Monday, August 22, 2011

College level English class

Monday, 8-22-11

Some things I put on my long term to do list in hopes that someday I will be able to do them. Well today I got to do something off my list. I went to a college English class. I arranged ahead of time to go with Alejandro, Cecilia’s brother, to Usulután where he attends school. I put this on my long term things to do list when I knew I’d be coming down this year to teach. I was excited to compare the college English class with the English classes I teach. I’m also hoping to go to an English class at the high school sometime.

Class starts at 7:30am which means to get there on time we needed to leave on the 5:50am bus to Usulután. So I rolled out of bed this morning at 5:00am. I got ready and grabbed myself a piece of bread for breakfast then met Alejandro by the garage at 5:30am. We left the house and walked to where the bus would pick us up (it’s not exactly a bus stop). We were met by his friend, Juan, who also goes to school in Usulután. The bus pulled up and we hopped on. Ale and I squeezed into a seat that I’m pretty sure was meant for one person. I was a little confused but figured that’s just how people do it here in El Salvador.

The bus left around 5:50am. I opened my window right away since I tend to get hot on buses even when it’s cooler outside like in the morning. Eventually more and more people boarded the bus. All of the seats meant for one person were filled by two people and the seats meant for two were filled by three people with the occasional child sitting on someone’s lap. Once the seats were full people piled into the aisle. The name of this game is to shove as many people as humanly possible into the aisles as the bus goes along and makes several stops. The term “maximum capacity” does not exist here.

On top of the buses is where people are able to put their “load” if they have one. Their load may be anything from vegetables, fruits, bread, plants, flowers, etc. Most of the time the things people put on top of this bus are to sell in Usulután. There is a place close to Berlín where they have a lot of guisquils (vegetable) and Alegría has a lot of plants and flowers. There is one guy who helps people put things on top of the buses and another that collects money from everyone. You don’t pay as you get on the bus. Instead, someone squeezes around all the people and collects the fare. It was $1 to ride from Berlín to Usulután, and thankfully it’s a direct bus so we didn’t have to change buses in Santiago.

The ride is a little over an hour and I ended up falling asleep for about 20 minutes but woke up as we were approaching Usulután. When we made it to our stop we pushed our way out of the bus. From there, Ale told me, we’d either catch a ride with one of his friends who drives to school or we’d get on another bus. Fortunately, his friends were parked and waiting for us. We hopped in the car and drove another 8 minutes to the school. While his friends went to go park the car we walked inside passed the armed guard who asked Ale if he’d asked permission to bring a visitor. He said he did and we went to the classroom.

The classroom was full of about 30 people, only one girl (poor thing!) And it was very hot inside the classroom. Usulután is hotter than Berlín because it’s lower in elevation so it was probably in the 80s at 7:30am when class started. There’s no AC in the room which I’m sure makes it harder to sit through class. The professor came over to greet me and said she hoped I enjoyed the class. I told her I was looking forward to seeing what the class was like. Everyone was talking a lot but pretty soon things quieted down enough so she could get started.

During the class the professor spoke in both English and Spanish. Many times she’d say something in English and then repeat what she said in Spanish. Today the class was discussing adjectives. Everyone got out their workbooks that had been assembled for the class. I recognized the workbooks because I’d helped Ale with adjectives last week. We worked on adjectives for a while and then discussed other things in the workbook. Since everyone in the class is studying auto mechanics much of the class focuses on how to learn English for the auto mechanic trade. So there’s a lot in the workbooks that I don’t know.

There were a couple interesting things I noticed about the class. One thing is that all the students had to sign in on a sheet of paper. They all have a space for where they need to sign their names each class. The professor chastised the class about attendance because last Friday 14 people didn’t show up. Another thing I noticed was that all of the students (except the girl) were wearing a belt and had their shirts tucked into their pants. I asked Ale about this and he told me that this was required by all of his professors. When one student walked into the room and didn’t have his shirt tucked in the professor told him he had to tuck it in or he wouldn’t be allowed in class.

Throughout class I noticed that the professor seemed to face a lot of the same problems that I face as well in my classes, and after class she and I talked about our problems. The guys talking during class in one thing our classes have in common. I know this happens at schools in the US but it’s different here (though I’m not sure how to describe it). And sometimes a lot of time is wasted because the boys are laughing or goofing off during class instead of paying attention. Getting them to pay attention at the beginning of class is difficult. Also, a couple guys didn’t bring their notebooks to class, and when she asked them why they didn’t seem to have an answer. This happens frequently in my classes. I always make my students use another notebook to take notes if they forgot their English notebook.

Another thing the students in our class have in common is not wanting to try to speak English. This happened a couple times during the class I was sitting in on. I’ve had kids flat out refuse to practice saying something in English in my classes. I’ve found that getting over being timid when speaking English is a challenge for many kids. I tell them that they need to try and that it doesn’t matter if they don’t say something perfectly because we’re all learning together. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. With my younger students I sometimes say what they’re supposed to say in a higher voice and then I say something in my regular voice, thus having a conversation with myself. That usually makes them laugh which helps them relax.

