Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fire in the hole

I had quite the mind-blowing day at work today. In the best way. The kind where I walk out thinking "Frak, I love my job!"

Started out first thing this morning with my Grammar class, as's full, with 16 students. Which can be quite a handful, since it's a super-low-level class. There's a lot of miming, and charades, and sound effects, and badly-drawn pictures involved. But it's also kind of fun. At the moment, all 16 of my grammar students are guys: 2 from Brazil, 2 Koreans, and 12 from Saudi Arabia. This last can make for an interesting - and loud - class, since culturally, it appears that he who shouts out answers fastest and loudest is considered the best student.

Now, to be fair, they are all pretty nice guys who are keen to learn, and who belie a lot of the stereotypes we Westerners might subject them to. I get little or no attitude from any of them, and the few that do give me trouble tend to do the same for all their teachers, regardless of gender or age. Still, every once in awhile, a few get caught out when their cultural ideas are challenged.

Like today. When I was explaining why it's better to use the term "police officer" instead of "policeman." "Because then you don't have to worry about finding a different word, regardless of whether the police officer is a man or a woman."

A few eyes bugged so far out of heads at that thought, it was funny. It got better, too. "Fill in the blank: My brother lives in Seattle with ______ wife."

Shouts from around the room: "MY!" "MY!" "MY!"

"So, you guys are saying that my brother lives in Seattle with my wife? Does that sound correct?"

Almost unanimously, "YES!"

"So...why doesn't my wife live in Vancouver with me, then?"

Again with the buggy eyes. It was brilliant. And then (I couldn't help myself), I asked about my brother and his husband. I love those little "teachable moments"!

So. That was Moment #1 today. Moment #2....well, you decide. In the afternoon speaking class, once a month, we have "monologues day". Students have to speak spontaneously on a topic I choose for them, with little or no time to prepare. The idea is that it's practice for a speaking proficiency test administered by the school. (OK, really it's an "oral" test, but I knew your minds would go all guttery on me if I said that. Dirty, dirty people!)

My set-up is this - I put a list of 12 numbered topics on the board, and give them a few minutes to talk with each other about general ideas (but not long enough to plan anything). Then they come up to the front one at a time and roll dice to determine which topic they'll have to speak on. It's random stuff - tell me about your best vacation, your favourite high school teacher, your worst holiday, which superpowers you'd like to have, etc.

One of the students in the class is an absolutely lovely young man. He's sweet, with a wicked sense of humour, and he always has a smile and something nice to say to everyone. One of those souls that just make you happy when you see them. He also happens to be from Iraq. And today, he volunteered to go first.

The question this student from Baghdad "rolled" was: "Tell me why your city is the worst in the world."

Well. Umm. Well. Ummm......

I'd have let him choose something else, except that he kind of chuckled, said "I'll have no problem with this one," sat himself down at the front, and started speaking very calmly and eloquently. There was no drama or self-pity in his delivery - he just spoke very simply and honestly about what he knew.

He told us that his city used to be the best in the world, but now it was the worst. He talked about living there under "the regime" and then with the sanctions, how people stopped caring about education and music and art, and only had time or energy to worry about surviving and getting enough to eat. How it came to seem that all anyone could think about was fighting each other. How he hoped that the new generation would change things, but he didn't know how their minds would be changed, or how they would learn anything else but fighting. But still, he hoped his city would be the best in the world again.

He choked up more than once, but he didn't hesitate. He went way over his 2-minute limit. There was no way I was going cut him off. (How do I mark that?!) He had half the class in tears. It was so powerful. And then he got up, went quietly back to his seat, and smiled encouragingly at the next student to go up. (And believe you me, after that, not a one of the rest balked at being asked to talk about super-powers or first dates!)

I could intellectualize it a whole bunch - how good it was for other people to hear that first hand, from a classmate they've come to know and like. How it puts a real face on the news stories we're so inundated with. How it puts a lot of things into perspective for those of us living with extraordinary privilege. How good it must have been for him to tell a little of his story, and have it really heard. And that would all be true.

But the truth is, I don't even know how to begin to articulate what went on in that classroom. And I don't know that I need to. Having been thoroughly humbled, and my mind blown wide open, I just needed to put it out there. So, there it is.

One of the many - and by far the most compelling - "teachable moments" that I get to learn from, too.

Yep. I do love my job.


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful thing :)
May i tell you about once when my daughter was mentoring a mentally challenged boy in high school? There was another boy in the class who constantly belittled and bugged the mc kid. It was grade 9 math i think. Anyhow Alicia was sitting with the mentored kid when the smartalec came in . He asked the teacher what to do as he didn't know how to do that days work since he'd missed the day before. Alicia pipes up and says " oh XXX can show you, he learned it yesterday '
:) I loved it when she told me and wasn't surprised when she won an award that year for mentoring lol.

Anonymous said...

know you are loved! A lot!

Anonymous said...

brought tears to my eyes...

Mommylion said...

Wow. Just wow. And a few tears.

Sarah, Grand-Dutchess of Serendipity said...

I appreciate your sharing. Thanks for the call today. The book is called "Three cups of Tea" You wont have any trouble finding it I'm sure. You'll like it. Love you lots!

Syd said...

Holy crap...Thank you for giving him the forum to bring this out. He sounds like he is going to be a very motivational person...I think we may be hearing more about him in the future! Teaching is the best at times isn't it?!

Anie said...

and you know what amazes me, is he probably had NO idea how much an effect this "monologue" would have...cuz and here we are, all responding with soulfelt connection. Life is pretty the not-knowing of how we can change each other all the the best ways..

Somewhere Else said...

Delurking: It is opportunities such as these that make all the other stuff fade away. Thanks for the reminder.