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?”
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!