January 17, 2012

Looking ahead to the new semester

For Christmas, my Opa and Oma sent me a page-a-day calendar for German learners, or at least, for those who wish to speak better German. Much as I bragged about being a TA in the beginning German class last semester, when I opened that calendar, I remembered what foreign language looks like. Reading in our native language is so natural that we hardly notice we are doing it. In a foreign language, on the other hand, each word is it's own challenge. I labored over a paragraph and immediately resolved to get better at reading German.

My progress has been minimal.

The reason I bring up foreign language reading (as if I needed a reason) is that I will being teaching Freshman composition to non-native speakers this semester. My class will be students who have made sufficient progress through an intensive English language program, and want to enter the university. Some of my friends taught this type of course last semester, and I jumped at the chance to bolster my TESL resume this semester.

Of course, the resume-bolstering doesn't happen automatically. I have to actually TEACH the course without epic failure. Furthermore, I want to love this kind of teaching. I really want to be successful with this ESL class in particular, since I've begun seriously investing in a career as ESL teacher.

I'm armed with one semester of teaching the class, horror/success stories from my friends, some budding notions of how to teach ESL, and Longman's Dictionary of Contemporary English. My Grandparents bought me the dictionary for Christmas, and I see why it's so popular among ESL teachers. So anyway, I'm armed with all this stuff. All I need now is some confidence and a few more weeks to plan. I'm in luck on at least the second half of that. My class is starting two weeks later that usual because the Intensive English program is piloting a "late-start" system to better accommodate international students during the chaotic first weeks of the semester.

I've spent lots of time mulling over the more and less effective things I tried last semester, and overlaying my growing TESL knowledge to modify my ideas for a group of language learners. It's not easy. I feel like I'm pinning the tail on the donkey (then giving him a grade). Last semester, I found the first big assignment to be the most challenging for both me and the students, so this semester, I'm trying a completely different approach. Rhetorical Analysis sounds foreign to me, so I can't even imagine what my students will make of it. I won't get too specific, bu my plan involves Pearl Jam, so you know it's going to be...90's rock? Well, it's a jumping off place to compare different rhetorical appeals in different media. There is also a newspaper article and academic journal in the plan. Brace for blank stares and deer-in-the-headlights looks.

I admire international students so much for their patience and dedication. As I remembered with my German calendar, every day presents a challenge, but if you slow down a little, you can understand at least 65% of what's going on. And that's not an F.

January 10, 2012

Blog. Because I can.

I'm back in Flagstaff. Having survived the Christmas in Nebraska portion of Winter Break, I turn now to the productive part of break in which I naively try to organize and prepare for the coming semester.

It feels like I'm on auto-pilot today. Going through familiar motions: plugging in the tea kettle, cooking oatmeal, folding clothes...

Despite (of because of?) the auto-pilot, I feel a profound emptiness. Sure, maybe it's because my roommate isn't back. The apartment is silent and the fridge is half empty. Maybe it's because I'm trying not to eat meat or much super-processed food. Since that was the basis for my diet for the last 23 years, that's enough to leave me empty any day. Perhaps it's a lack of exercise. Or intellectual work. Or even oxygen (I am in Flagstaff after all).

This emptiness I feel probably comes mostly from leaving boyfriend and family behind. Life is pretty sweet when you are surrounded by family and others who love you. Worries aren't as worrisome. Or at least someone will tell you to stop worrying. There are kitties and puppies to play with and coo at. There are cookies, cakes and ice cream to devour at will. There is a better chance of a legit meal (not just one item for dinner). There is some fullness about family that cannot be duplicated by any amount of food, stress, or online shopping. But at 24, you can't have it both ways. You can't be an independent adult and live at home. And even if you try, neither will be as good. It was hard to say goodbye to my vacation. I have trouble with goodbyes, and this time I had no major adventure awaiting my arrival. Just held mail, late bills, a car repair, and a semester that is sure to be more intense than the last.

My ability to whine really shines in this blog, doesn't it?

