Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Back at it

For the past three weeks, my life has been relatively quiet after all the travel I did in December. Things at my school are going pretty well. I have come to accept my job as just that a job and nothing more. Some days are really great and others I feel completely worthless. The problem that makes this challenging is that I don’t have much control over the tasks I am given so it is difficult for me to improve the situation. For example, on Wednesdays, I pretty much spend the entire day translating a textbook from English to Spanish. Now, this seems like a waste of my time for multiple reasons including the fact that history textbooks quickly go out of date and are no longer used, I could compile the equivalent information from doing a couple of google searches, and most importantly I am not spending any time with the students. A large part of the reason I am here is to help students with their accent and oral comprehension and to teach them about American culture. These areas cannot be addressed if I don’t see the students. Thus, on Wednesday I often feel like a mouse on wheel spitting out translations that I don’t think the students will ever see or really use.

However, not all my days are like this. Some days are great. Last Tuesday, inauguration day, I walked into a class and my students started cheering Obama. Because the actual teacher had not arrived yet, I started a discussion about Obama and what they knew. When the teacher arrived a couple of minutes later, she let the discussion continue for the entire period. It was so nice to see my students enthusiastic about a topic and also quite knowledgeable. Many of my students mentioned that they hoped Obama would close Guantanamo and I found myself thinking how many 7th graders in the US even know Guantanamo exists.

Right now my school is gearing up for a model UN conference. Bilingual students from all over Madrid will participate in the conference. It is a lot of work for the students and the teachers. The students are assigned a country and must research their country’s opinion on the given issue which is TB, malaria, and infectious diseases. They will need to be able to discuss and defend their country’s position which is not easy considering English is their second language. For the teachers, it can be quite difficult because if the students do not do the research it is impossible to help them.

Currently, the students are writing position papers regarding how their country views TB, Malaria, and infectious disease. During this process, it is becoming quite clear that the students have never really been asked to write a research paper or for that matter a regular composition before. Most papers completely lack organization but what bothers me the most is that the students don’t understand what plagiarism is. Not only are they copying other people’s work, it is clear they do not understand all of the concepts in their paper and do not actually understand the material. Therefore, the next couple of weeks will be devoted to helping the students improve their position paper and teaching them how to research more effectively.

Outside of school, things have been pretty low key. I have started to tutor a four year old girl in English. Basically, we play games, and I read to her. The other day I was doing an alphabet puzzle with her and she told me it was missing pieces, that the ñ was missing. Then I had to explain that in English there is no ñ but I thought the girl was pretty perceptive to notice its absence.

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