Be careful when talking about schools in Spanish! If you’re talking about school in the general sense, use escuela. For grade school, elementary school, and grammar school, use escuela primaria. For high school, use escuela preparatoria, escuala secundaria, colegio, or instituto. Unfortunately, there is no term for junior high school. When you graduate high school, you attend la universidad. Do not use colegio because colegio refers to high school. College and colegio are false cognates. If you attended a junior college or a community college, you must use universidad because junior and community colleges do not exist in the Spanish speaking world.
Students in the general sense are estudiantes. If you are a college or university student, you are either an estudiante,alumno, or alumno subgraduado. Graduate students are alumnos graduados or alumnos de posgrado.
Be careful what you call the teachers! Grade school and high school teachers are maestros or maestras. High school teachers may also be profesor or profesora. College and university professors are either profesor(-a) or doctor(-a).
One of the highlights of my trip to Mexico was going to my cousin Becky’s college graduation party! Becky invited me last summer when I visited with my sons, so I planned to go to México for it. She graduated as an engineer in December and from now on she will be addressed by her official title of ingeniera. As part of her curriculum, she had to learn English because it’s an international business language. So when she couldn’t take courses she needed in Spanish because they were closed, she would take them in English. We went to see The Day the Earth Stood Still, El día que se detuvo la Tierra in Spanish, and Becky insisted that we see it in English with Spanish subtitles. In many Mexican theaters you have the option of watching movies dubbed in Spanish or in the original English language with Spanish subtitles. Unlike when I was boy, the movies come out at the same time in Mexico as in the U.S.
This was such a cool graduation party! We went to the Ex-Convento de San Hipólito near the Zócalo in downtown México City. There is a courtyard in the middle of the building, but they put up a temporary roof in case it rained. We arrived at 9:30 pm, even though the party officially started at 9:00, and many graduates and their guests were still arriving. Becky had a table for ten reserved for her. Her parents, my cousin Mara and her husband Enrique, Becky, six of Becky’s friends, and me sat at that table. There was a DJ playing music until the evening program began. A few students gave speeches and each table cheered on their graduate. Click on the link below to hear Becky’s. And, of course, there were Mariachis. Everyone who wanted to drink brought their own liquor. The waiters for our table would then mix our drinks. We had tequila, so the waiter made me a Paloma, tequila with Squirt (Esquirt in México). This custom was something foreign to me. For some strange reason, one of the waiters kept speaking to me in English. The waiters served us our dinner, but I can’t even remember what we ate! After dinner, there was dancing. Everyone danced except me. That is until Mara asked me to dance. My cousin-in-law Enrique commented that I danced like an American because I didn’t raise my hands above my head.
Each graduate was seated at a table for ten, for family and guests. Throughout the night, tables would cheer on their graduate. They would erupt into cheer unexpectedly. Click the link below to hear our table cheering Rebeca proudly.
The party roared all night long. About 6:30 am, the waiters started asking us if we wanted coffee and chilaquiles, fried tortillas with eggs. That was the one thing I loved about the party. We didn’t have to forage for food after the party as we usually do in Chicago. As the evening progressed, the waiters became friendlier with us and talked with us when they weren’t busy. The one who spoke English to me was especially friendly. I told him I could tell he had lived in the U.S. At first he denied it, but then admitted to living and working in Las Vegas for about eight years. But he came back to Mexico because he missed his family. I asked him why he spoke to me in English. He told me that he thought I was Canadian! Go figure!
Well, the party was a lot of fun! When we got home, we immediately went to bed because when we woke up, we were driving to Ixtapa Zihuatanejo!
I started reading the blog Stuff White People Like about two months after it started up. I think I read about it on the Internet somewhere and I checked it out. I really enjoyed reading it and found myself laughing out loud many times. Then, one day, I thought, “I could write for this blog.” So, I contacted Christian Lander and asked him if he accepted freelance submissions. He said that he would, but that he had just signed a book deal and they didn’t want a lot of other new writers now. I understood perfectly. But for some strange reason, I had really, really wanted to write one post for the Stuff White People Like. I tossed around several ideas in my head during my idle moments–of which I seem to have more and more with each passing day. But I never actually wrote anything down, as I am wont to do.
Soon the blog announced the forthcoming publication of the Stuff White People Like book and there was much excitement in the blog’s comments. I commented that I wouldn’t buy the book since I had already read all the posts and comments on the Internet for free. As it turned out, the book version had several new never-before-read entries. However, I still refused to buy the book and ended up reading it for free at Borders in two visits!
