Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Teacher Mike

I’ve had quite a few different jobs throughout my life.

These have ranged from selling shoes to pissed-off soccer moms at Sports Authority and managing money at the CoHo to delivering flags for Nancy Pelosi and arguing with douchey reporters about why they should talk to my client; however, none of these could have possibly prepared me for what would prove to be my greatest challenge yet—teaching children a foreign language.

In other words; teaching is really, really hard.

Since the students at Nueva Esperanza knew little to no English, I decided to make my first lesson as basic as possible—teaching the two phrases, Hello, my name is and What is your name?

As I entered my first class, a potent mixture of adrenaline and caffeine powered through my veins. When my students saw me enter, they erupted in excited Spanish chatter, a few identifiable Teacher Mike! ’s strewn in here and there.

After my Colombian co-teacher helped me calm the class to what passes for quiet in Colombian classrooms, I wrote TEACHER MIKE on the board.

Asking for volunteers.
Turning to the class, just as I had done in the courtyard a week before, I pointed to myself and slowly said, “My name is Teacher Mike. Tee-chur Mike.”

Based on the look they gave me, I might as well have been speaking Klingon. In the dumbfounded silence, crickets could have heard crickets.

My co-teacher helped me to act out a basic introduction, using the two phrases. After we did it a few times, I hoped my students realized I was attempting to teach them a language originating on Earth, not Planet Qo’noS.

I asked for two volunteers to come up in front of the class. Again, there was confusion. Finally, the students got the idea and I chose two students to come forward. I explained for them to display what they had learned by using the phrases on each other, pointing to the board to indicate what I wanted.

Doing my best not to lose it.
“Ask, What is your name,” I said to one student, pointing at the other.

More figurative crickets.

“Repeat after me,” I said, “What is.”

“Wot iss,” the student said.

Your name,” I continued.

“Yoa nah-may,” the student repeated.

Naym,” I emphasized.

“Naym,” the student said.

Close enough, I thought.

The other student looked at me, smiling but without a clue as to what to do next.

I gestured to the board and said, “Now you say, My name is…”

“Mai nahm is…” the student began, hesitating, “Teacher Mike!”

FML, I thought.

Doing my happy dance when they finally got it.
After I corrected the students, I had more pairs come up to practice. Eventually, the students seemed to catch on and started using their own names instead of mine.

When the class ended, I gathered my things and moved on to the next classroom to do it all over again.

Aristotle once said, “Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.”

After finishing my first week of teaching at Nueva Esperanza, I believe this maxim should be amended to include: “Those who teach, require cerveza.”

Lucky for me, in Colombia, beer only costs about 75 cents.

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