I write to you now as I should be in class teaching my last class with the third year students at the university. Unfortunately, none of them showed up for class. In keeping with always demonstrating the best of American culture, the last week of classes was devoted to fun, games, music, and movies (of course), and I was looking forward to it. As the minutes ticked by, I sat alone in front of the locked classroom philosophically contemplating all of the minutes I've spent in this country waiting in front of locked doors. Man am I good at waiting. I sent a few text messages, watched some cows while pondering the significance of truancy, and passed a half an hour without even realizing it. After 45 minutes I indignantly retired to my room.
If I wasn't flexible and easy going enough already, Madagascar entered new realms of requiring patience this week as the university is on strike. As a true and blue union girl, I didn't fancy “crossing the line” to teach, but my students had projects due and presentations to give, and I have nothing to do with the political cause at hand. Most of my students weren't interested in joining the strikers. (No, I can not explain who exactly is striking, and why exactly they are striking. The students have tried to explain it to me. The students in one department are on strike because some of the teachers are on strike because they didn't get paid? I think I am culturally unable to understand striking like this because it's such an alien idea to me. Could you imagine if all of the students at a university in the states decided to strike? Refused to attend classes and stood outside demonstrating? It just wouldn't happen – at least not these days.) So my classes went on as planned (sort of) in the beginning of the week. In one of my classes, the students didn't want to have class in the regular classroom because they didn't want the students who were striking to see them studying. We went to the English library, which wasn't open that early, so they gave their presentations in the hall outside the library. (Also can't imagine that happening in the states).
Don't get me wrong, I have loved teaching here at the university. The students have been great. The administration and other teachers have been great. I really can't complain. I'm just very disappointed to not have some of my final classes. I was saving up my best fun stuff for the end. And this is the end to my structured work in Madagascar. I will still be “working,” but this is my last week teaching in a classroom and having a schedule. I suppose it's a fitting end to two years of adapting to a very flexible work environment. I should have learned by now.
While we're on a down note... let's talk about some recent teaching failures.
Big fail: explaining “cooties.” Part of the last week fun included reading some Calvin and Hobbes, which was enjoyable for both me and the students, but also quite challenging. There was one where Hobbes was explaining to Calvin what it felt like to fall in love (which includes a lot of sweat and eventual brain failure), and Calvin says that that's happened to him before but that he thought it was cooties, not love. Boy it's really hard to explain an imaginary disease which can sound a lot like an STD... I'm pretty sure they thought I was talking about chlamydia or something.
I gave up before I could fail: explaining the difference between “like,” “as,” “as such,” and “as...as”. Man, that is really hard. I was using the internet to help make a worksheet/guide to the differences (they use all of them as if they always mean “for example”). The internet wasn't even able to provide the answers (look up the definition for 'as' and think about how you can explain it... jeez!). After over an hour of working and reworking the explanation, I got really confused, and decided that it's not something that can be explained. Please let me know if you can shine a light on this mystery. At first it seems like you can use them interchangeably (besides 'as...as'), but you can't. Why is English so hard?
Even though English is really hard (success: explaining the difference between “even though,” “even if,” and “even”), teaching ESL is one of the most fun (funnest?) things I could think of teaching. No matter what you do, as long as it's in English, it's educational. For example, if you like Alicia Keys, and you think that your students will like Alicia Keys, give them the lyrics, talk about the lyrics, listen to the music and watch the music videos- there's a lesson! While teaching here at the university, I've used articles from Newsweek, Time, Rolling Stone, BBC, and CNN on a variety of topics from Obamacare to that chick who pulled the girl down by her ponytail in a college soccer game last year. We've read/translated/interpreted/listened to songs of Bob Marley, Alicia Keys, and Rihanna. We've watched Friends, Lost, Bowling for Columbine, Planet Earth. We've read Calvin and Hobbes, the poetry of Robert Frost, American documents like the “Bill of Rights”, and much much more (in addition to contextualized grammar/vocabulary/phonetics lessons). You can use literature, art, current events, popular culture, really anything, as classroom content. It sure beats teaching how to factor, solve for x, prove geometric theorems, etc as far as I'm concerned. I love the freedom and creativity it allows. A lot of my inspiration for what I do with my classes comes from my French teacher from Wright State. She would have whole class sessions where we watched funny popular videos on You Tube. As long as it's in the target language, it's good practice, and has value; even if it's something that would be a waste of time if you were doing it in your native language (again, You Tube). I'm glad I found something that I find challenging and rewarding and something I'm passionate about to do as a career so early in life. And here I get to do it with a beautiful white sand beach and lemurs down the street. I can gaze out of my classroom window to the distant mountains and the deeply blue bay (that is if you look past all of the mess of the dorms).
On a final note... This week I was watching Lost with one of my classes. The episode ended just as the class was over. I was just joking when I said, “so do you want to stay and watch the next episode? I don't have anything to do.” But none of them moved. They just sat there very quietly and seriously. So I asked again, serious this time, “Do you want to stay and watch the next episode?” And they nodded their heads gravely. I said “Ok, well, class is over, so you can go, but I don't mind to stay and watch another episode, so you can stay if you want.” Not one of them left. They all stayed for another episode after class was over. Lost is the best show ever.