Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ohhhh geez

It's not even five AM. We survived 11-11-11.

This past week was insane! I was booked for all six time slots I think...

The one that I'm remembering the most was with an ESL student who had only known English for a year and a half and yet was now in English 102 writing lengthy photo essays.



When I asked him how long he'd known English, I was expecting for him to say that he had to learn it in Japan at a young age or something...
I cannot imagine how much of his energies over the last year and a half have been about nothing but this language we use everyday. It defines us. How his dreams and surely nightmares have included monsterous and battered English words chewing holes into his brain. (sorry. had to run with it) And he's had to work so unimaginably (unimaginably for me at least) hard to just be able to make it through classes. I am seriously blown away by him, but also I felt quite scared and he really getting what he needs? What's it like for him in his classes when a professor may talk quickly, or when he hears so many conflicting forms of English and wants so badly for one of them to just be the right one?
It made me crumble at the thought of how alienating and frightening just this language could be. Yes, he seemed to be doing really well with it, but crap...two years ago he didn't have a lick of it, and now it is what his college career is largely dependent upon.

The session itself was also extremely notable for me. I had never had a student exhibit such palpable nervousness before. And here was this writer, barely whispering responses, literally hugging his backpack and fidgeting with the zippers (for at least the first 20 of 30 minutes). As I expected, he had a very hard time with articles, and basically just ended up asking me straight out how they work. I was so glad he asked, and I didn't have to skirt around wondering if I was being insultingly obvious. I'm sure asking is what has gotten him as far as he has in English also. Like really, when you don't know, ask. You can't just figure out English if you aren't given the (weird) workings of it. I wondered if asking when you don't know is potentially a cultural taboo, but that he has maybe adjusted to our weird, sick American ways enough to be able to. i might be thinking too much...his direct question though really threw me off, especially remembering how Asian students at the community college in California I where I worked used to never want to ask anything, nor have most ESL writers in the Center.
Sooo I'm a geek and of course I love explaining articles. Which are necessary, which aren't, why whether or not something is countable or not countable matters.
I'm just so glad he straight-out asked me. I know it's small, but that gesture that I feel is probably culturally unfamiliar to him is probably really healthy to incorporate himself further into life in college in the US. And it was a required visit, but he definitely wanted to be there.

OH! So backpack hugging. Totally stopped hugging the backpack by the time we were almost done! It was still there on his lap, but no longer was he clinging to it, fiddling with the zippers. Yay. Backpack remained on his lap. But that's fine. He relinquished his hold. Yay again.

Ohhh and I SO knew he was going to ask me something when he did, and I was able to make him laugh which I think helped a lot! He asked me if I'd seen other students in this same class, and I said yes, I think I have. (I knew it was coming...) Then he asked me how his paper compares to theirs. I was like ahhhhh I KNEW you were going to ask me that! He actually laughed and turned a little red and asked again. I said that I definitely cannot tell him, and we ended on that note. When we were wrapping up and we said goodbye, he seemed so much lighter. I definitely did not "fix" his paper at all. Part of me feels gross because I know that there were still some English "mistakes" in it that his professor might take a red pen to. But we only had 30 minutes, and I got him to stop hugging his backpack, to ask me a straight-up question, and to LAUGH.

I've thought a lot about him since, and how cold and scary university life must be...just purchasing food or finding your way to class on the first day...taking lecture notes in an alphabet that doesn't come second nature...I could go on and on.
I sincerely hope he comes back.
He definitely seemed to me to be an extremely dedicated goal-oriented student. He wanted his paper perfect, I know. It was quite good I must say (as were the photographs), especially in terms of his development of ideas, but was it without error by the time we finished? No.

I really hope that the way I explained articles resonates and suffices also. He seems like the type of student who probably only needs to be told something once, because with his focus, I doubt he's going to let information just slip (like traditional college students tend to do).

I've gone on and on about him, I know. It was not a fairy dust session. I was nervous too, but really forced my body to be relaxed and open hoping that my mind would catch on. It was though, a thought-provoking, and overall very productive session. That laugh is what's resonating.

Been having some really MASSIVE papers in other 30 minute sessions. 9 pager, a 12 pager, and a freaking 15 pager. Ieee! In those times, seeing that fat paper, it's so tempting to skimp out on rapport, but I'm forcing myself not to. The effectiveness of "So how's your day goin' so far?" and letting that carry on a little is terrific, and trying to get rapport in as we look at the paper has been good too. As well as "what are your biggest concerns with this piece?" I actually felt winded after some of these sessions, but holy crap, I've been learning a lot...
I've learned about the life of a Presbyterian minister, some of the logistics of the Health Care debate that I didn't know, the origins of Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boise, the ethical concerns that a nurse must face on the job, and that listening to heavy metal music does not increase violent behavior in teens! Rad.

On a side note, I've really enjoyed being in the Center this past week when I wasn't on duty, so that I got to hang out with co-workers who aren't on the clock at the same time as me. I stayed late on Wednesday straight through after my shift ended to finish my Article Analysis. Just the right amount of seriousness with ridiculousness present for me to be able to hole myself up in the OWL to work, and then pop out for an anecdotal laugh every now and then.

WC is a beautiful place. Fo shizzle.

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