Tuesday, September 29, 2015

     Teachers can be the best and worst students. Yesterday, I tutored a university French student at 4:30 and attended my Italian class at 6:00.  As a veteran teacher who has studied foreign language methodology for what seems like a century, I was struck by my reactions in both situations.
     My new student is trying to pass his French proficiency exam in two months, and he wants me to help him. First of all, the course he is taking is an online course, so he has no teacher/student contact. He is very bright and is looking forward to graduating with a degree in finance. This is a red flag to me as a foreign language teacher. My read on this is that he has no interest in learning French; he just wants to be done with it. As a francophile, this
hurts, but if I were his Mom, I’d just want him to get through it and go get a job paying gazillions of dollars doing what he loves. The problem is that what he is asking me to do is to teach to the test. This goes against everything I believe about teaching anything, much less trying to teach him tricks on how to recognize the correct word from the multiple choice list. This will be a real challenge, as he could not have passed my high school French I class. He is a very polite, motivated young man, but I do not want to be responsible for his passing this test in two months when he doesn’t know what conjugating a verb means. Oh, my. Can you get sued for failing to teach to the test?
     I left him, walked across campus to my Italian class. The temperature in this classroom is about 40 below, and the teacher is a native speaker who has no clue how to teach adults. The class is full of 60-somethings who are headed to Italy in the spring. They are eager to know how to order from the menu and find the biffy, but most seem to know very little Italian. Last night, after the professor spoke in English for 48 minutes about her native city, Verona, she began to actually teach some Italian. I asked the lady next to me if the tour was going to Verona. She didn’t know, but she was hanging onto every word the instructor said and laughed at every story, exclaiming, “I love this woman!” Ok, then. I am apparently one of the few who would like to learn the language and speak it one day. She taught at least four major concepts in two hours with no break from the frigid. She showed us the numbers from 1 to 1000, and then took the slide down and quizzed us. Hmm. Then she put the slide up with the months of the year on it. She pronounced them once and proceeded to mix up all the letters on the next slide, asking us to unscramble each month and be ready to tell her our birthdays. Hmm. I felt sorry for the students who had no Italian background, as they must have been clueless. One woman finally said, “Ah, could we have a handout?” No handouts. Now I am not a native speaker like this professor, but I am an eager learner, so I was totally frustrated, and I’ve been studying from books and discs for two months prior to signing up for this “conversational” class. 

      So the take-away from these two experiences begs the question:  Are you sure you want to do this, Fifi? Notsomuch.