mercoledì 9 dicembre 2009

Would you rather...

At the end of my stay with the October and November classes, I decided to have a little fun. In my fifth year class (high school is five years long in Italy), where we had studied American Romanticism, we watched the Dead Poets' Society. The teacher and I agreed that putting a poet like Whitman ("I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world") into the context of school life would be fun and helpful for the students. I brought snacks and soda for them, as a way of saying goodbye. When they saw the chips, they asked me to stay their English teacher forever.

In my other classes, we played a conversation game called "Would you rather..." I played this game in high school and college with friends and heard from some other assistants that it could work in the classroom. You give two options and ask them to choose one and to explain why. I think of it as a sort of frat boy time waster. Often it's risque, but with the kids I cleaned it up a little bit. It was a hilarious experience for everyone involved. Here are some of the questions and responses:

Would you rather...

find true love or 1 million euros?
"If I find 1 million euros, I can buy true love."

be able to fly or read people's minds?
"I would rather be able to read people's minds so I could know the answers to the tests."

overthrow a dictatorship or be a dictator?
"I would rather overthrow a dictatorship and then become the dictator."

overthrow a dictatorship and then establish a democracy or be a dictator?
"Be a dictator. Democracy doesn't exist."

always speak everything on your mind or never speak at all?
For this one, the kids almost always said speak everything on your mind. One of the professors lectured them that they should all choose "never speak at all" because otherwise they would risk being impolite. The horror!

be stranded on an island alone or with someone you hate?
"With someone I hate so I could talk to him. I do not want to be crazy and talk to a football."
"With someone I hate because I can kill him and eat him."
(A boy) "Is the someone I hate a girl or a boy?"

be a werewolf or a vampire?
"Be a vampire so I could kill all the girls who like Twilight."

be the smartest person in the world or be spectacularly beautiful?
"If I am the smartest person in the world, I can invent something to make me beautiful."
"Be beautiful because then I will marry a smart woman and she will teach me things."

always smell like onions or always taste onions?
"Always taste onions. I like onions."

The gender differences were very interesting in this game. For example, more girls picked find true love over 1 million euros than boys, but many still chose the money. A few boys opted for finding true love, and more boys than girls chose beauty over brains. It was a girl who said she would kill and eat someone trapped on the island, and it was a girl who said she would be a dictator because democracy didn't exist. I was happy to hear from many girls that they would rather be the smartest person in the world than very beautiful. Thank goodness that we can bend gender stereotypes even in Italy.

giovedì 3 dicembre 2009

Line of the day

A student, introducing himself to me and the rest of the class:
"Hello, I am sixteen years old, and I have a dream. My dream is to bring an English poodle into my house."

mercoledì 2 dicembre 2009

Starting over

Every two months, I change my 11 classes at Cremona and Zappa. This means that I get to share my English-speaking presence with everyone; plus, as my tutor Giovanna explained to me, the parents won't complain. So this Monday I entered into new classes, introducing myself all over again. My typical first line to my teen-aged audience goes like this:

Hi! My name is Rachel, and I'm from South Carolina, in the United States. Do you know where that is?

They always say yes, but I explain anyway. I then go on to briefly describe the weather in the South (hot) and tell about how I moved to Northampton for university (cold). I talk about studying literature and politics, and, if I'm feeling reckless, my year abroad in Florence (they're not supposed to know I speak Italian, but I figure as long as I don't speak it with them it only helps that I understand their second language pain). Sometimes I add that I worked in a pizza shop over the summer, just for some added flair. And then, I say, I came here!
I've learned that it's nice to go around and have them say their names and a few facts about themselves, but I've also learned that I forget these names almost immediately. So this time around I have them make little signs that they keep on their desks. This reduces the instances when I have to say, "What" Yesterday one girl, Alba, helpfully provided the English meaning of her name, "sunrise".
I ask them if they have any questions about me or the United States. Some example questions:

Why did you come to Italy?
Do you like Italian food?
What is the difference between the United States and Italy?
Do you like Barack Obama?
Do you speak Italian? (The issue is unavoidable. I respond, I am learning Italian, but I do not speak it in this classroom.)
What cities have you seen in Italy?
Have you been to New York?
Why do you like Italy?
Do you have a boyfriend?

