One thing I like about teaching Spanish at UIC is the food! Students will use any excuse to bring food to the classroom. Spanish students learned to bring food in high school and they keep right on bringing it in college. I love it! If I could, I would design a Spanish course dedicated solely to comida de la cocina hispana.
My Spanish 104 class had to do oral presentations last week and some students found a way to prepare a dish that would highlight their proyectos. Of course, I never complain! I usually teach in the morning and most students are very hungry when they come to class. Okay, I’m hungry, too. So the food is always a very welcome visual aid for the student presenting. I’m looking forward to the next set of proyectos!
My Spanish class met for the last time this morning. Some students will never study Spanish again, but hopefully, they’ll remember more than just, “Buenos días” and “¿Cómo está usted?” The students take the last exam and they slowly leave the classroom one by one. The classroom is now empty. It’s very quiet for the first time in the semester. I’m all by myself and I already miss my students. They sometimes annoy me during the semester, but then I miss them when they’re gone. Go figure! I’ll just have to wait untill next semester to see my new students.
Some Spanish students just amaze me with some of the things they tell me, particularly when it comes to criticism about teaching. Some students are very blunt and opinionated when criticizing teachers. Most often, they don’t tell me what they think about me or my style of teaching, but they will tell me how they changed to my class because they couldn’t understand the other instructor because he or she spoke Spanish too quickly. Sometimes students will tell me that my Spanish class is their favorite class, which makes me a bit uncomfortable. Then, some will even add that my Spanish class has been the best class of their entire college education.
I can honestly say that most of my students are happy to come to class and we often have fun together and laugh a lot during class. However, I don’t feel that I deserve all the compliments that I receive. When I used to teach at Morton College, an instructor who taught in the classroom next to mine commented about all the laughter she heard emanating from classroom. “You must teach a fun class,” she said. “What do you teach?” “Spanish,” I said. She gave me this look of disbelief. Normally, most students dread studying a foreign language and only do so to fulfill the mandatory general education requirements. But most of my students love coming to class! This last semester, many students told me that this was the most Spanish they had ever learned. And they had fun in class.
When I first started teaching Spanish at UIC, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the students. Overall, they were certainly a notch above community college students because of stricter admissions standards. The main difference was in the attitude toward me as a Spanish teacher by the two school administrations. At the community colleges where I had taught, I was in charge. They would give me a textbook and tell me that I had to cover a certain number of chapters, which I was always did. But I had a lot of freedom in the classroom. Then, I started teaching at UIC, which is a research university, where most of the 100-level Spanish classes were taught by teaching assistants. Since there are hundreds of 100-level classes and the possibility for cheating increases exponentially, the classes are more controlled and there is less freedom for the instructor in the classroom. Plus, the administration wanted all the classes to be equally fair to all the students. So it took me a while to adjust.
I’ve always liked showing movies in Spanish class. At UIC, I once asked if it would be okay to show a movie if we had time and I was told no. So I didnt’ show a movie. I recalled how students liked watching a movie, in Spanish, set in a Spanish-speaking country. I always picked a movie that demonstrated some cultural aspects of Spanish or Latin American society. Anyway, I decided that I would show a movie to my classes the next semester. How did I get around getting permission? Simple! I just didn’t ask for permission to show the movie. If I had asked, I would be told no. And then I wouldn’t be able to show a movie because I was ordered not to. So I just showed it. If anyone of my superiors would have told me anything, I would have said, “But no one told me that I couldn’t show a movie.” Of course, none of my students ever mentioned watching movies in Spanish class.
So, one day at UIC, one of my students tells me that I’m a very good Spanish teacher. I said, “Muchas gracias” and left it at that because I don’t take compliments very well. She was a good student who always paid attention in class and always did the homework and participated in class. Another day, she told me that her friend was also in the same Spanish 103 class as her, but in a different section. Her friend wasn’t happy with her Spanish instructor. A couple of weeks later, she told me how her friend had transferred to UIC from Daley College and how her Spanish instructor at Daley College was so much better than the one she presently had at UIC. She just went on and on about how her friend had learned so much Spanish at Daley College and how her instructor was so enthuisastic and always answered all her questions. I have to admit that I got very bit uncomfortable by all this talk. I wondered who this super Spanish instructor was. I was also afraid that my students would be disappointed to have to settle for me as their Spanish teacher instead of having that teaching wonder from Daley College. One day, I’m leaving Lincoln Hall where I teach Spanish 103. The student who always talked about her friend at Daley College is exiting alongside me. Well, who do see on our way out? Her friend. “Carol!” my student shouts to her. Carol and I look at each other and we immediately recognize each other. I used to teach at Daley College and Carol was my student back then. The Spanish instructor she was talking about was me!
