*from the poem, not that creepy book about rabbits that everybody had to read in high school.
It’s Monday morning. My summer class is 45 minutes into their lesson, a listening exercise involving a CBC radio debate on locavorism, in preparation for their field trip to a local Farmers’ Market. Suddenly I get that pit of my stomach feeling: the class is tanking. The anti-locavore guy is Francophone; his English is effortless, but the wandering ‘h’s and occasional non-standard stress pattern are enough to throw my students off. His opponent is Californian, but accent is not the problem. She is on the attack from word one, going off on ever wilder tangents in her attempt to rebut her opponent’s argument. Even Jian Ghomeshi, the honey-toned local boy and in this case the only voice of reason, doesn’t go down that well. His studied informality just serves to confuse them further.
I am angry with myself. I could easily have predicted this, but I didn’t. You see, I was too in love with my own narrative.
I’ll back up a little. This has been my first experience with formally planning my own program. Planning was a blast — great arcs of pedagogy meeting at this transcendent point on the last day of class. “Students will…”. It was a beautiful thing, and it looked great on paper. But teaching isn’t just planning.
Planning is creating a narrative. You and your party will go on a quest. You will journey to the dragon and slay it (the dragon here being superficial reading and comma splices). You will then live happily ever after, or at least until classes begin again in September. Actual teaching is a lot more like playing tag in a bouncy castle. “Students will…” — What happens when “Students will not…”?
I had fallen in love with the vision of my students engaging in witty and erudite discussion about logical fallacies, but for them to do that, they would have had to understand what the debaters were saying. I should have stopped, thought it through, connected my high flown plans with the real-life abilities of these actual students. I mentally castigate myself for this hubris. Once again, I have been guilty of believing my own hype.
and then… it was ok. By this point, the only way out was through, so we just kept going. The three strongest students actually got it, and for them the challenge was useful. As for the others… they learned a lot of topical vocabulary. We discussed the idea of ad hominem arguments (although I had to reduce my explanation to, “She’s kind of yelling at him.”) They learned that not everyone in North America sounds the same, and that even people on the radio don’t always say logical things.
Just goes to show that there is a time to implement the plan, and a time when all you can do is take a deep breath and hope for the best.