On Friday mornings: A full blown complaint about asymmetric motivation

Right. So it’s Friday morning. I have to wake my baby up early to be in class for ten, after dropping her off at the crèche and rush to find parking (see one of my previous posts). I groan.  It’s been a hard week and yesterday, thanks to the novena traffic it took me two hours to get home (8km). If I had foreseen it, I would have put my baby up in the Kibi© – a baby carrier -, my lifesaver so many times, and walk home or take the bus where she would have fallen asleep. I’m not the first first-time mom who would prefer to stay with her baby daughter instead of going to work but this blog post is about what makes me wake up and go to work with a will to work hard and do my best, because after all, I am passionate about my job; and this post is also about what doesn’t, about what dampens my spirit and makes me want to go into shepherding wolves instead of teaching lambs.

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I’ve got three groups of first year students and once again teachers’ expectations are not met by this cohort. What expectations I’m referring to?  Judging by the conversations I take part into on the lift or overhear down the corridor, mainly two things:

  1. previous knowledge
  2. And engagement.

We complain about the fact that they lack any sort of grammar basic knowledge in their own language or others.  We complain about the lack of language learning skills [after six or seven years of a foreign language and thirteen or fourteen of Gaeilge, you’d expect something more sophisticated than memorization or repetition]. We complain about fossilized errors that we guessed no one has corrected for either fear of stomping over the lad’s confidence or for lack of knowledge on the part of the teacher.  Or maybe this lass has never learnt from the corrections she got.

We complain that they don’t come to class.  Or when they do, we complain they haven’t brought the materials [books, handouts, homework, a pen! …]. We complain they don’t follow the course and they don’t invest their time on practicing what they learnt in class.  We complain about them in class isolated, not talking to one another, terrified of us and of one another.

And I’m tired. Tired of complaining year after year of the same things, because I refuse to believe in principle that these students are just not good enough. Something is not working in the transition to an Arts degree with languages.

In the same way, I believe that their teachers before cannot be that bad either, in primary, secondary and tertiary.  I have acted as a liaison between secondary and tertiary for the Association of Teachers of Spanish in Ireland and with the very rare exception, they were all involved and engaged individuals, but I think there is a substantial lack of communication and understanding between us and I want to start building more bridges between them and us. How? Suggestions welcome.

I think the time is ripe for a meeting between secondary and tertiary teachers of languages in general to figure out how to pair up our efforts with or without the leaving certificate curriculum.  The time is well past ripe as well to tell you this, my guap@s students: Motivation goes both ways. You need motivating teachers but we need motivating students too. At least, in college.

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