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.