Evaluations and Califications in an English Class in Oaxaca

16 Jul

I’m a bit over a year into my perfect-for-now job, and I still love it (especially with vacation just a day away). This year our English program at my university changed our focus and our curriculum. We went from an almost-totally grammar-focused program to a focus on reading comprehension, mostly of scientific articles. That is what most of our students use English for, so it was exciting to try to craft something more relevant for them than reading paragraphs about Sonya’s Two Houses or having writing prompts about your last big vacation trip to Europe (ugh! Totally irrelevant to most students’ realities). Additionally, the curriculum change was thrilling because I’m a big nerd and I love love love to work on curricula.

So a ways into the new program we gave the students anonymous evaluations to get some feedback- mostly about the program, but also about the teachers while we were at it. Here are some highlights from my evaluations. Mostly they were written in Spanish and I’ve translated them, except where noted.

Some of my favorite off-the-wall ones:

“You all have done a better job, congratulations”

I guess this is “a better job” compared to the previous curriculum. It cracked me up because it sounded so patronizing, like, “finally, these teachers got it together to do something decent.” Bless.

“Raise the passing grade from 6 to 8.”

Grades here use a 0-10 system, with 10 being like an A plus. Previously the passing grade for English classes was a 7, but we lowered it to 6 for this year to see how the new program went over. Indeed, the lower passing grade was totally unnecessary for most of my students who put in a bit of effort. Unfortunately, most of the students in one particular major would have failed had it not been for the lower bar. I think this is due to a combination of factors- mostly the pressures put on them in their major combined with the belief that English isn’t important. Obviously, this is not a comment from that group. Regardless, I don’t think we’ll be raising it to an 8.

“The teacher July (sic) is an excellent teacher because all her classes are fun and interesting and she explains to us very well she is understanding and I appreciate her a lot.”

My thoughts: That’s a terrible run-on sentence! Add some periods and commas! But thank you for the compliments. Or is this secretly a poke at my English teaching? No, probably not. Okay, well, thanks, even if you just called me July.

Some of the nicest comments about me and my teaching:

“She’s very respectful and patient. She’s a professor who’s very attentive and responsible in terms of our learning and work. A wonderful and dynamic professor. Very good, thanks.”

A thank you and all! This is above and beyond a compliment!

“I like the class and Miss Julia’s form of teaching a lot, plus the class is very lively, interactive, and fun.” (“Miss” in English, the rest in Spanish)

“I just want to congratulate the teacher because she puts a lot of effort into the class every day to make it dynamic and not so boring.”

Again with the congratulations! I think it just works better in Spanish- felicitar. Whatever the case, I’m glad it’s “not so boring.” Too bad it couldn’t make it all the way to interesting, but alas, you can’t have it all.

“(Does your professor respond to questions respectfully?) Yes, it’s the most important thing, the professor always clears up our doubts. (Does your professor explain things clearly?) Of course. She always does whatever is necessary so that we we’re not left with any doubts. (Other comments) I hope the professor keeps it up because she’s very good at teaching others.”

Awwww, shucks.

The best ones in English (super kudos to all who wrote answers in English! Bravo! Way to go!):

(Does your professor respond to questions respectfully?) She always have answer for the question.  (Does your professor explain things clearly?) We can understand in class. (Other comments) In this class I am learn so much.”

Okay, so this student still hasn’t totally mastered present progressive change in his/her final year of English. She/he has forgotten that pesky 3rd person singular present tense change- have to has. There are much worse things. They can express themselves, and that is the most important part. Good thing we changed to a reading comprehension focus, too.

“She is very polite. I like how teach my English teacher she’s great.”

Yep, it is really hard to get sentence structure right when subjects and verbs just don’t have a definite order in Spanish. But wow! This is a level 1 student! And they used the word polite in English! That wasn’t even one of their official vocab words! That is an extra compliment in and of itself.

The not-so-nice comments about me:

“Although I think the program is very important and in some ways I like how the professor explains, what I don’t like is that she’s so strict, that she wants to follow all the rules.”

Me, follow all the rules? For real? Where did this come from? Perhaps this was somebody who was mad because I try to kinda-sorta enforce the attendance policy. Let me just say, I personally am against taking attendance in college. I think it’s insulting and unnecessary. By college, you’re a grown up, and you get to decide if you go to class or not. Miss enough classes and you’re more likely to fail, but I think it should be up to each student. But in general down here they don’t like to give much freedom to college students. They don’t even have a hang out spot on campus and they get moved along for sitting around on the ground in big groups.

