There are many nice views from my new classroom (the horse stalls of the old sugar plantation). There is the view of the “tienda” (the only store on campus that overcharges for everything). There is the view of the beautiful, forest-esque landscape that houses the wooden carvings that line the path leading to the president’s house (another post on the art of Yachay upcoming). There is the view of the tiled, red roof of the new science laboratory. There is the view of my students working on their laptops with faces of confusion, determination, annoyance, and “aguanta” (suck it up and make life work).
I am able to take in all of these views because I am experiencing a new form of teaching. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Yachay is doing big things in the arena of futuristic/present-day-modernity. The most intriguing “big thing” is that my students don’t receive English homework; thus, they are presently writing their research papers in class, yes in class. All reading of academic journals, writing of well-organized summaries, critically thinking of solution for a social problem, analyzing of data–all that good stuff students usually do outside of class is taking part in class. Private time in public spaces.
Thus, I am forced to reexamine my role as an educator in a paperless, homeworkless educational system. Of course, I monitor the classroom by patrolling the aisle and peering over shoulders to expect computer screens (no FB, please!). I pull up a chair and answer questions with full attention for there is no rush. I am able to thoroughly examine sentences and ponder over word selections, which amuses my students who are probably thinking, “Is it really that big of a different if I use X and not Y, since they are synonyms?”
My second class has easily adapted to this new system. They sit at their laptops and diligently type and read. They are cool doing their own projects without disruption. But my first class…the struggle is on and poppin. I answer more questions about the paper, I see more bewildered faces, I sense the WTF? feeling in terms of completing the first part of the paper in two weeks.
I can only offer encouragement and send positive energy. “I have confidence in you! I believe you can do it!” I tell them with a smile and a pat on the shoulder. And even if they don’t feel that “Si Se Puede” in that exact moment, they smile at the gringa loca.
As my department begins reevaluating the dynamics of the English program, I can only wonder how the future can forge forward with the best parts of the past. What are the real English skills that Ecuadorian college students need to thrive with their international peers? What is the best way to utilize an English department on a high-tech uni? Is something really lost when a pen/pencil is absent of a hand? A paperless research/term paper?
And there are personal questions. Am I not stepping up my game enough for this new Yachay challenge? Why am I stuck on this paper and pen thing? Are my students really missing out on The Alchemist or am I just used to read this novel with students? How can I better transfer my writing skills to my students?
I asked my students today what they want from their English classes. Only one student out of 15 provided an answer– more vocabulary. Yet, I know there is so much more that is needed to help students become leaders, to help thinkers become innovators, to help revolutionaries become agents of change. So for the next several of days, I will look at various English programs to see how my English Dept can better push Yachay forward.