When I settled on English literature as my third and final major in college (I decided to leave Biology/Pre-Med behind when I realized that blood is scary, and then Broadcast Journalism was a just a long “I don’t feel like studying” break), I did it because I considered reading and writing fun. Yes, I’m a nerd, but it was a major I could feel passionate about and have fun with. Especially the linguistics and language history classes. I was aware of all the jokes about disappointing my parents, but given I was raised religious and turned out both gay and atheist, I clearly was unconcerned with the disappointment factor.
I never thought I’d teach, though. Don’t get me wrong; I have respect for teachers and have several in my family–my parents included. But I didn’t think I had the skill set or patience for it. I also wanted to carve out my own existence, and yet, here I am–approaching 40 (around the same age my mother was when she returned to school)–following in their footsteps.
I am taking the opportunity because I want to teach adults; I am still at that anticipatory honeymoon phase where I convince myself that adults who pay to learn English will actually care and thus make it a rewarding experience. I am not sure I would have the same enthusiasm for American high school students. Anyway, I lucked out. San Francisco State–about a mile away from my house–offered an intensive course over the month of October. Just in time for me to leave in November. Perfect!
Saturday (October 6th) was the first day in class. The class is a mix of 14 very enthusiastic adults from all cultures. Some want to teach ESL in the US, some Americans want to experience living overseas, and some are from other countries wanting to return and teach English at home. It’s pretty exciting to see such a diverse mix, as that was not my experience at the lily white Oklahoma Baptist University or University of Central Oklahoma.
It would have been better had the instructor not announced on the first day that he was retired military and a Christian. Let me say I’m not judging that, and respect people who serve in the military and who hold different religious beliefs. I believe it shows poor judgment, however, for an instructor to announce religious beliefs on the first day of a class unsolicited. I tend to wince when I hear people announce themselves this way (if you have to ask why, come see me after class), but I decided to go with the flow and chalk it up to our “get acquainted” session.
We were assigned a ton of homework that first day, and were also assigned a 15 minute lesson for the 2nd class. Intense, right? Sure, but it was fun. I was up until 2 that night, poring over my books and carefully crafting my lesson. It made me feel like I was back in college, as most of my best work back then was done around 2AM, 6 hours before it was due. Part of the assignment was to take self-quizzes and assess our own learning and teaching skills. I am an auditory learner with a smidgen of the tactile, which means you have to both tell me how to do something and then let me do it on my own (If you try to actually show me, I will tune you out and make believe I am being interviewed about my latest novel that is both literary and a smash pop success). None of this came as a surprise, but it was fun taking the quizzes and learning how to incorporate all three learning styles into the same lesson (something the best teachers always do). Here is a shot of one of my fun quizzes. This one told me I am a “Shakespeare” and to never attempt any kind of sports activities (also something I knew):
I prepared what I thought to be the most amazing lesson seen since that 80’s movie where Edward James Olmos teaches inner city kids Calculus. I even had visual aids and a fun matching game! I decided I was going to inject my love of cooking into the lesson as well. I couldn’t go wrong, right? Here is proof I did my homework!
Staying true to form, I was the first to raise my hand and volunteer to give my lesson first. This is the tactic I employed in high school to both become Valedictorian and to get beaten up a lot. I thought it went well, until Mr. “Announce My Private Religious Beliefs” started the critique sessions. Ouch.
I understand that this whole exercise was to throw us into the water to see if we could learn to swim, but I don’t think he should have made that one girl cry. He was pretty brutal to everyone, except the guy who has already been teaching for several years. On the upside, when everyone gets ripped a new one, no one feels singled out. Maybe that was his plan.
What should not have been his plan, however, were the following. All of the following happened the second day of class. It is going to sound made up, but I promise it all happened. I am still dumbfounded.
*While he was introducing a standard “ESL game,” he divided the class into three groups. He called the first two groups “The Good” and “The Bad.” He said he didn’t want to call the 3rd group “The Ugly” as that would be insulting, but he also didn’t want to call it “The Pretty” because “that would be gay.” Yep. He said it. And not only did he say it, he flipped his hand out and did the limp-wrist thing and used the stereotype/lisping gay voice as he said it. In San Francisco. In a class with at least 2 gay guys and a scary looking lesbian that I would not want to piss off. Unfuckingbelievable, right? But wait! There’s more!
*One of the guys in the class is from Saudi Arabia, and we were discussing what it means to be fluent. My fellow student claimed he was not fluent, and the teacher used this as a teaching moment to explain that the concept is subjective. He then told the student–believing it to be a compliment, I’m sure–that he most certainly was fluent. I believe he put it this way: “You speak English a great deal better than all those homies in the hood or the ghetto!” Yeah. That also happened.
*The same guy from Saudi Arabia was later discussing how names work in his country, explaining that “bin” typically means “son of.” At this point, knowing what we all did about the instructor, I’m sure my fellow students were silently thinking–right along with me–“Please don’t ask about bin Laden, please don’t ask about bin Laden, please don’t…” when the instructor did just that. “So bin Laden means son of Laden then?” he asked, while the rest of us hid our faces in our hands. The student was very gracious, though, and explained that in this case it just happens to be a common surname (like Johnson in English, which also used to mean “son of John”). I admired his restraint. But wait. It gets even better.
*With the conversation still on everyone’s mind (and this is the nicest way I can possibly explain what happened), the instructor announced it was time for the next lesson presentation. It was the Saudi student’s turn, so the instructor said “It’s your turn, Osama.”
So the old James would take this opportunity to bitch and moan about how horrible the class is to endure. I am more laid back and positive in my older age, and I can see the positives here. First of all, my classmates are amazing, driven people from diverse backgrounds and I can learn a lot from them. I am excited in general about being back in a college course. And Mr. Offensive as the instructor now adds an awesome train wreck quality to the course. I find myself giddy with “kid on the night before Christmas” excitement wondering what kind of idiotic thing he will say in the next class.