Unfortunately, the attendance policy is not my decision; the university insists that all professors take attendance, and my department decides how many unexcused absences get you in trouble (absences without a doctor’s note or other officially sanctioned reason). If you miss more than 15% the class (around 12 absences per semester), we discount your midterm grade from your final class grade AND you have to pay a steep fine. I think it’s a crappy system, but the English department allows for way more unexcused absences than everyone else. And regardless, I didn’t make up the rule, and I’m not all that strict about it. I personally excuse absences all the time if people come up with a good enough excuse, even though technically only Student Services can excuse them. Because I know I’m not particularly strict, it was a bit amusing to get this as a complaint. It is right up there with my other negative comments (keep reading)- where I’m thinking, “Were you really in my class?”

(Does your professor respond to questions respectfully?) Yes, but sometimes she says it all in English. (Does your professor explain things clearly?) Yes, but sometimes it’s boring.”

Okay, this one is pretty good. I kinda like the brutal honesty there. And then I wonder, does the “she says it all in English” mean you find that disrespectful? Or is it just a misplaced comment? Is it not clear because I’m saying it in English? Apparently it is clear, because their next comment says I’m clear but boring. Who knows….

The really funny part about the next two is that they’re coming from first semester, level one students. One says “Explain more in Spanish” and the other says “I don’t understand when she speaks English”. If these comments were coming from my level 3 students, with whom I rarely speak Spanish, I’d understand. But in my first level classes I barely speak any English! Even when I do speak English, I usually repeat it in Spanish. The times when I exclusively speak English it usually involves lots of hand gestures, examples, repetition, etc. I’d been berating myself for not using more English in class, worrying that I’m not giving them enough opportunity to practice and understand English, and here some of them are, complaining that I need to speak more Spanish! Everyone’s a critic, folks.

Other random work fun / Best attempts to invent a cognate:

As you may or may not know, a cognate is a word that sounds/looks the same or very similar in both languages and means the same thing (not to be confused with words that look the same but mean something totally different). Spanish and English are full of fabulous cognates (like similar / similar, or dentist / dentista – I could go on for days.) Sometimes when you don’t know a word in the other language you can try to adapt the word- the way us gringos often try to just add an –o  to a word in English to make it Spanish. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

My students often do the same thing- use the rules that they have to try to guess a word they don’t yet know in English, making it a cognate. This is a good skill, and works wonders with words like evaluation- evaluación.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with all –tion to –ción words. The word for grade is absolutely not a cognate, and though I’ve told them over and over again, so many students keep wanting to make it a cognate. The word for grade in Spanish is calificacción. There is no such word as calification. No existe esa palabra. No such word. Repeat, repeat, repeat- grade.

So, because I’m a mean old English teacher, I scared the crap out of two of my students at the end of this semester who came into my office asking for their “calification.” “No!” I scolded. “You’ve failed now! Reprobados!” They stood looking at me. “Really?” One of them asked, wide eyed. “No,” I relented, too quickly to enjoy the torture. I wrote and pronounced for them again the word “grade” (with appropriate amounts of finger-wagging and smiling) and gave them their actual (passing) grades. “Teacher, you scared me,” one of them said. “That’ll help you remember the word grade forever, then,” I told him. “You can tell your future children about your mean college English teacher someday, and how you learned the word grade.” Will it stick for that long? Maybe, maybe not. But regardless, I do love my job.

2 Responses to “Evaluations and Califications in an English Class in Oaxaca”

  1. lee1978 July 16, 2015 at 6:49 pm #

    I loved this blog post! To me,spanish is such a more logical language than English. So many times, my residents ask me “why” you say something a certain way in English and I wind up saying I have no idea. LOL Course I am not a pesky English teacher either! It can work the other way too though. I remember many years ago translating our site newsletter into spanish. I wanted to say we were having hot dogs at the BBQ I diligently wrote perros caliente which caused a great chuckle amongst my hispanic residents.

    • exiletomexico July 17, 2015 at 9:10 am #

      Yes, language is so nonsensical sometimes! I often tell my students “because it’s art, not science” when they ask why and it’s a just-because reason. And yes, translating can be hysterical as well! That should be another blog post for soon!

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