Before the book’s release, Lander announced that there would be a contest for the best post written for Stuff White People Like. The prize? A free copy of the book. I immediately sprang at the opportunity to write for this blog. There were hundreds of entries. Since there were so many good entries, the first prize was expanded to the top five best entries. In addition to the free book, the winners would also receive a subscription to The Onion. Well, the first winner was announced and there were scores of complaints about the quality of the entry. Commentators complained that it wasn’t written in the same style, that it wasn’t funny, etc. With each winning entry announced, the complaints grew more vocal. Soon, readers started posting their own submissions in the comments. Okay, so did I! And since I wrote it, I’m posting it here for the sake of posterity! 🙂
When choosing a college major, white people often choose the tried and true English major rather than the last resort of Undeclared. When asked why, they will give the convincingly believable reason that an English major will help them get accepted into law or med school. Worst case scenario is that they can always go to grad school for that arts degree and work at the local coffee shop and be the most intelligent, misunderstood barista there. Being misunderstood adds to the mystique of the English major.
Whenever a college student announces that he or she is an English major, be sure to state, “But you already know English!” This will reaffirm his or her belief that no understands the value of a great liberal arts program. When speaking to an English major, whether a current student or a proud graduate, always comment on how well they speak English and how flawless their grammar is. Also mention the decline of the English language since the Elizabethan Era. Many English majors have learned some very funny jokes while enduring long, boring seminars on Chaucer and the Romance of the Rose. They will even share these jokes with you if you let your guard down. English majors are proud of the fact that they are English speakers.
When engaging in a conversation with an English major, be sure to nod in agreement but never interrupt. There is no need to start an argument with an English major. Oftentimes, he or she will start one without your assistance. For example, the conversation may suddenly turn to The Wasteland, and without your aid, he or she will begin arguing whether T.S. Eliot was American or British. Be sure not to get involved in the argument. You will not win. If you would like to change the subject of the argument, simply mention how you always felt that the Nobel Committee screwed James Joyce.
In order to gain the confidence and friendship of an English major, be sure to ask about his or her writing: “What are you working on now?” But don’t expect an answer immediately. In fact, don’t expect to learn any details about anything he or she has ever written. He or she will tell about how difficult it is to write. Be sure to ask to read a recent work. Of course, the reply will be, “I haven’t let anyone read it yet. Very few people will understand all the literary allusions.” Give them a consoling look and say, “It must be hard to write with all the long hours you put in at the coffee shop.”
You may think that rock, paper, scissors is only a child’s game, but they actually have a world championship in which contestants from all over the world compete. Well, that got me to thinking about the game. This is a game for all ages. The entire family can play. There’s no equipment to buy. The rules are simple and cheating is impossible. Chances are no one will get hurt while playing, unless college students play it as a drinking game. The game is easy to play. Everyone forms a circle and makes a fist that is raised and lowered three times. On the third downward stroke, the hand must form one of three things: Rock (fist), Paper (hand held open with palm down), or Scissors (index and middle fingers mimicking a pair of scissors). Rock breaks Scissors. Paper covers Rock. Scissors cut Paper. The beauty of this game is that no one player has an unfair advantage. Size doesn’t matter. Neither does gender or speed. Not even skill or luck! Everyone has a shot at winning. Each item, is a potential winner or loser. Beauty, eh? It’s a great game for choosing who goes first for another game.
Well, we are like each of those items. We, too, possess this duality that coincides beautifully with the yin and yang symbol. We are a rock in that sometimes we must be strong and forceful, but that won’t always work for us because someone who becomes paper will defeat us. So we have to choose what we become carefully. Unlike the game in which chance plays a huge part because we don’t know what the other player(s) will show, in real life we can adapt to the situation and use the appropriate object. We must constantly change accordingly. Anyone who consistently uses one object will surely fail. We must constantly evaluate our surroundings and adapt. Rock, paper, scissors is the perfect metaphor for life.
I wear glasses. I’ve worn them ever since I was in grade school at Holy Cross. The optometrist told me if I wore them while I was young, I wouldn’t need them when I was older. What a lie! I’m still wearing glasses.
I bring up glasses because, as of today, all three out three of my sons (I have no daughters! Alas!) wear eyeglasses. Today, Adam and Alex picked up their new glasses from the optometrist. Adam wasn’t so happy about this, but Alex was exploring his newly corrected vision as if they gave him a new super power, like the kind of super powers that comic-book heroes have.
I knew Adam needed glasses a few weeks ago when we went to the concession stand after his Little League game and he couldn’t read the sign that listed the food for sale. Alex was wandering around the house looking at everything with a renewed appreciation of his eyesight and only now realizing what everything really looked like. For instance, he could read the titles of books that were way up on the top shelf. He never realized that there were words up there.
