Thursday, August 13, 2009

From Language Teacher to Student

Okay, I have to start with a title disclaimer- of course, all teachers are students (well, all good teachers) in the sense that we keep on learning. I'm constantly discovering more and more, often at the bidding of my students or my curriculum. But, in the formal, titled, roles, I have made the great SWITCH!

I like the idea that I'm learning to learn, that my gauge is that I know more today than I did yesterday. I'm not checking off credits for a degree or jumping through hoops to appease a teacher, a program or a school. I am a learner in the freest, most natural sense. My goal is to acquire as much language as possible in order to provide ample foundation in establishing myself in Israel. In less stuffy terms, play with the language, hang out with people, and point to things and ask friends, acquaintances and total strangers to identify them in Hebrew for me.

Towards the end of the previous school year when I was discussing my transition with some of my then students, one commented, "Geez, I feel sorry for your teacher!" I laughed, but now I'm kinda wondering what she meant by that comment. Was she worried that I'd overwhelm the class with my energy, or try to teach it myself? Was it just a meaningless sideways remark? But I must admit, as a rather opinionated language teacher with a decade of instructional experience (I love saying that- here it is again- I've taught a combination of Spanish/ French for the past ten years- Five of which have been in a classroom and five summers in Concordia Language Villages, and a couple of years one-on-one tutoring at the college level... just in case you wondered how I got a decade of experience in) So, where was I? Oh yes, opinionated (read critical) with a very defined sense of the most effective instructional methods.

I happened to be in the absolutely lowest level of Hebrew possible (I'm quite proud of my accomplishment, thank you). The great part about being the bottom of the barrel is that everyone knows more than I do and can be pestered with questions. I'm actually quite happy that another former Concordia Language Village staff member is here (and thus, we have similar language passions, nerdy love for grammatical details, and instructional philosophies) and he happens to be an expert in Hebrew grammar (bonus!). As another student told me just this evening, being in the lowest level I get to learn the most... or rather, I have the most I have to learn! At this moment, 4 weeks into the 5 month program, I'm thinking that doing a subsequent 5 month block would be the most beneficial. (Aka, if I don't have a solid hold on Hebrew when I walk into my own classroom next year the students will eat me alive!)

So, I have to say, despite what my own students would think, I'm a very nice student to have in the classroom. I still remember my 10th grade Spanish teacher taking me aside and telling me share the airtime with the rest of the students. (I was just so excited to have finally busted through my language failing trends, thanks to Concordia- I didn't really mean to have diarrhea of the mouth... but at least I was spewing Spanish!) Needless to say, I let the other students speak and content myself with writing ridiculously long sentences in Hebrew in my notebook. (Although today the teacher had to ask me to stop explaining additional grammar concepts to my neighbor so that we could both rejoin the class... )

As far as teaching pedagogy, I agree with a lot of what takes place in our classroom. (Which is nice, because as a student, I don't get to direct the class... alas) We have two teachers who alternate days. I had to laugh to myself because one has such a similar teacher style to mine- the same hand gestures, questing style, and way of over-enunciating words- that it was almost like watching myself teach. I understand too, the emphasis on verbs, in lieu of nouns, and general sentence structure. (Although, I must admit, at this point I have a pitifully small vocabulary.) At the same time, I have to wonder at the choice of vocabulary taught. I can tell people where I'm from, what I used to do, and where I study and where I'm going-- but I can't ask for directions or understand the answer. (Since obviously, every single person I meet will be exclusively interested the information I can share with my autobiographical skills but I won't actually want to know how to get anywhere and will never get lost.) If I could make one change to the curriculum, I would throw a directions unit in sometime soon (like now).

The goal is that by this time next year I can have diarrhea of the mouth in four languages- now won't that be fun!

No comments: