February 25, 2012


Very often, my expectations of glory go unmet.

Indeed, at my PEAKS conference presentation today, my expectations were unmet in terms of fabulous, ground-breaking content; yet I'm not at all disappointed.

This week, I had shamelessly self-promoted my presentation to my ENG 105 students who were hungry for the 10 point extra credit. I reminded them every day about how much I would like to see their smiling faces in my audience.

Knowing that these very small conferences often draw audiences of 0-5 people to each session, I expected a minimal turn-out for the presentation which I would give in tandem with a close friend and colleague. We were competing with a concurrent PhD panel on language policy and planning which meant that our measly first-year MA status would likely direct all potential audience members tot eh more experienced group's session.

However, our small room was soon filled (19 chairs, no less) with my students,  colleagues, interested faculty and a few people I had never seen before.

What a blessing it was to see 10 of my students sitting in the front row. Presentations are a beast unto themselves in terms of nerves and anxiety. But seeing familiar faces, and faces to whom I am used to "presenting" to, in my front row helped me feel comfortable to present a paper I had written about the context of learning English in Cambodia. I bet you aren't surprised about my topic.

Anyway, my usual presentation-crackly-voice never made an appearance, and I was able to think on my feet throughout. Thanks to my students, for once in my life, I was able to deliver the material in a way that I really wanted to without the black-out adrenaline rush I usually experience.

The point of this entry, then, is to bask in the good feeling of creating some type of rapport (or at least effective bribery) that brought my students out to support me. It's some strange (insert literary term for coincidental event here) that in a presentation where I wanted to talk about the importance of knowing the context of your language learners in order to best teach them, my language learners showed up and proved to be the best part of it all.

It's clear that I'm going in the right direction. I feel inclined to thank the universe for a horribly stressful week that culminated in an unexpected show of support. It's sort of like I got the extra-credit, too. Thank you, universe.

February 16, 2012

A much-needed reflection on the beginning of the semester

If you thought I forgot about my my blog, you are right. My brain only has so much space, and "blog" got shoved somewhere behind "learn the English verb phrase"--Anyway, I wanted to reflect a little on how this semester is going.

To begin, the classes I am taking this semester are very different from last. I have Sociolinguistics, a rapid-fire overview of an entire discipline concerned with he intersection of language and society. We read authors like Deborah Tannen, a linguist made famous for her analysis of the conversations at a Thanksgiving dinner. We discuss topics like African American Vernacular English, code-switching, and even everyday situations in which language plays a key role.

I also have a Listening and Speaking Methodology class, which is highly practical, although I wish the class period was about three hours long so we could have more time to talk about teaching methods.

The third class I take is called "Grammatical Foundations" or something, and it is quite possibly the nerdiest thing I have ever participated in. No surprise, then, that I am quite smitten with our lectures on how to determine the aspect and tense of a verb phrase. The professor is literally world-renown for his word in Corpus Linguistics (a sub field of applied linguistics in which thousands of real-life texts and conversations are compiled into a database for analysis of real language use), and he is the wizard of grammar. What I hate about the class is that the intuitions I have come to rely upon so heavily are consistently wrong. While it can be frighteningly systematic, there is officially nothing intuitive about grammar. On the other hand, through the Grammar class, I am slowly developing a strong sense for the "rules," or least the tendencies, of the English language, which are immediately applicable in the classroom and the Writing Center.

Speaking of the classroom, I have a completely different set up this semester. I'm teaching a section of ENG 105 that is devoted entirely to students who have reached level 5 in the Program in Intensive English. I have 12 Saudi men, a few Kuwaiti students, and a handful of Chinese and Korean students. Despite being in the same level, these students have massive variation in their commands of English, which has proven to be an interesting challenge for me. Actually, I really enjoy teaching this class because it combines so many of my favorite things: writing, ESL, international students, and graduate assistantships (the last one = food and rent). My students are working on their first big project, and I am already so proud of their hard work. Of course there are difficulties with this demographic, but I will save that for another day.

Finally, this semester I have a new practicum assignment. I co-teach a class for Chinese scholars who are visiting NAU. About four Chinese professors come every Wednesday evening to what we call "English Enhancement". It's sort of a glorified conversation class, but we also demonstrate the research process, presentation techniques and even play games to relax. Although I find the additional preparation and classroom time commitment somewhat cumbersome, I think this is a valuable experience for me to get to know professionals from another country.

Speaking of cumbersome preparation, my workload this semester is INTENSE. Last semester, I thought that there was no way that I could handle any more work, but this semester I find myself constantly short on time, working on weekends, and generally rushing through everything just to keep up. I have several hours of reading and homework to prepare for each class, and I must  take care of business for ENG 105, work in the Writing Center and tutor six hours a week, hold office hours, work on group projects, prepare presentations...you get the picture. It's non-stop. I wake up at 5, and crawl into bed at 10, completely exhausted. Some days feel totally rewarding, but some days it's hard to remember why exactly I want to do this to myself.

Grad school is shaping up just as I expected: high anxiety, low sleep, but awesome. I have a great group of friends, I have food and shelter, and I get to do what I love all day everyday. A good life.

By the way, I have also been going to yoga in the evenings, which if nothing else, is a full hour in which I cannot check email, grade papers, or read a research article. A welcome break and distraction from computer screens and subject-verb agreement.