That reminded me of when I got my glasses at age ten; I should have gotten them three years earlier, but my parents didn’t want to spend all that money just for glasses. My grades would improve and then I would want to go to college!
So when I finally got my glasses, I saw a whole new world. I remember walking home from the optometrist and seeing the trees near my house, as if for the first time. I mean, the green part at the top of the trees consisted of many individual leaves! I knew that, but now I could actually see them for myself. At church before school, I always stared at the girl’s brown coat in front of me. I always liked the brown shade of her coat, the way it wasn’t consistently brown. Then, when I got my glasses, I was excited to learn that her coat was not just brown, but also made from corduroy. And corduroy has lines! I never saw the lines before I got my glasses.
My sons laughed when I told them that I discovered that her coat was made of corduroy. There was one downside to my new glasses until I got used to wearing them. When I looked down at the ground as I walked, it slowly waved up and down as if it were made from Jell-O. If I looked too closely, I wasn’t sure where to put my foot. My sons also thought this was funny.
I’ve been teaching college Spanish for twelve years now every student has his or her own reason for studying Spanish. Most college students take Spanish because of the foreign language requirement. I remember one of these students who barely passed the course. When I returned her first exam, I felt bad for her because she only earned a D. When she saw her exam grade, she shouted, “Yes!” I was worried that perhaps I had given her the wrong grade. The entire class turned to look at her. She then shouted, “Yes, I got a D!” She was so proud of herself. She went through this ritual after every exam. I gave her a final grade of D for the course. The next semester, I saw her in the hallway and I was hoping she wouldn’t see me because I thought she was unhappy about her grade. But alas, she saw me and approached. Suddenly, she smiled and said, “Thanks for the grade you gave me!” And she was genuinely happy about it. Then, she added, “I had a lot of fun in your class.” I was shocked by all this, but I must admit that it was all very rewarding.
So I was thinking of other reasons that my students took Spanish. Here are some:
I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish.
My wife speaks Spanish.
My husband speaks Spanish.
It’s a beautiful language.
I want to go to Mexico on vacation.
Most of my customers speak Spanish.
My parishioners speak Spanish.
I want to move to Mexico.
I want to go to a Mexican restaurant and order food in Spanish.
I want to see Penelope Cruz movies in Spanish.
There are so many Mexicans here, we’re all going to have to learn Spanish anyway.
I want a sexy Mexican girlfriend.
I’m Mexican and I can’t speak Spanish.
I think the cooks in the kitchen are talking about me.
I just finished typing up a handout for my Spanish class. I mainly put verb conjugations for whatever tense we studied in class and other pertinent grammatical lessons from the chapter that will appear on the exam. Whenever I make up these handouts, I always wonder why students ask me for them in the first place. All the information in the handout is already in the textbook.
I never needed any handouts when I studied for exams. If fact, when I make up the handout, I pretend that I’m a student studying for the exam and I leaf throught the textbook in looking for things that might be on the exam. But for some unknown reason, students like to have the handout to study for the exam.
One student told me that she liked the handout so she could study on the train. I suppose that’s better than lugging around a textbook. But if the students study for exams, I’m all for passing out handouts. I think that the reason students want the handout is because they feel that it gives them an advantage.
Well, in this age of computers and video games, everyone wants to know how to beat the game, and to that end, a lot of players resort to cheats they find on the Internet. I think this is how my handout functions, as a sort of cheat to do better on the exam.
Well, as long as the students study and they do well on the exam, I’m happy to make up the handout for them. It’s not like I give them the answers. In fact, I put as much information as possible into that handout. Feel free to look at these handouts. The links are located at:
My Spanish classes are always nervous about how they, the students, should address me. When I first started teaching at Morton College in 1995, I always told my students to call me David in Spanish, as opposed to David in English. Whenever someone called me Profesor in Spanish, or worse yet, Señor Rodríguez or just plain Señor, I corrected them and insist that everyone call me David in Spanish. But no matter how many times I corrected students, not everyone called me David.
Last year, I stopped telling students what to call me. Now, I respond to whatever name they call me. If they call me Señor or Señor Rodríguez, I know that they recently studied Spanish in high school. So within any one class period, I may be called David (in English or Spanish), Diego, David Diego, ProfesorRodríguez, Señor Rodríguez, or just plain Señor. Señor in Spanish means “mister” or “Lord”, which reminds me of when I was little and I prayed, “Señor nuestro que está en los cielos …”
I really don’t want my students to treat me like God. I don’t handle power and authority very well. Señor also used to bother me because it made me feel so much olded to be called Señor Rodríguez, but now I kind of like it. 🙂 Perhpas, I’m finally mellowing out.
I did have one Spanish class that always called me Dr. D. and I kind of liked that. The students really enjoyed calling me Dr. D., too, because it made me sound cool. Every single time any student spoke in class, he or she would insist on calling me, “Dr. D.” before speaking. After a while, I would walk into the classroom and say, “Dr. D. is in da house!” And they loved it!
I’ve learned that with my Ph.D. and five bucks I can buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks. I’ve also learned research skills that allow me to circumnavigate the Google-verse. I can find anything and everything on the Internet—everything except a job.
I’ve been searching unsuccessfully for a tenure-track position in Spanish for twelve years now. However, I’m not bitter at all. Actually, I’m sure I’m on the verge of finding a job very soon. In 1995, I was actually awarded a tenure-track position at a community college near my home. This was the ideal job for me. As a community college student myself, I would have been the perfect role model for most community college students. I was supposed to teach some combination of English and Spanish courses because I had one M.A. in English and one in Spanish. I immediately applied to a doctoral program in Hispanic Studies so I could move up another step on the salary scale. Sadly, when the college board of trustees met, they decided that my position wasn’t necessary and the college couldn’t afford to pay another salary. I had lost my tenure-track position before I even taught my first class! And I have continued my fruitless job search ever since.
Now why did I want a Ph.D. again? Well, since I was in grade school, I wanted to be the most educated person in the world. I remember I once asked my seventh grade teacher, Sister LaVerne, “What’s the highest degree you can get?” And she immediately responded, “Ph.D.” with a sense of awe and reverence. “I’m going to get one of those someday,” I told her. In my heart, it was more like a solemn vow, an eternal quest for knowledge. I would someday be Dr. Rodríguez! However, I never wanted to be a medical doctor. I get squeamish if someone describes medical procedures in too much detail.
There were a few bumps, detours, and stalls on the road to becoming Dr. Rodríguez. My parents groomed me for the life of a manual laborer. As a high school student, I was already a full-time factory worker and couldn’t graduate. Well, it’s hard to get into college if you drop out of high school. Go figure! But I got my GED. I’d hate to think that I wasted six years in high school! Then, I worked in a peanut butter factory for twelve years with a brief three-year stint in the Marines Corps in the middle. I’d say that was a significant detour to becoming Dr. Rodríguez. I must admit that while I was in the Marines, I enrolled in an English composition class at Fallbrook Community College, but ended up dropping out because the composition professor critiqued my writing. Didn’t she know that I would someday be Dr. Rodríguez?
Dr. Rodríguez was ever-present in my thoughts as I continued reading and writing. I always fondly recalled my conversation with Sister Laverne. I didn’t even know what a Ph.D. was back then. (And now, I’m not sure what to do with it!) There was no escaping those constant reminders of my becoming a doctor. My initials are DR! Every time I bought a house, I kept initialing DR. My license plate, the same one that I’ve had since the 70s, begins with my initials: DR.
When the peanut butter factory closed, I tried my luck as a standup comedian. I was pretty good, but I couldn’t handle the Bohemian lifestyle of the starving artist. I needed a steady, good-paying job. Okay, I admit it. Over the years, I’ve developed an addiction to food.
So I became a police officer because the job paid well and offered good benefits. Being a police officer wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t so many criminals. In 1987, the Chicago Police Department encouraged everyone to go back to college to get a bachelor’s degree order to qualify for future promotional exams. Well, at first I resisted going back to school. But the very first time I had to work midnights, with the realization that I would have work midnights every third month, I made up my mind to finally graduate from college and find another line of work. So I enrolled at Richard J. Daley College and earned my A.A. in two years while working fulltime on the afternoon shift. When I went back to school, I was able to request working the straight afternoons and avoid midnights altogether. I loved the fact that Chicago’s Mayor was Richard M. Daley and I attended the college that was named after his father.
When I transferred to the University of Illinois at Chicago, I also transferred to a police district closer to home. So I lived and worked in Bridgeport, the home of Mayor Richard M. Daley. As luck would have it, I was the new officer in the district so I would have to work assignments that the seasoned veterans didn’t want. As the new guy, I had to sit in an unmarked car guarding the mayor’s house because most police officers didn’t want to be anchored to one place for the entire shift. I, on the other hand, loved guarding the mayor’s house, sitting there reading the assigned texts for my classes. I was the perfect officer for the post because the mayor didn’t like the officers to watch TV while on duty. I loved to read and I always studied to get good grades. When the mayor would leave his house, I had plenty of time to put away my book before he saw it. For a while there, I really loved being a police officer! I must admit that I loved the job, but I hated working most of my weekends.
