If I had more hair, I'd be tearing them out in handfuls right about now

Be warned, PTSD readers: What follows is the blogpost equivalent of my wanting to slam my door, turn up the music really loud (Manic Street Preachers, please. Or, early Silverchair) and throw a few things at the wall.

While E continues to decide whether or not to slag off BigNameTheorists and teases us with pictures of the Great Wide Canadian Wilderness, I finally have a moment (in between trying to find my only book on social network analysis, so that I can draw up a network between now and tomorrow evening) to contemplate my navel and reflect upon the past couple of days.

Two things deserve mention here: 1) first class on Monday, and 2) the two-week training for teaching to students whose first language is not English that I'm participating in. In a nutshell, the first might have possibilities of improvement and, at the worst, it will be a "learning experience" for the students and for me. The second is not only a train wreck but a train which hit numerous dumpsters where dead, rotten animal and plant products had been stored.

First things first: one the subject of 1), I can confidently say things didn't go brilliantly. Even calling it “well” might be a bit of an exaggeration. The classroom itself, halfway across the uni from E and mine department, was a small, cramped room with no (yes, none) projectors or any other means of visually showing slides and such to the masses. This meant, rather like oppressed natives, the students were ready to revolt. That they didn't was mainly due to my having ended the class early, I reckon. As much as I would like to claim it was my scintillating talking that kept them glued to their seats until I gave them permission to go, I don't think that was the case at all.

On clothing, I was there as “academically” turned out as it gets. I think E, especially, would have found it vastly amusing how "professional" I looked. Realistically, I looked like someone (probably a posh restaurant) had given me time off from waiting tables--starched cream (collared, of course) shirt and a black skirt (with thin white stripes and a flowery pattern—my only concession to quite possibly not looking like I had accidentally walked in from the nearest French restaurant). Oh, and heeled shoes.

But, any potential authority I gained then was rapidly lost when, the next day (today), I ran into what seemed like half my class while I was on my way to the training session. What was I wearing today, dear PTSD readers? Well, since we are in the midst of a heatwave, I had on a singlet top (with the picture of a Yak on it) and another one of my granny skirts. More Takoma Park than American academia. Hopefully, the kids will have forgotten this by Thursday or else the whole “wearing academic dress” would have been a practice that died a rapid (and unmourned) death.

On the second subject, that of being trained to teach kids whose first language is not English, I can say that I have managed to offend (and quite possibly completely piss off) my supervisor/trainer. The whole point of this two-week exercise is to “facilitate understanding of how students from different cultures write differently”. Now, I have few issues with students all writing differently--despite making (part of) my living as a Writing tutor, I reckon we all do the actual practice of writing in different ways. It is when we start talking about how “Arab students write like X” or “In Japan, it's common to do Y” that things really start to get annoying*. Without actually meeting this Arab student or talking to her in person, how do I know how she writes? In other words, this training (and I just came from a four-hour session) and many others like it at TUWSNBN, assumes we are teaching a category called “international students” or, more specifically, “Chinese student” rather than just “student”.

Depending on where they grew up, where they went to school and what type of schooling they did, private school students from China are likely to have more things in common with a similar student here in the USA rather than with someone who went to a rural school in China. And, at trainings like the one I attended today (and will be attending for the next ten days), this aspect is often ignored as (like today) we get into debates about whether students from Singapore are more likely to have problems with writing as compared to those from South America.

One of the exercises today was this: all eight teachers were given an essay that had been written by an international student and we were told to role-play (in pairs) about how to respond to it. My point that one doesn't actually respond to a paper but to the student and their views about what they wanted help with (and what they thought was wrong with the paper) was not well received. Same paper, different students = different reactions on the part of the teacher (or so I maintain). Yes, culture matters but, equating culture only with nationality or region, as many of these trainings seem to do instead of looking at cultures, in the plural, is completely idiotic. All right, I'll say it (and did, actually): It's really a waste of time which I could have spent working on AnotherBigNameConference poster.

Besides, as far as my own class is concerned, teaching kids whose first language is not English is not an issue at all. All my kids are American. Yes, all of them. I must admit I'm a bit disappointed at this (yes, yes, I know I'm at a uni in America). A decade ago, I started my first year of undergrad. In a class of about the same size as the one I'm teaching here, I had fellow students from India, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Botswana, Sweden, Germany, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and, as is usual in Australia, quite a number of New Zealanders. Oh, and a few Aussies, of course. But then, comparing TUWSNBN to my old uni isn't really fair. We did have our Journalism classes at the Student centre's pub, after all. I can't ever see that happening here.**

ETA: Since I'm reading all this for Friday anyway, I reckon yous have to suffer through it along with me. So, here goes--my analysis of this whole training gig is that there's a difference between looking at students as categories, as possessing intrinsic attributes (based on culture) which affects their writing compared to students as parts of overlapping networks, which affect processes of how they write (and act). I'd expand upon this further but I really have to go and throw something at the wall and prepare myself for the next (four hours!) training session tomorrow.

* Only for me though. The other trainees, seven of them, were giving examples of how Spanish people wrote like X and Thai academic writing was like Y. Also, my claim that there has to be a distinction made between American academic writing and American writing was pointedly ignored. After all, we are not in the practice of teaching these kids American writing but rather to teach them American academic writing--a whole different kettle of fish altogether (though why in the world are there fish in a kettle? I've always wondered).

** Again, PTSD is not advocating drinking and reading at the same time though it has heard that those two often go together. Or so it is said. PTSD is not in the habit of testing that hypothesis. No, really, it isn't.


At 8/29/2006 9:30 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

Hey, you should be at our place. Loud music, slamming doors, the whole nine yards. It's Headstones (no Silverchair, thank you very much) but you'd like them.

Maybe your students won't recognize you in the grad student clothes. Or maybe they'll realize that nobody dresses like a banker all the time.

Other than bankers, I mean.

At 8/29/2006 9:46 PM, Blogger Priya said...

Heh--maybe I should change over to other postcolonial rockers (TFG would probably have a fit if we called Silverchair or the Headstones postcol even though they are ;-))

Not too worried about my students--they are stuck with me for the duration, after all. More worried about getting through this fucking training without completely alienating my fellow trainees or the supervisor. I reckon it might be too late though.

Ah well, if I get fired, at least I can do some work on my own stuff.

Good luck with Q.3 tomorrow.

At 8/29/2006 10:46 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

Don't remind me, please. I've still got to do Q2 in the morning before I even think about Q3. I'm just praying for two questions that I've passed before. Maybe something about perestroika? Or Huntington? Or even that stupid security question that I kept blowing. Third time's the charm, right?

God, the end of HCL is tempting right now.

At 8/30/2006 12:46 PM, Blogger Priya said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8/30/2006 2:18 PM, Anonymous serena said...

LOL you are having too much fun...the both of you and what is the difference between american writing and american academic writing?

At 8/30/2006 4:41 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

Heh. That's what's known as a loaded question.


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