Friday, September 24, 2010

Higher/Lower/Lowest Education

ask3r (you may remember him from an earlier post) came in late today, took a long time to write the grammar test, and finally needed to finish it in office hours.  No problemo.  He joined two others, but after they left he asked for more help.

He came to the United States with his family when he was 14 and his younger brother was 5.  The younger brother "caught" the language--this confusing English language--but ask3r (not his real name) has not.  He is struggling.  He struggles with understanding what I say in class (I probably move about 300% faster than he is capable of comprehending), struggles with the reading of the novel, struggles with reading in the textbook and struggles with the 6 or 7 practices that accompany each grammar lesson.

So we work together on Subject-Verb agreement, and I begin to explain the charts of the conjugation of the verb "to be," "to have," and "to do."
--What is to do? he asks.  From what follows I gather that he wants me to translate it with my limited Spanish.  I do that.
--"Es hacer," I say.  "To do is the same as the Spanish verb hacer."
--He borrows my pen (he only has a pencil) and carefully writes in his book "aser."

I realize then that he doesn't know his own, his native language. This is a gap that all my enthusiasm, my scribblings on the whiteboard, the carefully executed Powerpoints from the textbook manufacturer, or my painstakingly written handouts can't address.  ask3r is in over his head in my class, and it's the lowest English class we teach.

He makes progress through the practices, making good use of my Office Hour, and asks if we can meet again on Friday for another hour.

This is where it gets dicey for me.  While I like helping students and really enjoy teaching, I am only paid for the hours I teach; this semester I teach 8 hours a week.  I also receive part-time pay for "professional development/student contact" up to 8 hours per class per semester.  The practical application of this is that after the lesson prep and grading are figured in, I make less than do most of my students at their Starbucks barrista-type jobs.  I have two new classes I'm teaching, with two new preps.  Frankly, it's all been a bit much this semester.  And do I want to add in student tutoring to the mix?  Do I want to get ask3r through these junior high basics on my own time?  For no pay?

The problem is bigger than just him.  He is one of three in my class that could use this time.  H., a Hmong immigrant, cheerfully sits in front of my desk, a smile on his (mostly) blank face.  L., an older student, is intent, sits next to him, and struggles through his own language issues to maintain a C average. But it's not just that some of my students are learning in different languages.  I'd originally planned to test the students on three chapters at a time (eg: Pronouns, Apostrophes and Parts of Speech), but at their request I winnowed it down to two items, and this week the test addresses only one chapter.  I hate to admit this, but I have resorted to making up the test early.  Then as I review the entire chapter in class, I hone in those parts that will be on the test.  And this last one, I even took some of the test questions from their practices, dumbing it down further.  I don't think I can go any lower and still look myself in the eye.

All of this is to say it's been a long week.  I've got grading for their class to do, lesson prep, and yet I'm going to pile it all in the corner and sew the binding on my Christmas quilt.  The holidays are right around the corner and believe you me, they can't get here fast enough.


Judy said...

This is why I swore I would never be a teacher. I saw my mom, who truly loved what she did, burn out week after week on too much work and too little support from The Powers That Be. How did I get sucked into teaching? Sigh. It's in our genetic code, E. We are doomed.

Artax said...

Yes, I understand too. For me, that request for the extra office hours cuts into my sacred research time. At the end of the day, no one cares if you fail, lone student, as long as I publish good papers. I will lose my job for spending research time helping you. Every semester I arm myself with carefully crafted schedules and carefully organized time, as well as lists of tutors and outside help. But it still hurts.

sterling said...

What is your fundamental motivation for being involved in such out of class assistance? Does this motivation relate to your own inner reward system and not the school's? Finally, how much would you pay to teach? Is the amount more or less than you are presently receiving?