Monthly Archives: April 2011

i am a professional clown!

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After reading a fellow Spanish teacher’s hilarious blog post about her attempts at engaging her students during a grammar lesson on the subjunctive mood in Spanish (for those who have studied/taught this monster you know how difficult it can be…), it reminded me of all of the shenanigans language teachers have to go through to get the point across in the target language! I have begun to think of myself, not as a Spanish language instructor, but as a professional clown!

I know that one may think that language instructing is a respectable position but in reality, it is a profession that requires you to humble yourself every day and not be afraid to make a fool out of yourself! And in reality, if you don’t do these things, you’re probably doing a bad job. First of all, in order to get things across in the target language, there are a lot of charades going on and you can really get a great workout in the process! Imagine me trying to convey the meaning of the word enferma. Now, if you don’t know what this word means, imagine me holding my stomach and head at the same time and making horrible moans in between hurling sounds and doubled over….

If you haven’t guessed the meaning of this word, well, it’s sick. Ok, words like:  jump, laugh, sing, dance, to shower, kick etc. can be pretty painless to act out but think about things like: war, falling down, being in a hurry, being in love, acting “cool”, cheapskate, important, during, while, leaving from the house vs. leaving the house to go somewhere (salir de vs. salir para) mangy, ragged, ugly, etc… These can be quite difficult!

You may ask yourself why I don’t just draw things on the board. Well, I do. But anyone who knows me is aware of my not so up to par stick-figure drawings and the confusion that can ensue because of them. The other day, while teaching reflexive verbs, I drew a stick woman washing dishes and a stick woman washing her hands. When I drew two dishes on the board which were two circles with smaller circles in the middle to create dimension and aesthetic effect the following conversation took place:

Student: “Um… No entiendo… what is that?”

Me: “platos”

Student: “Platos?… What are platos?

Me: I started pretending to eat off of a plate and then pointed to my drawing.

Student: “Oh… plates…. they kind of look like… well, you know… breasts.

Me: No, they are plates. Continuamos!  (quickly erasing the boob plates)

So you see, it’s not as easy to just draw things on the board! But somehow we get around things… My clownery has included: A fake love with Antonio Banderas (who shows up in homework, quizzes and grammar explanations), dressing up as Waldo to do a real life “Where’s Waldo” exercise to demonstrate: on top of, behind, below, above etc. (My colleague was an awesome Waldo costume that passes among us and is oh so fun!) Jumping up and down, falling to the ground, singing, dancing, running around the room like a chicken with my head cut off, purposely imposing on my students’ personal space to demonstrate the personal space of Spanish speakers, showing silly pictures of myself that students must describe and generally making an ass out of myself, all for the good of language pedagogy!

Of course, the fun doesn’t stop with me.  I strongly believe in the benefits of Total Physical Response for language learning and of course force my students to make asses out of themselves as well! So, we are one big happy clown family and learn a lot of Spanish too!

¡Muy bien, clase!

fear factor

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Fear: a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil,pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feelingor condition of being afraid.

I think that what a person is afraid of can tell a lot about a person. Some people live their life according to their fears and others seem to throw caution to the wind. But we’re all afraid of something, right? I don’t think that I am a person who lets fear get in my way (most of the time) but it definitely will put a kink in my day if I don’t have the cojones to just stand up and do something when I’m afraid of the outcome.

I’ve actually always been one of those people who “like” to be scared. If my mom only knew the torture I put myself through as a child with all of those scary books and horror movies (all of these activities were hidden to her…) she would have put me in shock treatment therapy right away! I don’t know what my obsession was when I was little, but I LOVED the feeling of being scared. Now, this may actually show how good I had it as a kid for I was never in actual real danger. There was never anything I actually had to be afraid of so I looked for the “thrill” elsewhere.  My life was simple, fear free and pretty tranquil. I guess instead of running to drugs and alcohol to spice it up, I got my fixes from Steven King (my 3rd and 4th grade drug of choice was watching Pet Cemetery, IT and The Shining… not that 3rd and 4th graders are on drugs…).  I also was quite the daredevil. When I was 8 years old I jumped off of a 20 ft. diving platform at a water park. I also spent summers as a child jumping off the bridges at Cove Palisades.  I loved roller coasters and I always got sad when I was too young or short to go on the scary rides.  I also started a club with my friends modeled after the T.V. show “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”. We would climb into a clearing in some bushes near our house, place a flashlight (couldn’t start a campfire like we really wanted to) and told scary stories in the dark.  I loved ghost stories and always wanted a real encounter with one. When I got older and was able to drive, my cousin and I would go on ghost hunts regularly. We would research hauntings in the area and try and provoke some spirit to come out of the woods to scare us. I slowly grew out of my “evil spirit” and dare devil thrill seeking antics the older I got.

I have, however, come to realize that I hold onto some pretty real fears. Most of them are pretty silly but they scare the crap out of me! If I let these get the better of me, things can go down hill pretty fast. Below is a list of things that I am afraid of.

1. Spiders: Well, I actually have a strong fear of any creepy crawly if it is congregated in a group of other creepy crawlies.  You see, this all started when I was a child sitting on our swingset with my brother (now I’m sounding like my mother who has an childhood anecdote to explain all of her adult behaviors) who told me the earwigs we found on the swing set would crawl into my ears at night and eat my brain and lay eggs. I actually, to this day, am afraid of insects because I think that they are conspiring against me to attack! And don’t laugh, but I have experiences that tell me that they are capable of it and they are smarter than we think!!! Watch out for those little suckers if they are in groups… they’ll getcha!

2. Rejection (everyone has Daddy issues, right?)

3. Public Speaking: Yes, I know I’m a teacher and speak in front of over 90 students a term but that’s completely different! (I know my fellow teachers are nodding in agreement when they see this).

4. Death: I am not actually afraid of my own death, but rather the death of others that I love. This I think comes from some of those abandonment and rejection issues but it is one of those things that freaks me out! If someone I love is getting on a plane, the worst things go through my head.

5. Public Bathrooms: I actually wet myself in the 5th grade because I didn’t want to use the bathrooms at school. Yes, I have gotten over this enough to actually use them… That experience helped quite a bit! haha

Now, before you think I’m a crazy person, think about the things that you are afraid of. I’m willing to bet that a good chunk of them are irrational.  But I think that one thing we all fear is the unknown. What will our futures bring us? Am I making the right decision by taking this risk? Will things work out the way I plan them to? The thing is though, I think we should all be afraid of NOT taking those risks. Life has its way of working itself out in a nice way. I tend to not regret things because I know that whatever the outcome, I’ve learned something. Even if not so pleasant things come out of the risks that I take, I know that the experience of taking the risk far outweighs the negative outcomes.  I don’t want to sit around and think “what if”. That is one fear that I do want to influence my life. I want to go out on a limb and put myself out there. If I don’t, I run the risk of regretting not taking those leaps, of not risking comforts of the known. I don’t want to look back on my life and say I was too afraid to make changes.

I know that the changes that I’m planning for my life now are good. I know that even though they are scary that things will work out. If they don’t, I can always change things to make it better. But if I don’t go out on that limb, I risk the scary, scary life of boredom, complacency and mediocracy. World, here I come!!!