Are you learning anything in this class?

In my Classroom Management class, my professor always gives us a quiz each week. At the end of class, we are supposed to write a reflection about something we've learned that week in class. While we're taking the quiz, she passes out the quizzes from last week, with feedback about things we've learned. On my quiz for this week, she asked me the question, "Are you learning anything in this class?"

The next reflection I wrote for her was two pages, front and back. The question made me think a LOT. Am I really learning anything? If so, what? Is it what I should be learning? Why or why not, and how can I change that? Or should I? Or is it even possible?

I feel like I've learned a lot this semester. It is my first year teaching. I go to work every day and practice the principles that I learn in class. I learn from application. I learn from experience. I learn from realities like time, energy, amount of sleep, etc. Do I learn anything from my classes?

It would be an exaggeration to say that I haven't learned anything, but that means I must have learned something. I can't figure out what that something is. I have no idea what I've been doing the past semester. It feels like I'm stuck in the same class for hours and hours - reading about how to write lesson plans, how to manage a class, how to work with students with IEP's...how can I judge whether or not I learn from reading/discussing these topics, or from my being-a-teacher-in-a-middle-school-classroom experience?

I don't know. I certainly couldn't measure for you what I've actually "learned" in Classroom Management or Foundations of Bilingual Education or large chunks of French Teaching Methodology.

Maybe this is because my subject is so spherical, and true learning is not rote memorization - which can be easily measured. How do you measure learning? How do you determine its source?

I often think about how horrible it is that I'm not learning very much in college. Is that really true? And if so, is it my fault?

I'm thinking...mostly it's not.


A Red-neck weenie roast


My dad sent this to me in an email of other redneck things. I bet it was sent to him by his redneck brother from Texas, Uncle Robin.



Sometimes Danny and I are talking about the same thing, but we don't realize it because we say it a different way. Sometimes we assume that we know what each other is thinking, but then it turns out that isn't true. There are so many conversations that I would never have with anybody besides Danny - they just would not be possible.

Some funny typos from students' papers:

Saddam Hussein - Sodom Hussein
innocent - insistent
trial - tryle
Iraq - Irack
self esteem - self of steem
prejudiced - predigest

Yesterday it snowed. The view from my window is like London - not that I've ever been there. It reminds me of home - the slanty rooftops - and also of the Muppet Christmas Carol, hence the London association.

Danny should get an award for putting up with me. Not only that, but actually loving me! Wow!


What I learned at UFLA...

Today was excellent. I went to the Utah Foreign Language Association Conference. There was food, textbooks (none in Arabic, of course!), a keynote speaker - the current President of ACTFL! - and a breakout session for all the different languages to meet together and collaborate. I am excited for Arabic in Utah. We are pioneers, but it's a great cause, and we are definitely making progress. I'm interested in the flagship Arabic K-12 Master's program offered in Dearborn, Michigan. So exciting!

We also had some humor...Check out www.engrish.com! Hehehe...I wonder if there's an equivalent site in Chinese, for all the stupid t-shirts we must be wearing!


Emily and Kate, jumping in puddles

My friend Emily Petersen found me last night. I didn't want to do homework. I was sick of doing homework. So instead, we ran around and jumped in the puddles outside my apartment. It was very fun, got completely sooooooaked. It was great to see Emily!

"I'm glad that you like the rain!" says Danny. Oh boy, if he knew!


muzzy aeiou

While procrastinating HW, I figured out exactly how I feel about Danny (with the help of YouTube).


I had the best weekend!!!

I had the best weekend of my liiiiiiife!

Danny and I are courting! Hehehehe...that's so great to think about!!!



Four pages about this!?

I knew that this assignment would be interesting. Every child has a story. As I took Ting from her ESL classroom into the library where I would interview her, asking questions that would help me identify the students that I will someday teach, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Who is this person? How did she get here? What is life like for her?” She seemed excited, bouncing happily beside me down the hall – an understandable attitude considering the realities of the drudgery of High School. Had I been called aside for an interview by a strange twenty-year-old college student, I would have bounced along, too. I wondered if she was nervous to talk to me.

Rewind the scene. Jessica, possibly the only person I know with as hectic an academic and work life as me, and I had decided the previous day to find an ESL student together at Orem High. We, as idealistic junior/seniors at BYU, were probably both simulataneously imagining the good works we would most assuredly accomplish with this assignment; bridging gaps between educators and students, providing impoverished, starving children with books and resources, saving them from a destitute family situation – building bonds that would last for years and years, and possibly beyond this world. We walked into Orem High.

