Peace Corps / Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

There’s this problem I have. I’m not too sure what I’m doing at my site.

When I started to find out about the school I’d be teaching at for two years, it sounded like a dream. I was told they had money. I was told the students were good at English. I was told the teachers were enthusiastic about teaching. Money meant decent textbooks. Students good at English meant I could tackle more advanced topics. Enthusiastic teachers mean I would have help with my projects.

I’ve slowly been learning that life isn’t as easy as it seems. Descent textbooks means that’s one project my school doesn’t need me to work on. Students being able to converse means there is a much smaller pool of information to teach them. Teachers being enthusiastic about teaching, well, I’ve come to learn that it means most are set in their ways.

A common conversation I have with teachers goes like this:

Teacher: Is it correct to say, [insert random English phrase]?

Me: [Takes a moment to consider the phrase] Well, you can say it that way, but you could say it this way [variation] or this way [second variation] or etc.

Teacher: [Gives it thought and me a look of disappointment] No, I don’t think that is correct.

Me: [Stares in disbelief]

Now I understand that the school is able to buy descent textbooks so I’m not needed there. And I understand that I must work out different methods and topics to teach my advanced students. But when the teachers repeatedly discredit my first-hand knowledge of the English language, I truly don’t know what I’m supposed to do.

My teachers were taught British English and it’s quite clear that there are variations between the two languages. British English is taught to the students. But I learned American English and in no way is what I learned wrong. I grew up speaking it. I studied it for twelve years in public school and then opted to continue studying in college.

The teachers teach from the book and the students learn from the book. The books are usually written by Ukrainians and are far from perfect. There are many different authors for many different textbooks. But one thing all the books seem to have in common is that they teach English as a set of rules. While it is true that there are rules to be followed, not just in English but in all languages, it seems that more often than not these rules are broken.

It makes sense that the teachers rely on the books, but in my personal opinion books only teach so much. There is a whole lot of the English language that cannot be taught from a book but must be learned through conversation. English is something more than a formula.

It’s a feeling.

You need to feel what word order is right. You need to feel whether a sentence makes sense. You need to feel for the right adjective, adverb, pronoun, or onomatopoeia.

So when the teachers tell me that my feelings are wrong, I can only stare in disbelief.

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