I actually saw the movie Stranger Than Fiction because it was about a writer writing a novel. I liked the way the line between reality and fiction was blurred. I bought the DVD when it came out and I actually saw it soon afterwards. I only say this because I have a stack of DVDs that I bought years ago and have yet to see.
Another reason I wanted to see it was because I have a personal connection with this movie. It was filmed partly at UIC. In fact, I had to change classrooms because they filmed in my classroom. One day, as I talked to a student in the hallway, another student said, “Did you see who just walked behind you?” Of course, I didn’t. Because I like to make eye contact when I talk to someone. Well, it was Dustin Hoffman! And I didn’t see him! People at UIC who were around the film crew said that Dustin Hoffman was actually funnier than Will Ferrell in person.
So that was my brush with greatness. And I missed it!
Last night, I went to Vain, a night club at 2354 N. Clyburn, for a birthday party for one of my Spanish students, Binh. This is a really nice club with really good music. Two of my Spanish students insisted that I go to this birthday party and few other students in the class said they would also go. Well, I had a lot fun, with exception of waiting in line for a half hour just to get in. The bouncer carded me even though I have gray hair. I just rolled my eyes and let out a sigh of exasperation as I handed him my ID. At times like this, I wish that I had a fake ID with the name McLovin on it. I’d like see how a bouncer would react to that. Anyway, my students were very surprised that I even showed up. And they laughed at me when I was carded. I mean, look at my picture at the bottom of this page! Well, I was the oldest one at the party, but many were UIC students, past and present. I was surprised to learn that everyone at the party knew who I was Binh’s Spanish teacher and most of them greeted me enthusiastically and spoke to me for a while. I even have the pictures to prove it! You can see them on Facebook. A few students said that they tried to get into my Spanish class, but it was already full. I met a couple of former students from four years ago. Anyway, we had a lot of fun at the club. I gave the birthday boy Binh a birthday card in Spanish and a Tatiano Bolaños CD for his birthday. Hey, I am a Spanish teacher, ¿no?
The other day, one of my Spanish students asked me if he could be my friend on Facebook.com. Of course, I said yes. And we are now friends on Facebook. I’ve always gotten along with my Spanish students. That’s because I love my students. But not in the sexual harassment civil lawsuit kind of love. I’ve been teaching college Spanish for about twelve years now, so I remember a lot of students from over the years. Some students kept in touch with me for a while after taking my class and then eventually disappeared from my life. Other students occasionally run into me by chance. Some I will never forget.
I remember Elwood Chipchase and his wife Grace took Spanish 101 and 102 with me at Morton College. He was a minister in Cicero, Illinois, and his congregation was mostly Mexican. He was seriously studying Spanish so could better communicate with his parishioners. Both he and his wife were the students most dedicated to learning Spanish. At first, he didn’t tell me that he was a minister or why he was learning Spanish. One day he asked me why when he asked Mexicans about their mother they kind of paused before answering. Sometimes they gave him a pained look, as if they were offended. I asked Elwood how he asked them. He would greet them, ask them how they were, and how their spouse was in Spanish. Then he would ask about their mother, “¿Y tu madre?” I thought about it a while. Why would they hesitate to respond? Elwood’s Spanish was clear enough to understand. Then it dawned on me. But I felt uncomfortable explaining my theory to him since he was a minister. The problem is that all Mexicans refer to their mother as mamá or mami. They only time they use madre is when they swear at someone, as in, “Chinga tu madre.” Well, he was grateful for my explanation and said he would change his choice of words. The next week he reported that everyone responded more warmly to his inquiries.