Our meaningless chatter stopped almost mid-sentence as we pulled the heavy front door open and walked inside. It was unlocked. There were students scurrying through the halls, apparently late for class. The corridors were lit by flickering fluorescent light; almost no natural sunlight in the high-ceilinged, maze-like building. “Where’s the office?” After walking a few unsure steps, we finally saw a depressingly brown sign proclaiming, “MAIN OFFICE,” jutting out from wall. We walked inside.

It should be noted that both Jessica and I attended school districts distinctly different from Orem High. For one, they were both far away from the security of Happy Valley. My parents both teach in public schools where in order to enter the building during the school day, someone from the office must buzz you in. The school was not locked. If we had wanted to, we could have walked straight to the ESL room, without bothering to check in at the office. Jessica and I both felt alarmed by this lack of security. Our worries continued as we entered the office.

There was one woman in the Main Office. She had curiously blonde hair – curious, because of its context with the rest of her old and tired body. We stood there for about two minutes, and she didn’t look up until Jessica made a small cough. “We’re BYU students, we have an appointment with Terri Martin, your ESL teacher?” “What?”

Jessica and I were not intimidated by this woman, although that seemed to be her main goal. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh; she was probably just unleashing the stress accumulated from years of stacks of papers to collate and file, phones to answer, and directions to give to various people. In the end, we got our bright neon yellow “VISOTOR” badges, and left the office in search of the ESL room.

Hall C, room 11. C-11. C-11. “Wow, that sign must have been there for centuries!” TERRI MARTIN, it proclaimed, in white letters on blue plastic. It was above the room C-11. “Well, here goes!” Jessica opened the door.

There were approximately twelve students sitting in a semi-circle around the teacher’s desk, behind which sat an old-looking lady with her hands folded on her desk. Of the twelve students, eleven were boys. Not just boys – loud Hispanic boys. Jessica, who had lived in New York City for two years, told me later that they had been swearing and using the kinds of vulgarities that would probably have made the old-looking lady send them to the office, had they been in English.

It turned out that Ms. Martin, the lady with her hands folded so neatly, had no control whatsoever over these boys. Not only were they swearing, but they poked, teased, laughed, yelled, and talked. They did not even seem to acknowledge Ms. Martin’s existence. When we popped our heads in the room, it took about forty seconds for the Hispanic boys to stop their act.

“We’re the BYU students…” Jessica said. “Oh yes! You need to interview two students who have been here for more than a year. That’s it, right?”


“Who would like to go?”

The class was silent for a while, until one of the boys reached over and poked his neighbor, which set all of the Hispanic students into a fit of giggles. “I go! I go!” said a voice in the corner. I hadn’t noticed her before, but there, sitting with book open and her hands folded in an almost perfect impression of Ms. Martin, sat a small Asian-looking girl. Jessica and I had previously agreed that we would interview two separate students, and I gave her a non-verbal gesture indicating that I could take the Asian-looking girl. After Jessica found one of the Hispanic boys willing enough to play along, we exited the ESL room en route to the library.

I then started my interview with Ting. She told me that Tina is her Americanized named, but that everybody at school calls her Ting. She was born in Beijing, China, where she lived and received schooling until she was 16. She came to the United States when her mother took a nursing job in southern California, where she lived until three months ago. She has been attending Orem High since the beginning of school in September.

When I asked her how long she was planning on being here in the United States, she laughed and said, “Forever!” as if it was common knowledge, a waste of breath to ask. The assignment requires that we ask certain questions about the students’ family life, but when I tried to ask about her parents, it was very hard to understand what happened.

I wondered if it was a language barrier or if perhaps, she was embarrassed about something. Her father is still in China, where he teachers Mandarin Chinese. I decided not to ask about the last time she’s been back, or whether she’s even seen him for two years. I could tell she wanted to move away from that particular subject.

“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” Here, she really laughed at me. “One!” might as well have been, “DUH!” She explained that in China, the government controls the number of children allowed per couple.

As we continued to talk, I realized that her mother is still in California, but she is living with his brother, her Uncle, and their family in Orem. They live in white, middle-class, quiet suburbia. At home, Ting speaks Chinese with her uncle sometimes, but mostly ends up speaking English. Her aunt doesn’t understand any Chinese, “She American!” Ting has three cousins she lives with, all under the age of six. She never speaks Chinese with them.

