July 20, 2012

Spoiled Teacher Life

"Miss Jena, do you want Starbucks?" My student asked me this morning when he showed up no less than 50 minutes before my class started. After my cursory hesitation and no-it's-ok hand gesture, he made the please-say-yes-I-want-to-get-it-for-you face. Then I said, "Sure, I'll take a small latte."

This conversation happened after he left a bag of Lindor Truffles on my desk with a giant smile. Yesterday it was Rafaello's (also a candy).

If you are thinking "suck up"--you have a point, but I don't think that's it. He likes to bring chocolate for our class to eat, and I appreciate the gesture. At least they are eating something for breakfast. These guys just seem to genuinely like to share stuff--especially delicious chocolate stuff.

The coffee was new today, but who am I to turn down such a nice offer? They all saw how tired I look last night--maybe that's it!

But, after all, I did play volleyball with the students for 3 hours yesterday and I made green bean casserole for their pre-Ramadan party. The candy and coffee guy is my volleyball buddy, too. We played two-on-two yesterday, and if you never played 2's volleyball on a large, open field, let me tell you: it's mostly running after shanked passes and any other ball that doesn't get touched.

At the party, my students fawned over the green beans, and insisted that I eat whatever they had made. They talked with me and introduced me to their cousins. One even made good on his promise to show me part of an Arabic soap opera. Then he showed me pictures of his hometown--Medina--a place I will never be allowed to visit (I'm not a Muslim). He also showed me pictures of best friends from home, previous haircuts, and some delicious wood-fired food from his camping trip.

Another student insisted on finding the missing soccer ball for me and helping clean up after the party. Others were concerned that I looked exhausted (and indeed I was after the volleyball match), and that I better sit down while they got me more lemonade and cake. It's a good life.

I really like my students. They invite me to do lots of things with them, which is very flattering for this nerdy grad student. I'm getting to know their personalities and their culture a lot better from seeing them outside of writing class.

I guess it's always risky to befriend students too much. I still have to grade them, possibly to the point of ending a scholarship, but that's my job. At this point, I feel that I am able to communicate much better with my students because I know them better. I really respect them and I can see better how my class and my coursework fits into their lives and future plans. It's pretty cool.

Ramadan begins tomorrow. That's the month when Muslims fast from sunup to sundown, then celebrate with family and friends at night. It's likely that Ramadan will change my class dynamic significantly (i.e. no coffee and chocolates to wire everyone up), yet I'm already looking forward to Ramadan feasts and late-night Ramadan volleyball matches. I hope they invite me!

Here's to the last weeks of summer, a wonderful group of students, and the feeling that I might have found a great career.

July 18, 2012

Turns out that I didn't really have anything to write about

Some people get cravings for chocolate and others for salty snacks. While I often crave these things, sometimes I also crave writing. I suppose there are few nerdier things that I could say, but it's true. Sometimes I just need to see my thoughts on the screen and send them off into cyberspace.

It's summer, but it feels strangely un-summer-ish because my job is on campus, I'm leading study groups, and I'm spending a solid 40 hours a week working on stuff--but my bank account doesn't show it. This must be what adult-summer is like. Boo.

The fresh air and warm evenings are summer-like, and I do appreciate them. I've even taken up after school pick-up volleyball games with students from the PIE (Program in Intensive English). My enthusiasm for volleyball has made a buzz around the school--it's a good thing! Even students who have never met me know that I'm the volleyball teacher. Of the many nerdy things I could be known for, I prefer this athletic prowess (no matter how contrived).

Teaching in the PIE is a good experience. That's a cliche. Anyway, I'm teaching advanced writing, which I am no stranger to. My students are the good the bad and poorly spelled. In fact, and I never saw this coming, spelling is a major issue. Some scholars call it "vowel blindness" that many Arabic speakers encounter as they learn English. Basically, in Arabic, the vowels are implied or otherwise understood; while in English, vowels are explicitly spelled, but the pronunciation is nothing short of random chance. So, words like "him" are spelled "hem", and words like "improve" are written "empruve". There are other, more baffling spelling choices that have come to amuse me very much. The word "barenc" for example, is a terrific misspelling of "parents". After reading these essays, I now appreciate the read-aloud strategy. In fact, I must read many words out loud to sound out "cost" from "casit". I blame English. The vowels in this language are useless.

Besides the spelling, my students entertain me with their essays. Just today, I read two narratives about the disappointing love lives of two students. Brave of them to write these stories and to admit defeat on paper, but hey, I appreciated the honesty. They are very sweet. Like a Little Debbie Zebra Cake. By the way, I could not get these guys to make an analogy for the life of me! I even said, "these make great pick-up lines!" They liked that part, but I guess it didn't translate into the essay. Pick up lines are usually not for essays, but that's not what I meant.

Besides leading vowel-blind lovebirds into the terrifying world of correct English spelling (though I refrain from dating advice), I am once again teaching Pilates. Some PIE teachers offer fitness classes for other teachers. It's wonderful. The resident Yogi is a fabulous teacher, but while he is on vacation in Japan, I'm filling the void with Pilates--the fitness regime no one wants to do. Actually, that isn't true. I've had good attendance so far. I was certified a few years ago, but time has a cruel effect on the body, and I feel once again like a novice.

Pilates may be unappealing to many--it is ab work after all--but studying for the comprehensive exam (a.k.a. the COMPS) has got to be the least palatable of my summer activities. I took it upon myself to organize a weekly study group to cover the seemingly infinite amount of information that we may need to know for the test. Somewhere between my uber-authoritative personality and my weekly motivational emails, I became, for lack of a better word: "Comps-god". Members or wanna-be members of the study group are constantly confessing to me how much or how little they've managed to study during the week, or how much they've been wanting to start studying, but just can't give up the Law and Order/Parks and Recreation/Portlandia marathons. Honestly, I tell them, it's none of my business. If you want to study and come to the group, that's awesome. If you don't want to, that's your decision. To me, it's strange to have people feeling so accountable for an optional thing that I set up. But I like it!

So, I've run down the basic stuff. PIE all the time, Pilates and the Comps. My boyfriend is there too (a summer highlight!). I may not feel like summer, but I am loving this lifestyle.

Ug. Another posts ends this way. It must be true. :)