Learning to stand on my hands

Hi everyone!

So, it’s been a while. Since the school year started in March I’ve been pretty darn busy lesson planning, googling “ESL Conversation Activities” and “Ways to Make Teaching [X Grammar Point] Interesting,” teaching myself grammar points I don’t know/didn’t know existed, actually teaching, grading and giving exams(?!), and taking naps. Though there are some days where I really resent having to spend so much of my free time out of work preparing stuff for work, I have to say that my students are pretty awesome and I really do enjoy my job most of the time. And it seems my students do too. Here are some of the results of an evaluation I had them do of me/the class after their first exam:

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All of my students in IICANA have successfully completed their first exams (and I only had to fail 3 of them out of almost 30). It was really bizarre to be on the other side of giving an exam. IICANA uses the tests made by the companies of the textbooks we use, so I didn’t have to actually make them up, just give them and grade them. Grading the exams (and anything for that matter) was a much more difficult task than I thought it would be.. and I probably also made it a lot more difficult than it needed to be agonizing and second-guessing every last point. As a student I remember exams and grades seeming so “official,” and in general I never questioned too much the grades I was given or the way the tests were made up (aside from standardized tests like the SAT, which I think are bullshit)…. but I was basically making up everything as I went along, trying to be as accurate as possible! I just find it largely impossible to quantify a student’s work with a number or a letter grade and I am starting to think these kinds of feedback are pretty empty/useless compared to actual thoughtful qualitative feedback.

Anyway, aside from the tediousness of grading exams I am becoming much more confident explaining grammar points and am getting the gist of how to plan/organize a class to both be productive and cover important points and keep students active, engaged and interested. With my teenagers/young adults, I’ve found it really important to include as many interactive and/or multimedia activities as possible… especially because both of my traditional (not solely conversation) classes are 2 and 3 hours long. I let one student choose a song they would like to listen to as a class a week, have them bring in some information about the band, and then have the class do a listening-comprehension activity with the song. I start out each class by doing a some kind of word puzzle, usually either The Word Jumble or Boggle and introducing two different idioms. We use SO many different expressions/slang in English, and I see that the students are really interested in learning these kinds of “real” English that they hear used on TV/in movies. It’s also interesting to see what kinds of expressions translate and are essentially the same in Spanish (“lend a hand,” “break a leg,” “white lie,” etc.), and which don’t.

One especially great class activity I did recently with one class was for a Unit in the book about Social Issues (w/ a focus on bullying). I had them listen to Where is the Love? by the Black Eyed Peas, and then rewrite the song, choosing the issue of their choice to talk about. The kids got really creative with it, and wrote songs about materialism (“Where are the Bucks?”), world peace (“Where is the Peace?”) and bullying/discrimination (“Where is the Sense?”). Their final project for this Unit is to create a Public Service Announcement (in the form of a poster, we don’t have video cameras to use unfortunately) about an issue of their choice. I’m hoping to be able to hang them up around school.

photo-1One of my classrooms… it’s so small that it was really impossible to take a good picture of it.

It’s interesting to be one of the only native speaking teachers at IICANA. I often get asked questions by other teachers about how best to say something, if a word makes sense, how to pronounce something, if I can visit someone’s class so the kids can interview them etc. It’s weird to be seen as The Local Authority on the English Language. And every time there’s an American holiday-theme party it looks like I’m expected to cook something… For the 4th of July I’m going to make a red white and blue American flag cake HA. Probably the most “patriotic” thing I’ll have ever done?

With several different conversation classes, I’ve discussed an article that I found about why some Latin American countries are considered to be the happiest in the world:(http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/Latin-America-Monitor/2012/1227/Why-Latin-Americans-top-the-happiness-rankings). The article is written in response to the list of happiest countries that Forbes magazine puts out every year. The author’s states that because countries in Latin America tend to be more disorganized and unstable in terms of economy, government, public services etc. than what we call “first world countries” (or “serious” countries, as one of my students always says), daily life is largely unpredictable. I have seen this to be true… out of the blue the bus drivers here will go on strike for a few days and the city will be effectively without it’s main transportation system, the value of the peso continuously fluctuates and prices continue to climb (approx. 20% inflation every year), making it difficult for any person or family or business to plan financially for the future, etc. In the face of this unpredictability, instead of crumbling it seems that people tend to focus more on the moment that they are living in, learn to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, and make room in their schedules to spend quality time in each other’s company… because those are really the only things they can count on. It’s true that people here are by far more flexible and patient than people in the United States and I think that’s because in order to live here you really have to be. You have to be ready and willing to accept unforeseen changes and to improvise always. I think that these qualities definitely must help people to become more resilient in general.