Ting did not understand the question when I asked if she was being taught to read and write in Chinese. She replied that she can write and read Mandarin, read Cantonese, read Taiwanese, read a little Japanese, and read/write a little English. After rephrasing the question several times, she answered no, she receives no schooling in Chinese here in the United States.

When I asked her about her friends, she said that there were two other Chinese girls she likes to be with, but they never come home with her to her Uncle’s house. Ms. Martin later told me that those two students were not receiving instruction through the school’s ESL program; they were either bilingual or had previously been mainstreamed. “She really doesn’t have any friends,” Ms. Martin sighed.

In an essay Ting wrote about herself, she described her social situation: “When my first day I came to Orem High School I feel so scary, because everything is new for me, for example; I need to use my school map to find my new classes, I don’t have a friends in here, I don’t know how to use a locker, and I don’t know how to talk with each other. I still felt scary and confusion.”

I started to wonder if maybe Ting was held back in school; she was an eighteen year old junior in High School. I wondered if Ms. Martin was exaggerating Ting’s social life; if maybe her perspective was limited by times that they interacted during the school day. Later, I learned that Ms. Martin has Ting for four out of seven periods during the day. The way Ting smiled when she talked with Ms. Martin told me volumes on how important this tired woman was in her life. It’s possible she is the sole person who actively cares about Ting’s social and academic development.

There are, of course, many resources available for ESL students in Orem, Utah. Although a predominantly middle class, white, LDS city, a surprising amount of resources exist and can be made available to help people from diverse cultures. There are Asian Culture clubs, as well as cultural activities (films, panel discussions, forums, etc.) hosted by the Orem Public Library. Aside from Asian-centric activities, there is an active and prominent Recreation Center that organizes Jr. Olympics and a Halloween Corn Maze. If Ting wanted friends, she could walk into just about any LDS church building and expect a mob of grinning, bouffy-haired, blonde girls. “Welcome!” However, all of these resources end up being useless until a connection can be made between them and Ting, which hadn’t yet happened.

What expectations are there for Ting? What will her future life be like? The eleven loud Hispanic boys make her ESL class a difficult learning environment; will she be able to successfully acquire the English proficiency skills needed to get a successful job in society? Will Ting be able to rise above her difficult family circumstances? Is she set up for failure? When I went back to visit with Ms. Martin a second time, she mentioned to me that, “It’s too bad that Ting will be moving next year. She already changed schools five times since coming to the United States, and now she will have to start all over again in Draper.”

Ting has linguistic skills beyond the average ESL student. She can not only read and write in her native tongue, Mandarin Chinese, with a fairly high proficiency (having been schooled there until she was 16), but she can also read Japanese, Taiwanese, and Cantonese. Nobody seems to value these skills that she possesses; instead, they seem to reinforce the fact that she does not speak or understand English very well. She expressed embarrassment during our interview, and again, in a sample of her writing that I read. She expressed feelings of shame, stupidity, and self-deprecation for her lack of fluency in English. Ms. Martin did not seem to do much to promote her self-confidence/self-worth.

Here I sit, now, typing up a four-page paper on the experience of getting to know this ESL child. I understand the objectives of the assignment; getting to know the students that someday, if we can ever obtain that distant piece of paper (diploma) approving us as being competent beings of intelligence, we will have in our classrooms. This student has a difficult life. The more I ask myself what her future is like, and what she will be able to expect from life and the world, the more depressed I become – especially contrasting it with the affluent private school education I was able to obtain. How can this world be so unfair?

The daily challenges Ting faces seem almost insurmountable. It seems that even help from other teachers would do little to provide Ting with what she needs to get a worthwhile education. Ting needs confidence, friends, and a positive learning environment in her ESL classroom. Unfortunately, the latter item is almost entirely dependant on Orem High’s enrollment and ESL student policies/procedures. That problem is almost easier to solve than the elusiveness of self-image and sociality. You can’t force someone to feel good about themselves – you can’t force someone to be liked/likeable. Ting is in a tough spot.

Unfortunately, both Jessica and I realized that we are really not in any kind of position where we can become mentors to these children. The pace of our busy lives runs both of us thin, averaging four hours of sleep/night, both of us trying to balance teaching foreign languages by day while learning about how we should by night, through BYU’s night class program. The truth is, I have no idea what can be done in the short run to help this student.