Well, I graduated with a double major in English and Spanish. And since I could study most of my shift, I also graduated Phi Beta Kappa. I applied for a few jobs after graduation, but I was unsuccessful. When the mayor was reelected, I just had to take advantage of my situation. I applied to graduate school for both English and Hispanic Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, since they offered many classes that would fit my schedule. I applied for two graduate programs because I desperately wanted to go to graduate school. I wasn’t sure which program would accept me and I really didn’t care as long I could become a graduate student. I wanted to guard Mayor Daley’s house with a purpose. The mayor’s security detail loved having me in front of the Mayor’s house because I was always wide awake and actually guarding the mayor.
Well, I did get accepted to graduate school! To both programs! I agonized over which program to choose. I loved English and American literature, but I realized it would be more difficult finding a job with an English degree. I made up my mind to choose the Hispanic Studies program because I loved Spanish literature and I could probably find a job with a Spanish degree since I was bilingual. But, why should I be forced to choose between the two programs? Suddenly, one afternoon, while I was guarding the mayor’s house, it occurred to me, like an epiphany. Since I could read all day while I’m at my police job, I could enter both programs! And so I did.
When I graduated with two MAs in 1995, I was hired by the community college, even though I never actually got the job. But I was still in a doctoral program for Hispanic Studies. Mayor Daley was reelected again and I was finally on the road to Dr. Rodríguez in earnest.
When I earned my Ph.D., one of my police partners bought me a nameplate for my uniform that said, “Dr. D. Rodriguez” as a graduation gift. At first, I was hesitant about wearing it, but then I wore it proudly. The supervisors and top brass who saw the nameplate were impressed. All my police colleagues began calling me “Dr. D.” Whenever someone would ask me a question and I knew the answer. Someone would invariably say, “That’s why he’s the Doctor!” Of course, there were playful jokes, too. One police officer would always tell me about his aches and pains, and then ask me for a prescription for painkillers. “I’m not that kind of doctor,” I’d tell him. “But if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll read you some poetry.” No one ever took me up on the poetry reading.
I’ve been teaching for twelve years now. I really love the interaction with the students, even when we argue over silly matters. I’m the greatest teacher in the world! (But aren’t we all?) Most students seem to enjoy my classes and often ask me what I’m teaching next semester. Sometimes, I say things that make the students laugh, so I write them down. I’m thinking of going back on stage. I’m not joking!
Well, I’ve given up looking for a tenure-track position. So if some university or college wants to offer me a position, I may accept it, but only if I don’t have to go through another interview with a search committee. I’ve learned to accept the fact that I’m a retired police officer after a mere twenty years of service: I came, I saw, I retired. I really enjoy teaching so I’ll continue teaching as a lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago. However, I am proud to have earned a Ph.D. I once made a pilgrimage to the UIC Library to visit my doctoral dissertation. As I wrote it, I often wondered if anyone would ever read it. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that not only had it been checked out a few times, but someone had also marked some passages! So now, I flaunt my degree whenever possible. I use Dr. or Ph.D. next to my name whenever possible. My PBK newsletter comes addressed to Dr. David Diego Rodríguez. I can’t wait to start getting bulk mail addressed to Dr. Occupant. I started a blog titled, “David Diego Rodriguez, Ph.D.” at davidrodriguez.us. I love being Googled. If I ever accidently bump into someone on the mean streets of Chicago and they say, “Watch it, asshole!” I’m going to say, “Hey, that’s Dr. Asshole to you!”
Well, after thinking about the first entry for the College Spanish category for a long time, I guess I should tell you a little about myself. I have been teaching college Spanish since 1995 and I still haven’t decided if I would like to do this for a living. Don’t get me wrong. I truly enjoy teaching Spanish. In fact, I have taught at Morton College in Cicero, Illinois, Richard J. Daley College in Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, and now, at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). I could have taught at many other institutions, but they usually offered me Spanish classes to teach well after I already had a full-teaching schedule.
I enjoy interacting with the students and I chose to teach college-level Spanish because I would rather deal with adults who take responsibility for their own actions. What I enjoy most about teaching college students is that I often find myself learning just as much, if not more, as the students. Some Spanish grammar was never clear to me until I had to explain it to a class of baffled students who had so many questions about the grammar lesson before us. Once I figure out a way to explain a grammar point, it becomes clearer to me. Occasionally, not all students will understand my explanation, but at least one student in class who did will explain in his or her own words to the other students, usually quite successfully. Well, in some roundabout way I managed to teach the lesson, and I, too, learned something about Spanish and teaching.