Saturday, November 27, 2010

Happy Birthday Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee would have been 70 years old today if he had lived.

I often wonder about the iconic people who die young, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, John, Robert and John Jr. of the Kennedy family. Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee. How would their lives have turned out if they had lived? Greater accomplishments or disgrace? Or maybe after the flame of youth and/or power flickered out they finished their lives much as the rest of us live them. Of course there is no knowing.

I think, especially in Bruce's case, we just need to be happy he lived for as long he did and was able to make an impact in such a short period of time. Long live the memory of Bruce Lee.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

That Time of Year

This is the time of year where I justify my existence at my job by submitting my professional portfolio. Every year I find this portfolio harder to do on an emotional level. I know I am not doing everything that is desired to get tenure so I feel somewhat inadequate when I am updating the "research agenda" prong. However, my work and service areas I think are quite satisfactory. I am running out of time, I have two years before I have to submit that last final portfolio. But here is where the emotional part comes in, I don't want to do the research agenda. I have long thought, even before I became a librarian, the tenure track resulted in a lot of crap articles written by folks for the sole purpose of putting in their portfolio, to get those "golden handcuffs." So there is a part of me that feels like a hypocrite being a part of this process. When I was applying for jobs (except for this place, where I was already working) I didn't apply to any institution that had the tenure system.

If you don't submit a portfolio, you are effectively resigning and in this economy who dares to do that without something already lined up? This job has its downsides but the benefits are excellent. I have been able to travel more these past couple of years as well as finally have some savings. That is hard to let go of, even if there is something one thinks would be more fulfilling in other ways. If I didn't submit a portfolio, I would be out of a job as of August 31st 2011, submitting my portfolio (assuming its approval) buys me another year.

But this portfolio has other benefits for me. It reminds me time is passing and if I do want to make a change in my life, I had better start making some decisions and working towards them. In some ways I have been doing that, in others not. One thing is that in this past year I have been learning more about myself as a teacher. I teach college students about the library databases at work and I am teaching Chinese immigrants English. Every time I teach it is a learning opportunity for me but the most telling thing is that even though there is always "performance anxiety" I really enjoy it.

I will continue doing my job and I will continue the research agenda I have set up for myself but it is time to stop fantasizing about the future and start doing something about it. It is time to start planning the future-switching to a teaching career, preferably in Hong Kong.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Teaching & Learning

Last night was the third week of my adventures in teaching ESL in Chinatown. The students go to class on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There are six teachers, 3 for each evening and we rotate as lead teacher. I teach on Wednesdays. I taught the class last week. I wouldn't say I did a great job, I floundered most when it came to getting them to participate, they may have known the answers but hesitated to respond. Not a unique problem for teachers in general from what I understand.

I try to be a good assistant teacher when I am not teaching, making sure the students are on the right page, checking their answers in their workbooks, I don't just sit in the back of the room until it is time for group work. My Cantonese has helped a little, last night M. spoke too softly for them and I understood them when they said they couldn't hear her, later they were saying that she was going too fast. It was M.'s first teaching experience and I thought she took the criticisms well and adapted. Afterward she was asking me about this and that, I reassured her the best that I could. I have found that even experienced teachers question themselves after a class, it seems to be endemic to the profession.

I am teaching the Beginner class but they know a certain amount of English already, they can read along in the book, most of the time their pronunciation is understandable and they seem to know much of the grammar and a fair amount of vocabulary. As soon as the teaching strays from the book however, they are lost it seems. They struggle holding a simple conversation. When we read a passage from the book and the teacher asks why did this person do this or how could he have handled that situation differently they either don't understand or can't articulate the answer in English.

I can seriously relate to my students because I too am learning a foreign language. I know a lot of Cantonese but struggle with expressing myself in the language. Even if I know all the words and know the proper syntax backwards and forwards, I have difficulty conversing casually. It is something I am working on more lately. My tutor and I are working on conversation, if I don't know a word in Cantonese I say it in English but then go right back to Cantonese. Later she teaches me the word I didn't know. She says I am doing well, I still think I speak too much in English but I do feel that I am progressing.

Another thing I am doing is drilling vocabulary and example sentences via the Anki flashcard system. I had heard about it on Sheik's forum but I didn't really understand how it worked until another Cantonese student shared his flashcard deck with me. Since then I have created two decks of my own, one is exclusive to what I have learned from my tutor and the other is a mix of things I have learned from various resources. I try to review each deck for 10 minutes a day, not necessarily all at once. Right now I am adding materials so I am spending even more time on this, depending on how much time I have. I am trying not to add just words but phrases and sentences that will reinforce grammar or syntax. However, there is no hurry to add more to my decks, the deck that was shared with me has almost 2500 cards, it will take me awhile to get through that.

Back to teaching-I do teach at my job as well. It isn't the main part of my job, but because we are continuously short staffed at my job I teach some of the bibliographic instruction classes. This is my 3rd semester doing this and I am finally feeling more confident in this role. I have gotten some nice compliments from the teaching faculty I have been working with and even had one of my colleagues ask to adapt one of my handouts for her class. She is a more experienced teacher and a very good one so that made my day. Then she told the head of the department about it and he commented about it to me, telling me to make sure I put it in my professional portfolio. That made my week.