There is still hope, however. I would like to end this paper with the last paragraph from Ting’s essay. It proves that a positive attitude has the power to change bad situations into something better: “A few days ago, I am better then first day. I can quickly to find my classes with out school map. I can talk more with my teachers and my classmates. In the lunch time, I ate with my new friends. I never felt nevouse, I never felt lonely, and I never felt confusion. Now I felt so happy to come Orem High School. I hope I can have a great time in Utah.”


Not enough Arabic Teachers out there...

So, I worked for Startalk Arabic at BYU this summer. It was way awesome. During the camp, there were these people walking around all the time video-taping us, probably for advertising for next year. I wanted to find the ad online, so I did a google search on "Startalk Arabic BYU", and came up with this article. I want to comment on it, as the issues are particularly important to me.

Surge in students studying Arabic outstrips supply of teachers

The title of the article alone completely catches my attention. I am the only Middle School Arabic teacher (in Public school) in all of Utah. Whoah.

A shortage of Arabic-language teachers across the country is shedding light on a classic economics question: What happens when there is plenty of demand and not enough supply?

And there definitely is not enough supply, I can tell you that.

Since 9/11, the number of students interested in the Middle Eastern language has been skyrocketing. More than 20,000 people in the USA enrolled in an Arabic-language higher-education program in 2006, double the number who signed up from 1998 to 2002, according to projections from a study the Modern Language Association expects to release this fall.

"Other languages will show an increase (in the fall report), but the only language that might be as dramatic as Arabic might be Chinese," says association executive director Rosemary Feal.

And even then, Arabic will be hard to surpass.

Interest has also trickled down to the pre-collegiate level as secondary schools and summer language camps surface across the country.

But generating student interest and enrollment is not the problem.

"There's definitely more demand for courses than there are qualified instructors," Feal says. "There's no doubt."

Absolutely none.

Education experts agree that Arabic is a difficult language to learn, more so than French or Spanish, the traditional alternatives.

That's not true. Arabic is not harder to learn than French or Spanish. It just takes more time because there are fewer cognates. It's wrong to perpetuate this idea that Arabic is "harder" than Romance languages.

Not surprisingly, the student dropout rate is high.

"We estimate that 20,000 students are studying Arabic at the collegiate level, but not even 5% are likely to graduate with functional speaking proficiency," says R. Kirk Belnap, director of the National Resource Center at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

One of the big problems with using "functional speaking proficiency" as a guideline for fluency in Arabic is that not all of the 20,000 students study Arabic with the goal of proficient speaking. Many want to be become translators, or analysts for government agencies. Right now, the most widely accepted Arabic textbooks for native English speakers prepares students to go into those kind of jobs, not become proficient speakers. I think that speaking is essential.

In an attempt to fix the problem, programs are sprouting to provide Arabic lessons to younger students.

More than 100 public, Islamic and other private schools nationwide now offer pre-collegiate Arabic-language programs of three to five sessions a week throughout the academic year, according to the National Capital Language Resource Center.

Like the two Arabic classes I teach.

Doing so does not come without risks, however. New York City this week opened its Khalil Gibran International Academy, which requires that its students study Arabic language. But the school has been greeted with protests by some who consider it a training ground for radical Islam. Others defend the school and say it helps meet the need for more Arabic speakers in the USA.

Oh yeah, well you can't study Korean, because it is a training ground for nuclear weapons creation.

This summer, STARTALK, a BYU-sponsored summer camp, offered a full session in Arabic for the first time in its 46-year history. This move represents further measures by the National Security Language Initiative — President Bush's 2006 effort to allot $114 million toward the study of Arabic, Farsi, Hindi and Urdu — to increase the learning of "critical" foreign languages. Minnesota's Concordia Language Villages recently completed its second annual Arabic language camp.

Go President Bush.

Whether creative and younger classrooms are the solutions is yet to be determined. The dropout rate at the K-12 level is 75%, says Dora Johnson of the Center for Applied Linguistics, an organization based in Washington, D.C., that researches and promotes the teaching and learning of languages.

But despite these numbers, academics say that there is potential for improvement.

Well that's the good thing about lousy results...

"I don't think they're frustrated," University of Texas Arabic professor Mahmoud al-Batal says of his "self-selected" Arabic students. "This is a national challenge for us. The most important thing is to provide teacher training for all those involved … and (create) more programs (overseas) and intensive programs in the U.S."

Concordia's director, Christine Schulze, adds: "Arabic is a language in great demand in many areas of society. … People are more interested, curious and want to reach out."

I really want to be the best teacher I can.