Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Teaching Moments: Tombgirls and Whores

Today I led my first lesson with the high school students. They were surprisingly friendly and eager. I remember being a high schooler, and my glee in making my teachers miserable, and the moment senior year when the principal happened to mention that I had made several of my teachers cry over the years. It shook me to the core—before that I’d never considered that students can have such an effect on teachers. Though of course, that was what I was trying to do, to muscle in and threaten their authority (in case my last post didn’t make it clear enough, I have severe authority problems). With me, it was either that or worship the ground they walked on. I can’t help but hope my students take the latter approach to me. 

Anyhow, my students have been gleefully polite and enthusiastic. I gave them a poem to read out loud, about the difficulties of pronouncing the English language, and they read it with all the attendant giggles I’d expected. They were even more confident than the UMD college class I tried it on last year, though that may be because their foreign status allows them to slip up without feeling idiotic. Afterwards, while discussing the poem, we accidentally stumbled into an impromptu class discussion on linguistics and the history of the English language. Very clever kids.

Between them and my adult students at Katten, I’ve had several hilarious moments. One student took me aside and explained that when I pronounced his name with my American accent, it sounded like I was calling him a whore in Norwegian, so would I please use a variant? Another spoke to me last week about what she loves to read in English, and today brought in two fantasy books for me to read because I’d said I’m looking to start reading some fantasy (the first page appalled me with its writing. It’s 1600 pages of junk. But I will conscientiously read each and every one, as a labor of love). An adult student wrote, “I live alone with two cats, where one is missing.” Where did it go? Is it dead, or just perpetually lost? Another wrote, “my little girl is a little tombgirl and loves to climb trees,” which only needs a slight nudge in the right direction to find proper English usage and link up in a long-term relationship. It is such a droll joy to teach English, and I love it! Luff it! Lurv it!

Today was also my first day of co-leading an Amlit seminar for my University of Bergen students. Ingrid, the agreeable Norwegian I’m working with, is working on her PhD proposal on Hilda Doolitle. I think they figured that if they put the two of us together, we might equal one whole professor. Anyhow, we get along great. As I helped run the discussion, I could hear the voices of all my professors in my head. Their perspectives and creeds and teaching tricks all filtered out through me as I worked my way through the classroom, sometimes to funny effect (I’m sure Dr. A from the literature department never met Dr. R from Philosophy, but judging by the cacophony they created in my head, it would not be an amicable meeting).

It was very, very strange to be the only American in a room full of people discussing America. At times I felt like I was eavesdropping on people talking about me. Still, it was excellent fun to have teacher status as I shot my ideas throughout the room. I was amazed at how thoroughly my education enabled me to field questions and make connections. I suppose sneaking books under my desk since third grade has greatly enhanced my knowledge, though I'll try to make sure that if my students do so, they'll miss more than they'd ever get by reading (hah! impossible, you say. ... yeah, I kind of agree).

Most fascinating were the students’ responses to the last question I left them with. To help them formulate Benjamin Franklin, I asked them to offer their idea of a modern-day Franklin: who is the contemporary quintessential American who represents American values. Their answers? Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey, and Obama. Interesting, eh? All rich black celebrities. It suggests a curious conception of America today. I suppose they figure that wealth and fame prove the success of the American Dream, while being an African American makes life sufficiently hard for that old American work ethic to kick in.

After, I went on a glorious bus ride with some Spaniards (we meant to hike Ulriken, but got lost). The land on the way to Åsane is richly forested and craggy and swoops by the side of the fjord. Houses peeked between the kind of scenery that, in the States, would be in a federal park being considered for sale to pay off the National debt. But here, there’s plenty of gorgeous where that came from. After negotiating with the bus driver (he didn’t speak any English, hence our misunderstanding) in preposterously proud-of-myself Norwegian, we came back to Fantoft exhausted and happy nonetheless. 


  1. What poem did you use for your class?

  2. It's a really long one, starting, "Dearest Creature in Creation, study English pronunciation". Classic stuff, really fun to use because the kids fall all over themselves trying to pronounce it. As long as you make it clear that they're MEANT to mess up, they enjoy it.

  3. Thank you. I'll try this when we get back.