Sunday, April 15, 2012

Language Teaching Frustrations

I was going to wait until the semester's end to post about this, but after receiving an exam draft this morning from the teacher of the other section of my course that caused me to emit such a howl of frustration that it scared my poor kitty off my lap and caused my husband to inquire if I was okay, I've decided I can't wait.

I am teaching a language class.  I am supposed to coordinate the final exam with the teacher of the other section, and I am in charge of this coordination (which is a little awkward as I am a grad student and she is a lecturer).  We cannot agree, to put it mildly.  I believe it should contain reading, writing, and listening sections (speaking is tested separately).  This is really basic language pedagogy, and ALSO WHAT STUDENTS WILL DO WITH THE LANGUAGE.  Finally, I got her to agree to this, and we decided that I will find the listening texts and write that and the writing section.  She is in charge of the reading (I gave her the choice).  Since the exam is short for the level of our students (long story) the idea is to put the grammar and vocabulary into these sections, having students find and produce the structures TO TRAIN THEM TO DO THIS IN REAL LIFE.  Vocabulary and grammar are the building blocks of language, to use one metaphor, but they are not language itself.  I wrote a similar exam with a different co-teacher (who can actually teach) last semester for the same class and it worked great.

Alas . . . this teacher just doesn't get it.  She keeps submitting drafts that have wonderful questions on them like: "True or False.  People are getting married at a later age these days."  Um, yeah, no need to read the article to answer that one.  This was a mild improvement from the first draft though, where she USED THE SAME DAMN SENTENCE AS IN THE TEXT (only it was negated in the question that was false).  Then there are the multiple choice questions (these are very difficult to write well), the questions that overlap with the writing section, etc.  I told her there needed to be words the students didn't know in the text, and questions where they guessed some of these words based on context, root, and pattern.  She disagrees (again, this is really basic pedagogy) and wrote multiple choice guessing questions WHERE THE WORDS THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO GUESS ARE IN THE VOCABULARY LISTS FROM THIS SEMESTER.  Every single one of them.

I even sent her the exam from last semester as a guide.  She did not appear to look at it.  I have tried to be nice about this, but I am done.  If she sends me one more shitty draft of the reading section, I'm just writing it myself.  This takes a very long time and is very hard work and I have already spent hours coming up with the other sections (but I am, after all, paid to do it).  If only I could have all those hours I spent trying to write nice corrections on her shitty exam back to write my own!

To be fair, this is part of a much larger and more frustrating problem here, which is teachers not using texts in the classroom.  They take the textbook, do the vocab and grammar exercises, and move on, skipping the texts.  I understand that some of the textbook texts may not be the most exciting (although where do they think the textbook is pulling the chapter vocabulary and grammar from?).  Fine, find some other texts.  It's a lot of work to do this well, but it's their choice.  But when they skip texts entirely, or use them but do not properly scaffold them, THEY ARE ROBBING THEIR STUDENTS AND THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE PHENOMENON OF THIRD YEAR STUDENTS WHO CANNOT DO ANYTHING IN THE LANGUAGE.

This is what I must sit by and watch professors and lecturers do, as their once enthusiastic students waste their tuition dollars sinking into frustration, and I cannot wait to be out of here in three weeks.

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