25 February 2009

Recent teaching

It’s been a whirlwind the last few weeks at school, but I’ll start with the best and move on from there.

About two weeks ago during the kružok, one of my students asked me straight out if I “actively propagated anarchism.” I was rather floored on the spot, because I am super careful about what I say about politics. Mostly because I’ve had some teachers who were not, and I ended up being briefly brainwashed into libertarianism and mild fascism, which was not so pleasant in retrospect. So, being the Socraticesque teacher that I aspire to be, I said, “well, what does anarchism mean to you?” To which all five of them who were there said that it meant that you could do whatever it was that you wanted. I asked them if that meant they may also hurt other people, and that provided enough food for thought for that hour.

Then last week, we were talking about music, and I asked them if they wanted to hear some American folk music – they said sure. So I carefully planned a playlist (not intending to use them all, but with enough flexibility for it to be a good, improvisationable teaching tool) and gave a short lecture with the intention that they leave realizing that all of the rock and roll and techno and Lady Gaga and whatever else they listen to ultimately has roots in the African-American musical tradition (meaning, Elvis should not be given too much credit for inventing rock n' roll):
Michael Row The Boat Ashore - Pete Seeger
Ha ha this a way - Leadbelly
Skip to My Lou - Pete Seeger
Pick a bale of cotton - Leadbelly
Gonna Die With My Hammer In My Hand - The Williamson Brothers
This Train (Bound for Glory) - Big Bill Broonzy
Keep Your Hand On the Plow - Mahalia Jackson
Sinner Man - The Weavers
Rock Island Line - Leadbelly
Rock Island Line - The Weavers
Goodnight Irene - The Weavers
This Land Is Your Land - Pete Seeger
We Shall Overcome - The SNCC Freedom Singers
Where Have All The Flowers Gone? - Pete Seeger
Chimes of Freedom - The Byrds
A Change Is Gonna Come - Sam Cooke
Rock And Roll Music - Chuck Berry
Travelin' Band - Creedence Clearwater Revival
Summertime Blues - Eddie Cochran
Sixteen Tons - This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb

So most of this is lost on the first group I did this with, but I know that they had never heard the likes of Leadbelly before. I did prepare them that we would end up with some punk, to show them the progression, and towards the end there’s some good classic rock n’ roll. But this was all mostly lost on them.

Then today, with one of my favorite groups (favorite because they’re mostly well-disciplined without me having to say anything), there were like three kids absent and I gave them a choice (remembering the best advice on teaching I’ve gotten so far, which is to never give the kids a choice): to watch a video of Top Gear about free running (which I had done with another of my groups this week), or listen to some American folk music. Delighting me, they chose the latter.
Right now, this group is learning American geography, but not any American history, yet (which is fine, because how much Slovak history did I ever learn in school? If the Munich Agreement/Betrayal can be counted, that would be it, and that’s Czechoslovak history.) So we talked in very simple terms about how there was slavery in America and then people organized themselves in the civil rights movement so that everyone would be equal. And then I asked them if everyone in Slovakia is equal. One kid said, yes, except for the Roma (their Roma classmate was one of the three absent today, and I wonder how this would have gone if she had been there). I asked him why, and he said because they were a different color and because they spoke a different language. So I asked him if we could agree that color didn’t matter, and they agreed, so I asked about the Hungarians that live in Slovakia, because some of them don’t speak Slovak and they are still equal in Slovakia, right? Ahhhh, touché!

So then, I put on the SNCC Freedom Singers singing “We Shall Overcome” and we translated the title together. They listened to it for a bit, and then another kid asks me if that was the American national anthem. If only, kid. If only. So, again, I was pleasantly floored by these kids, even if they don't always realize what they're saying.

Last Wednesday was the Carneval at school. I went as Ratatouille. This was a big hit. Some of my other colleagues dressed, two in Slovak kroj, one in a sari, and there was an elephant and cat. The group of teachers that teaches the first level (1-5 grades) was a basketball team together, and another of the teachers was a baby. She needed someone to push her around in the stroller (obviously, the Carneval behavior is what in America usually happens for Halloween, but I like this infinitely better) so she asked one of her fellow sisters (who does not teach in the school but who is an awesome actress and incredibly lovely outgoing person) to dress as her mother. So she put on a fringy knit vest, round John Lennon sunglasses, and a long blonde curly wig. Her hair is a graying brown, which was showing a bit from under the wig (though is normally not seen since she still wears the old style veil), so she had this supercute hangover hippy look like Dharma’s mom Abby on Dharma and Greg. There was no one to be the moderator of the second level’s (6-9 grades) Carneval, so she did it and did an awesome job.

I never believed in the power of the full moon before, but now I totally do. Once a month, there is a time when even the best groups act up, and are absolutely uncontrollable, and I can’t figure out why until I look at the calendar and see the full moon looming up at me. It’s ridiculous that such a thing (the full moon) is even an issue, but I swear it is.

Also, I am really sick of past tense irregular verbs.

Today I got the chance to miss my fifth hour (excellent since they’re slightly behind on some grammar and it was going to do them good to be together, plus there was the small detail of the aforementioned lunar phenomenon) and go across the street to the gymnasium to observe a language class in their new language lab.

Omgz amazing.

First off, this was the first time I’d actually observed someone else teaching here. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this school looked more like an American school – or even more American than an American school. There were flat screen monitors on every floor with announcements and the Slovak equivalent of CNN, and all kinds of other multimedia, plus the walls were covered in posters and stimulating things – which to a lesser extent exists at our school, too. Then, and this was truly amazing, they had rows of computer kiosks with high-volume printers on every floor.

The class was awesome, not even because of the technology, which was impressive (laptops, headsets for dialogues and communicating with the teacher that caused the room to be so quiet, etc) but because of one thing that was there: a rubric! I've been thinking about rubrics for a while now, and then I saw one here and realized I could do this. Especially because the first thing on the rubric had to do with creativity in language. If there's one thing I am constantly telling the kids, it's that language is a creative act, regardless of what language they're speaking.

There was more, but this was highly inspirational, and I'm kind of looking forward to preparing some new things to do with them. My few hours at the high school every week are also a joy -- I have a good time with them.

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