391495_606004122764436_1597723197_nMy conversation class students and I out to dinner. We try to organize a dinner every month.

The article mentions that people in the “developed” or “first world” experience greater suffering and frustration from any small failure or disruption in their daily life because, being from more privileged countries, the quality of life is expected to be excellent at all time. In the US, our country is supposedly one of the Leaders of the World, the Beacon of Hope, of Progress, of Opportunity and we’re supposed to All Live Happily Ever After. We expect to have What We Want When We Want It. But let’s be real… how can anyone or any society live up to that? Setting unreasonably high expectations for ourselves only leads to greater heartache. I came across a quote from Shakespeare recently: “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” I really see that to be true, on small and large scales. I find most of my own personal suffering comes from imagining or expecting something to be a certain way, and then judging or evaluating it accordingly. It really takes the power out of all of the possibility that the present moment holds.

Apart from work, I have been continuing with tissue classes and earlier this month I also took a three-day handstand workshop. It was (as expected) incredibly difficult and my entire body was aching from sore muscles after only day one but it was worth it. The key to a good handstand is a strong, calm, and focused center… which is really true of life in general. Anyone who knows me well knows that public speaking is not exactly my favorite pass time, and yet I am doing that every day right now as my job. In doing so, I am exercising essentially the same principle. By strengthening my “center” I gradually become more balanced and stable projecting outwards, speaking before others and leading groups.

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This past weekend, I participated in the San Juan Festival held in the neighborhood where the circus arts studio I go to is located. This festival is held every year around the winter solstice and includes 4 big bonfires on different streets. At each bonfire, a giant sculpture wooden/paper is burned and different groups perform (ranging from drum bands to jugglers to modern dancers to aerial acrobats). The idea is to burn away all that which does not serve us to make way for change and growth in the new season.   Some of the tissue teachers at the studio where I take classes organized a performance for the festival and invited anyone and everyone to participate… so I ended up participating. I was pretty intimidated because I ended up being the only student/not-really-experienced-person participating but it was great and seemed to be in the spirit of the festival to push myself to do it despite my doubts. Our performance was mostly improvised, but it began with some modern dance imitating the lighting of a fire with movement and then the gradual growth of flames. At the end, the five of us who were up on the tissues pulled the hanging fabrics below us up so that all the people below could pass under us. There was a HUGE crowd. It was wild hanging upside down watching a sea of laughing and smiling faces walking underneath, reaching up to try to touch the tissues.

Here are some photos from the festival:

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1011708_10201372976547106_1174359753_nIf you can’t spot me, I’m the second from left on the red tissue.

Here is a link to a video of the second to last bonfire: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151543591478003. I’m one of the little blobs to the left.

And last but not least, some other moments from May/June:

DSC_1726_2On Argentina’s Labor Day in May, it’s custom to eat a stew called locro, which was beans, pumpkin, and different kinds of meat in it (pigs feet, ham, etc.). Extremely filling but delicious!

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DSC_1738On a day that some of Laura’s friends came over for lunch, we made delicious blue corn flour tacos with  beans, pork, rice, and mole sauce.

1013756_10151430781896360_1341993875_nThis past month my friend Nadia celebrated her 25th birthday. Here I am with her and Nela, two of my best friends here.

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DSC_1740And, all the while my little buddy Gigi has been getting bigger and bigger.

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My next big adventure is a trip to México on July 7th to visit my friend Ana, who has been studying film there since February. Should be great. And my parents and brother are finally coming to visit me in August. Can’t wait. Looks like I am living a pretty fortunate life…

Peace and love.

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One thought on “Learning to stand on my hands

  1. Wonderful to hear from you, Lila. As I write, I am listening to the birds and looking out at the fog that has settled on the island. I can easily relate to your frustration with grades on exams as a measure of learning, an evaluation of someone’s experience in your class. The narrative comments you can offer and the personal interactions have great value. I feel very fortunate that the context of my teaching/small classes gives me the proximity and class size to offer these comments. Your Aunt Katie could tell you about the time involved, however. The time it takes to prepare, to teach, to grade can be exhausting and want to undermine the joy/satisfaction of the personal and academic growth. You are asking great questions and judging by the feedback you are getting from your students, you are succeeding on many levels. Interesting to be the authority in residence on the English language and American customs. Hope to see a picture of that cake. I know what you mean by the idioms– when I was in Haiti, several of the young men who worked at the clinic were eager to expand their knowledge of expressions and would stay up late practicing, asking questions. I wrote out a list for one guy, and several others came over and ask if they could have copies.
    The breadth of your experience is remarkable. I appreciate your patience and generosity in taking the time to write and to include so many photos. And what a handsome cat! Take care and love, Uncle Walter.

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