I reserve the right not to answer some questions, but usually I'm honest. The difference between the U.S. and Italy is tough one, as is the one about why I like Italy. These are questions I'm trying to answer myself.
If I still need to break the ice some, I'll ask them for advice about where to go in Milan. Several kids have told me to go to Luini to eat panzerotti, a Milanese speciality of fried calzones. Someone in every class has said the Duomo, Castello Sforzesco, to see the Last Supper, and to go shopping on Corso Buenos Aires. A couple classes have suggested Brera, the Navigli, and a soccer game at San Siro. One boy suggested Monza to see the car races. Another invited me to come to our neighborhood Sugar Lounge, and another group invited me to go dancing at a discoteca called Limelight. I respectfully declined.
And so we begin to get to know each other. I miss my old classes already, I was just getting to know the kids. Still, it's nice to see new faces, and now (hopefully) remember some names...

venerdì 27 novembre 2009

English as bread and butter...

On November 28th, I will have been in Milan, Italy, for two months. Two months is not the sort of anniversary that requires a fancy dinner or a ring, but it's exciting nonetheless. Because I didn't start writing this when I arrived, I have a bit of catching up to do. Here's the story so far...

Who I am:
I am about to turn 22 (beginning of boring birthdays!). I was born and raised in South Carolina, terrona americana. I attended Smith College, graduating with honors and an English major and International Relations minor. I spent a year abroad in Florence, Italy, where I discovered adventure and self-reliance. I am lost in love with books and languages (though only two languages: English and Italian. If I knew more, I would be in love with them too!). I write short stories and think of myself as a writer, though I'm lazy about it. I have a very vague idea of my future...

What am I doing in Milan:
I came here to teach at two schools, un liceo scientifico Cremona and un istituto tecnico Zappa, as a native speaking assistent. I will work at them until May. As an assistant, I am never alone in the classroom, but most of the time I plan lessons and lead class conversation. I teach in 11 different classes every week, 7 at Cremona and 4 at Zappa.
To feed myself, I've also taken up odd jobs. I stayed with a family during my first three weeks in Milan, and I still return to their house every week to tutor their four children--Chiara, 16, Cecilia, 14, Tancredi, 10, and Caterina, 7. Chiara dislikes (perhaps "dislike" is too weak a word) studying English, but her mother wants to her to take an English proficiency exam called the First Certificate. Cecilia is more enthusiastic, perhaps because usually we just chat, chiaccerare, instead of practicing tests. Tancredi groans and rolls his eyes when we work together, but he can't hide how bright he is. Caterina is adorable and a bit of a terror, who likes our time together but really just wants to draw on me with markers.
The mother of the family, Elena, also gave my resumè to Chiara's high school, un liceo classico called Parini. I didn't expect much to come of it, but they contacted me to teach a preparation course for the First. I teach this class every Wednesday. Parini is famous for being ritzy, and I can see the difference in the students when they whip out iPhones or talk about their long summer holidays bouncing around Europe. My roommates have teased me that I should find a husband there, preferably with two last names.
Lastly, the teachers at Zappa asked me to teach a conversation course just for them. Every Thursday we get together in a little classroom beside the elevators and chat (sort of) in English. They make up for their open-mouthed, blank stares with a genuine desire to learn, a desire that I don't find as often in my teenagers. I generally start from a topic (an article we are reading, how to describe our personalities) and teach them whatever comes to mind.

I am beginning to find my place here after two months. I have a better sense of the classroom, how to cajole quiet students and settle down rowdy ones. I am not afraid to joke with them or look like an idiot (though after misspelling "uninterrupted" on the board at Parini twice, I've been more paranoid about making mistakes). Even with the stress and confusion of the Italian school system, I enjoy teaching. Who knows, maybe this year will bring me some sense of purpose, or maybe it will make me ever more of a vagabond...