Wednesday, August 27, 2003

I Want Speaking English Naturally
Today was my long day, perhaps the longest I will have all semester, but it was actually rather good. I just in general had fun. But since I haven't blathered on about what my life in grad school is actually like so far, I guess I should start at the beginning and go from there.

I got up at 7:30. Or rather, that's when the alarm went off. I actually got out of bed at 8, but whatever. At 8:25, I was out the door to bike to school from my 8:45 class. Let me take a moment here to rhapsodize about my bike. I love my bike. It is a beautiful bike. It is all shiny and brand new, with a yellow and silver/gray paint job, really spiffy shifters, front shocks, a properly adjusted seat, and I have named it Limonade, after the excellent French drink Heather tried to addict me to in France a few weeks ago. (She says she knows where to get it here in Michigan. Mmmmm, Limonade.) It takes me 20 minutes to bike from my apartment to Wells Hall, the building in which I will basically live for the next 2-3 years. Biking to school is excellent fun, because the ride is mostly flat, especially compared to the monster hill I climbed every day in Japan, and I had sort of forgotten how fast bikes can go. It's sort of like returning to middle school. Also, it's not very hot that early in the morning.

I got to campus about 2 minutes before my class started, locked my bike right outside of Wells, and got to class right on time. Yay! My morning class on Mondays and Wednesdays is Second Language Acquisition (SLA), and seeing as this is what I want my specialty to be, I have high expectations for enjoying this class. So far, these expectations have bourne true. The teacher is Prof. Susan Gass, who is the director of the ELC (English Language Center, where I work), and she seems excellent. She's also the one who hosted the departmental potluck last Friday, which I'll backtrack and report on later, I think. I took it as a good sign that the first out-of-textbook reading assigned for this class was the first two chapters of Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, a most excellent book for everyone, not just students, which I recommend to absolutely everyone. I own two copies of the book myself, and I read it last year in Japan for fun.

After that class got out at 10, I had 2.5 hours of free time, which I spent in the TA office in the ELC. For those who may care, the ELC is on the 7th floor of the A wing of Wells Hall. The TAs have a brand-spanking-new workroom, in which we each have brand new desks with our own computers. We have been told we will soon be getting dividers between the desks, plus filing cabinets to fit underneath. This is apparently very swanky compared to what they had last year. I came at the right time, it would seem. I used my time in my office to do some lesson planning for my first day of classes, make an information worksheet for the class, print out the syllabi to be reviewed during practicum in the afternoon, and make copies of them all. The exciting thing was that I made the copier make two sheets of paper into one double-sided page, without asking anyone any questions! Yay for working technology.

Then, after lunch, it was time to teach my first day of real classes. I am a TA, which in this case means full instructor, in the IEP (Intensive English Program) of the ELC. I suppose I should explain the ELC more fully, but I'll do that later. Right now, I'll just say that I teach Level 1 Listening/Speaking and Grammar classes. Basically, this means that I teach the Level 1 students from 12:40 to 2:50 MTThF. (Yes, today is Wednesday, but it was just for the first week.) Today we just did a lot of intro stuff, but my students were awesome! They all, every single one, spoke English in class, the whole time. Perhaps my standards were set a bit low by teaching in Japan last year. 11 of my students are Japanese, 7 are Korean, and 2 are from Mali in W. Africa. I started by getting them to fill out the information sheets, then had them make pairs, talk for a few minutes, and then introduce their partner to the class. They were supposed to say "the most interesting thing" about the other person, in addition to their name and country, while the rest of the class took notes. They were so involved in their conversations with their partners, I let them go over time. After the presentations, they had to find someone else in the class to talk to about the "interesting things." For the most part, they all spoke to people from other cultures as well.

After the break, I presented the Evening College brochures and invitations to go to the baseball game this Friday. Many of them found classes they were interested in in the Evening College brochure, such as the astronomy class, art classes, and the woman from Mali who's a PhD candidate who found the "Writing for Publication" class. I was impressed. They were highly amused when I tried to get them excited about the baseball game by telling them, "If you don't go to a baseball game while you are in the US, and tell people 'no, I didn't go' when you go home, they will say, 'What? Go back to America and come back when you've seen a baseball game!'" I don't think I convinced them, though.

Then I had them make groups and discuss what would be important things to do in the classroom, as students, and as a teacher. When they were done, they wrote their ideas on the board. All the classroom and student ones were the usual don't be late, speak loudly, do your homework, speak English ones. The best one was, "We need to make friendships with each other, so we can have communication." Two groups came up with that one. For suggestions for the teacher, I got use the blackboard, explain answers of individual questions to the whole class, be tough on homework but easy on tests, and eat lunch with them sometimes.

After class was over, I had an hour and a half before the TA practicum class. This is the class that runs 4:30 until 7:30, but it's only once a week, and it is highly practical, as it is only the TAs for the ELC meeting with our supervisor to discuss teaching our classes very specifically. Alissa, our supervisor, will give us advice about, for example, making syllabi, or grading, or classroom techniques. Today was pretty much all syllabi.

And then I cycled home, in a very good mood.

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