Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lost in Translation: 8.1.2011

Ever since I can remember...ever since before I could read...I told myself I wanted to teach people in some way. Sitting in my bedroom I made up stories to the pictures in my Franklin the Turtle books, and soon after I was reading to an imaginary class, calling on students who were talking over me, and making up discussion questions at the ripe age of six. At eight, I bought a teacher's planning book, complete with an attendance record. Everything was perfect. I saved papers from each grade that I thought I could one day use in my classroom, whatever subject I ended up teaching. I'm sure I still have most of that stuff somewhere. I certainly still have all of my French papers starting from the ninth grade, up 'til now.

I'm twenty-one years old, teaching English in Vietnam. Instead of having a wire-bound planning book, I have a photo-copied lesson guide that was bound at a Vietnamese Kinko's. There are no dry-erase boards, and the erasers have to be clapped on a peeling wall every few minutes. The fans don't work, and the windows don't all close properly. But the kids are interested. They're everything I've ever imagined and hoped for. They're brilliant, yet annoying, individual yet somehow all the same. I wish they asked more questions when they're confused, but the few questions I have heard are incredibly insightful and relevant to what I have said...not just the typical question a student poses when they haven't been paying attention.

Everything has been wonderful up to this point. I can get over the heat and I can get past the language barriers, but what took the wind out of me today was when a little boy on Yellow Team, Thuong, asked me how to form a sentence from the verb "to be" because he just started learning English at this camp. We have already moved past the ABC's, numbers,and introductions...and now we're on forming linked sentences with varied pronouns. It broke my heart. Just last night, Sophia and I were talking about how ridiculous the curriculum is for a camp filled with high-risk children for dropping out of school, yet we try to teach them a bundle of information all at one time, and expect them to retain it all for not just an end-of-the-week exam, but a final exam as well.

I wanted to bite my tongue, but I had to tell the boy that if he just memorized the boxes we filled out together in class, he would be able to answer the questions on the exam, even if he didn't understand the material. I can't believe I don't even have my degree yet and I'm already "teaching the test". But we have to here. I understand that not everyone here is waiting for the day they get to run their own classroom, but I look forward to the first day of school. One of my favorite stores is Office Depot. And no, I don't love the first day of school because it means the return of homework and mid-terms, I love the first day of school because it means another year has come for me to observe the way my teacher's work, and to hopefully improve my own methods of teaching. The sick feeling didn't leave my mouth all day, and I can't figure out how to make this a better situation.

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