Wednesday, October 1, 2008

And Now I'm a University Professor...What?

That's right. Today was the first day of my new job as a teacher, as a professor at the University of Cuenca. Classes actually started last week and I figured when in Ecuador, so I showed up a week late. Actually, I was still at orientation and the university started pretty early, so it's not my fault. That's another thing I'll have to get used to--avoided guilt and blame. It's such a part of culture that it's actually built into the Spanish language. You didn't drop the dish, it made you drop it.

So after recovering my textbooks from a friendly fellow professor from England, Dave, I worked on my lesson plans yesterday and waited around to get to work. My classes are from 1-3 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Monday through Friday. I'm going to see if I can somehow get the Friday night classes moved up, but I'm not holding my breath. That means weekend trips for the next seven weeks will have to be very local.

I woke up early and tried to kill the time by reluctantly starting to study for the GRE, the miserable test to get into Grad school. Standardized tests are the work of the devil. The hardest part of the day was making my necktie, which took about a half hour. It's not a skill I've developed over the years, and only making them occasionally, I really do suck at it. I'm not a tie-wearin' kinda guy, but I thought it'd make a nice impression on the first day.

Later on over dinner with Lauren and Claire we discussed whether or not you "make" a tie, as I suggested, or "tie" a tie. I think the latter is redundant, but they disagreed. What are your thoughts? After a quick lunch I headed over to the university, an easy 10 or so minute walk from my house. At this university the professors have to sign in as proof that they actually showed up. The secretary set me up with a couple of markers, a locker, and key to the faculty bathroom, and I was feeling pretty good about the situation. Then I realized that I'd left the eraser at home, and had to erase the board with a sheet of paper as it smeared across the white background. A great way to start teaching.

It's hard to be a funny, informative, stern, but altogether understanding and easy going teacher right off the bat. So I took a harder role and made it clear that the rules were unbreakable. After a week of a substitute teacher filling in, I think the students might have been a little shocked at finding a native speaker who has rules. My plan isn't to be the hard nosed teacher who takes away all the fun, but as we were instructed at orientation, you can always start out hard and get easier, but you can never start out easy and get harder. Especially here in Ecuador, where a student will take an inch and run for miles.

Class went along well enough, and though it was hard to gain much enthusiasm from the students, no one through tomatoes at me at the end either. With a few hours to kill, I hung out in the computer lab and graded some homework from last week, then worked on tomorrow's lesson plan. It's hard to judge how long an activity will take, and it's always better to overbook. In the first class I thought an activity in the workbook would be good practice and take about 10 minutes, but it turned out no one had the book. I'm supposed to photocopy it when I want to use it, and then students work on it. I had to scramble fast and, while trying to act like it was all part of my plan, adapt the activity on the spot.

The nice thing about teaching English is the understanding factor. Some people find public speaking hard because every word you say is scrutinized. But for me, I can take solace in the fact that if I say something stupid, they probably won't even understand me, at least at this level anyway. What I'm saying is probably too fast for them anyway, since the majority of native speaker experience they have is from TV and movies.

The second class at 6 p.m. went about the same. It's a lower level, but I found that they kept up just as well as the first class. They had more of a sense of humor too. We had some fun as I told them why you don't call a woman handsome or a man gorgeous too often. Throughout the class fireworks were going off, and at times seemed right outside the room like gun shots. I don't know why, but every night in Cuenca someone sets off a ton of fireworks.

Once class ended and I got lost on the way out of the university, I was relieved to have some dinner with friends and unwind. It was a long first day, and I'm glad it went well and is over. But at the same time, that's just day one of the rest of a year. At some point it will become more of a routine, but for now, just coming up with a lesson plan is a hassle enough before teaching, and if I could just learn how to make a necktie, it might make my day go a bit smoother.