A thousand years ago, I studied at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. I went during college and then back again for a year after I graduated. Those were important years in my life and in my growth as a Spanish speaker. A great deal of what I experienced there informed some of the things I taught and continue to teach in my classes.
When I was preparing to teach HISP 205 last winter, I had a stunning realization: the last time I had set foot in Latin America, in particular Colombia, was before my students were born.
As a language teacher, my job (I believe) is to make language relevant by relating it to the countries where it is spoken and the people who speak it. Textbooks try to do that and don’t succeed. Why? because their stuff is generic. And outdated.
But then again… so was I, or rather, so was my knowledge about a place I thought I knew.
Add to this the added intrigue (and the added friction) of having a colleague at work, a one-year adjunct native Spanish speaker (although he would be the first to object about the term “native,” implying that this was some sort of subtle jingoistic term used by my people to talk about his…but that is a whole ‘nuther blog post right there…sigh), anyway, this colleague made it quite clear that people like me (English speakers for whom Spanish is their second language) should NOT be teaching the language for EXACTLY the reason that we as English speakers are “distant” from real, authentic language usage.
So here I was… teaching something I thought I knew, but now wondered if maybe I didn’t, with 3 weeks to go before the semester began.
What to do? Where to begin? Where do you start (and how do you teach?) when you realize that everything you thought you knew is no longer relevant?
In a leap of faith, or perhaps a foolish move, I didn’t know (yet), I decided to model for my students, through my own trial and error, the type of learning path that I wanted them to pursue for themselves in HISP 205. To essentially learn alongside them, and with them, for a semester.
I also wanted to exemplify and be a part of active learning…I wanted to be able make sure we got the opportunity to talk to people, real people, vs just being passive observers.
I knew that I needed to dismantle and challenge some of the stereotypes that permeate the US media’s coverage of Colombia…something the Colombians themselves acknowledge as the “la mala fama” as well as highlight all of the current events that the US media also ignores. As of January, Obama was scheduled to go to Colombia in March of 2011. The timing of his visit and my new found ignorance was perfect. (He ended up not going after all, oh well.)
So, what will follow here (in what is bound to be a series of posts) is what I did and how I did it and how it turned out.
So, why should you care?
-I hope this is helpful to other language teachers (maybe even cathartic) to see someone acknowledge her own shortcomings and then try to fix’em,
-I hope the info provided about what we covered and who we talked to will help other teachers think about ways to actively engage with people, vs settling for students (and teachers) being passive observers.