Something I have much distain for, machismo, is another thing our classes have in common. Today during the class I was sitting in on a couple girls (other students) walked in to talk about something they were selling on Wednesday. At least five guys in the class whistled at them when they walked in. I wanted to chastise them but decided it wasn’t my place and they probably wouldn’t listen to me anyway. But when I’m teaching I talk to my students a lot about having respect for women. And I always tell them that if they don’t have respect for women then they are not welcomed in my class. Many times I’ve had to stop my fourth graders from whistling and shouting at girls from the girl’s school next to us.

I think several of the problems that the professor and I share seem to center on respect, or lack thereof, from the students we are teaching. Disrespect for women, teachers, authority figures, etc. is not uncommon in school nor when you’re out and about. In fact, it’s probably one of the things I struggle the most with in El Salvador. Some days I come home angry and frustrated and not sure what to do about the lack of respect. I could go on and on but I think I’ll save that tirade for another blog.

Ale's school

Lots of plants

After class was over several of us walked over to the little snack place to get some breakfast. It’s nothing fancy but of course they had the usual morning staples. Looking at what was prepared I chose casamiento (beans and rice), plantains, and something that looked kind of like a hash brown. I also got a Pepsi. We all sat down and chatted for a while. Several of Ale’s friends were asking me about how to say certain words and phrases and also pronounce things in English. His friend who lives in Berlín, Juan, who I’ve met several times really likes English and has a pretty good grasp of a lot of the basics. I had a good time; it was kind of like being back in college again.

When we’d finished eating they were discussing a project for another class. We ended up driving 20 minutes to the nearby town of Ozatlán where Ale’s friend, Milton, is from to work on the project. For their class they have to repair something not working and had found an old tractor somewhere to fix it. They needed to get pictures of the tractor and several pieces to show their professor today but had forgotten. However, I’d brought my camera with me (as usual) so they were able to borrow it to take pictures.

We spent maybe a half hour at the house. They took various parts from the tractor and laid them on a piece of roofing to get pictures. Oscar also posed for a picture with his jacket that he uses at the body shop where he works. Milton has several dogs so, of course, I had to take pictures of them. Milton told me all their names. They were definitely canton dogs but I still thought they were cute. After that we took off and drove back to Usulután. When we got back we showed the pictures to the professor and they explained what they were doing with the tractor.

The old tractor they need to repair

Boys and their toys

Arranging the parts

Taking out more parts

Different parts of the tractor

I recognize the dipstick

Top down view

I have no idea what this is

The mechanic, Donkey

He's a hard worker

Instructions (in English, which is why
they need the English classes)

Oscar pretending to do something

Princess and her pup

Cute yet kind of pathetic looking


Then we went to Ale’s next class. I’m not sure exactly what it was but it seemed like some kind of business class. He’d gotten permission so I could sit in on the class. This room was definitely hotter than the last one since it was close to midday and I immediately started sweating when we got inside. Plus the class was 1½ hours. I followed some of what they were talking about but not all of it. Business really isn’t my forte. I sat in on the class so I wouldn’t have to sit outside. And I stayed through that class, which was his last for the day, because it’s not smart for me to be riding buses here alone.

Class ended at 12:30pm and Milton gave us a ride to the bus stop near his home in Ozatlán. Oscar, Juan, Ale, and I all hopped on the bus about 10 minutes later. There was no sitting room but thankfully we were able to stand close to the door to get some air. You see, many times the bus driver doesn’t close the doors to bus because this allows people to enter and exit much faster. Sure there’s the risk that someone might fall out since the bus is jammed full of as many people as possible, but you try not to think about that as you whiz down the mountainous roads of El Salvador in a bus that wouldn’t meet safety regulations in the US. It’s all an adventure.

Less than a ½ hour later we exited the bus at Santiago de Maria to catch a different bus for Berlín. Juan, Ale, and I got off and walked about ¼ mile to the next bus stop area (remember, “bus stop” is a relatively lose term). By the bus stop we all got a hot dog to eat since we hadn’t eaten since right after the first class. “Hot dog” is a relatively lose term here as well. The hot dog had lots of curtido, ketchup, and what I think was mayonnaise. The “meat” itself was cut up into small pieces that to me looked suspicious. I’m not sure what kind of meat it was and afterwards I thought it probably wasn’t a good idea to be eating food like that.

Soon the bus showed up and we rode for less than a half hour to Berlín. We didn’t get seats right away on this bus either but eventually people got off and we were able to sit down. The ride went fast and before long we were back in Berlín. We got off by the high school and walked a couple blocks back home. I was tired and sweaty but glad I had the chance to make the trip. It was a fun day.

P.S. Although the hot dog did NOT make me sick I will probably refrain from eating that kind of hot dog in the future.

1 comment:

Matt said...

What an interesting day. I can't imagine many college professor's here requiring all their students to have their shirts tucked. I'm sure it was somewhat of a relief to see that the problems you have had with your students happens at the college level too. It's great that you were able to do this.