I'm going to go on a happy tangent. I discovered a new store today. New Frontiers, they call it. It's a "natural marketplace" that has the most incredible produce section I've ever seen. They even had those cool multi-colored carrots. Seriously. The bulk grains section was like a candy store for vegans. I helped myself to some organic quinoa. They also had two huge displays of foreign cheese (one of my favorites, and the reason I could never ever strictly follow a plant-based diet). The beauty of this store does come at a price, but it's not that much more than the grocery store, and the gorgeous fresh food will definitely encourage me to try more veggies.

So I'm empty, but I found a new store. I've got a week left to ponder life, and then it's back to the grad school vacuum. Cheers.

January 6, 2012

The trouble with Winter Break

Winter break is supposed to give you a little breathing room, some time away from the intellectual vacuum of grad school. I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to leave TESL alone for a few weeks. I brought a few readings home so that I could do a little prep work for teaching the ESL section of English Composition next semester.

Not only was I able to completely file away TESL since I left Flagstaff, but I also am experiencing a strange homesickness for Nebraska. “The Good Life” it seems has a particular charm that no amount of intellectual stimulation can compete with. It has been so nice to eat with my family, watch Law and Order, and talk about anything but TESL. I've written before about the appeal of Nebraskan simplicity. Life moves from birth to school to marriage to parenthood to grandparenthood almost invariably, and there is something deeply comforting in following the path. I suppose all my sentimental longings for Nebraska boil down to my family and boyfriend living good lives here. But in this romanticized brain of mine, the only logical solution appears to be quit school, move home, get married, ...wait, nope. That's a terrible idea. Since when do I prefer the well-trodden path?

Over a few cups of Barista's (best place in Kearney, NE) coffee, I talked this over with a former Writing Center colleague. Since Kearney, he has begun grad school in Riverside, California studying Political Science. California shows in his beard, trimmed-up physique, and general neo-hippie attitudes about the world. I can relate to the West Coast influences, as one of my resolutions is to eat a mostly plant-based diet (note: I didn't say vegetarian—that's a four-letter word in Nebraska). Our conversation began with how wonderful our new residences were, and how backward some Nebraskans can be, but as we got talking, our conversation nearly reversed itself. Nebraska is a great place to be from, we agreed, and we are much better prepared for the world because of our corn-fed roots. Although we plan to change the world (albeit in small ways), I think in our hearts we can't help but stay Nebraskan.

Even beyond my longing for my hometown, I remembered how untamed Nebraska can be. My boyfriend's family owns some land outside North Platte, NE. This isn't the typical Nebraskan landscape either. Nope, no cornfields in sight, and instead canyon-like formations with deep draws and well-worn cattle trails. If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you already know that I have the desire for adventure, but maybe not the courage (or proper footwear) to rough-it. Under the guise that hiking his parents' land would be no harder than the local park, I agreed to accompany him and his dad. As we bounced along the frozen mud in the pick-up, I realized that maybe I was in for something more challenging. Indeed, about two hours later, I found myself stuck halfway up the side of one of these mini limestone canyons, clinging to a tree trunk. Don't get me wrong, I love an adventure, especially when there is an element of danger (mountain lion, darkness, ice, ect.) involved, but I want a hot meal and shower when I get home—which is exactly what my boyfriend's mom cooked up!

I'm not too sure what that last anecdote had to do with my sudden longing for Nebraska. If it's adventure I seek, Flagstaff has some of the best hiking in the world. Spending time with my boyfriend and his family may have had more to do with my enjoyment than the icy draws we slid down.

So besides a break from the world of Applied Linguistics, winter break has reminded me of what I'm missing in Flagstaff. Family. My one-track (TESL) mind seems to sometimes forget how important these people are. I have been envisioning my career as an ESL teacher taking me around the world to faraway places with exotic food and low GDP's. During this winter break, I've started to wonder if the lifestyle of a wanderer can satisfy my need for family. Will I miss out on my brother growing up? What about my Grandparents? What am I giving up if I go? What about if I don't go?

I know that no job is forever and that things work out, no matter what I decide to do, but the decisions about work and life that I will have to make within the next two years are starting to seem more real than ever. Never mind a break from books and articles, this is just a way to make me second guess everything! Thanks, winter break.