classroom...


random quote:
"Without data, you are just another person with an opinion."
(quoting Andreas Schleicher...for background and the full article, click here.)

Monday, August 1, 2011

symmetry, rythym...kaleidoscopic ceiling...and a conversation with a Finnish ex-pat

As the calendar speeds toward the new school-year, I've been working on organizing/editing some of the many photos I took in Korea back in June; I'd almost forgotten about this one:
(below is a little anecdote to go with it--an attempt at summing up the photo's setting...)

"Korea--it gets under your skin," she said, with her Scando-Slavic English.

My wife and I had struck up a conversation with the only other person resting in the pavilion's shade on this summer afternoon in Seoul, in the garden of the new National Museum. She was--is--a Finnish expat, who came with her Polish husband when he got a job in the South Korean capital several years ago.

After walking all morning through galleries ranging from Neolithic to Neo-confucian, it felt so good to rest our feet. And so we sat by the pond reflecting the world's sixth-largest museum. The pavilion has an octagonal roof covered in green celadon tiles. Looking up at the symmetrical ceiling is almost hypnotic.

The last time I'd been to Seoul was nearly twenty years ago; expats, aside from diplomats and U.S. military, were rare then. Not any more. The city is full of French bakeries and Canadian teachers. Indonesians in head-scarves are common in the subways...and under an octagonal roof, with cranes presiding, a Finnish woman telling us about how she loves the 'passion' of Korean culture, and how she does not miss the spice-less-ness of northern European food...complaining about how difficult it is to "meet people here..." But then saying, "yes, hard to just make friends with strangers, unless you are introduced by somebody. Once that happens, then you're in."


...a few more photos from the National Museum here...