Saturday, June 5, 2010

Where have you been all my life?

Or, at least, all this past school year?

The baccalaureate exams, which high school seniors must pass to graduate, are next week; the English portion is Tuesday afternoon. I've been expecting this to lead to a rash of students coming to the dar chebab begging for review lessons at the last possible minute. With one exception (a 23-year-old who plans to retake the test he failed two years ago and has no chance of passing at least the English portion, his English definitely at a beginner's level at best), that hasn't happened.

So I didn't feel too guilty about letting anyone down when I arrived at the dar chebab this afternoon to find myself locked out once again. Grateful, in fact, for an out, an excuse to go back home and take refuge under my zwin new fan.

No sooner had I tucked into Season 2 of "Weeds" (comfort TV, like comfort food) and a bag of Choco Cracks animal cookies ("but this they are for cheeldren," my English-trying storekeeper chided me) than I heard the knock at my door and three whirlwinds of energy entered my home and my life.

Kabira (not my "sister" Kabira, but another girl), Fatima and ~ oh, dear ... Mejha? Mejda? I don't remember the third's name, only her gorgeous sheer lavender headscarf ~ confidently but respectfully, not to mention fluently, asked whether I might help them practice for the bac.

"We have no concerns about the grammar portion, but we are worried about the comprehension and the written section," Fatima told me.

So we read a couple of sample essays together, and I asked them questions about the text. Whereas my typical student would have difficulty answering the most basic factual questions ("How old is Iman?" "What is her favorite subject?"), searching the text over and over in vain, these three could answer the most difficult questions I posed, backing up their answers with further explanation and linking the hypothetical situation to their own lives.

Same with the sample essays. I posed several possible topics they might come across ~ brain drain's effect on Morocco, global warming and saving the environment, and a letter to a penpal describing a Moroccan wedding. They casually tossed off facts and opinions, in a logically constructed essay, off the tops of their heads. All in English.

After I convinced them that they weren't going to have any problem whatsoever in passing their English test, we turned to casual conversation. Music ~ Kabira sang to me the praises of Nirvana, Chris Brown and James Blunt. She gave a mixed review to Eminem ~ "he has good beats and a strong message, but, you know, I'm not in favor of his language." OK, still not exactly my kind of music ~ but a long way from the Michael Jackson and Celine Dion that usually gets swooned over.

I've simply never come across this level of English before in my village, not with my best students to date. All three love the language, which has everything to do with why they've excelled. Not once was their language stilted, not once did they cock their heads in a lack of comprehension. Not once, in fact, did they switch to Arabic to speak amongst themselves.

It's pretty obvious they didn't need me to help them learn English. But if only they'd known how much I've needed girls like them ~ for assistance in the classroom, and for the comfort of having a real conversation in my familiar language.

Inchallah they'll each be off to university this fall and unavailable to help in the dar chebab. But how I wish we'd met sooner. I hope they take me up on the invitation to visit anytime for American iced tea and Moroccan children's cookies.

PS on English lessons
In contrast to my new girlfriends, I've spent the past couple of weeks teaching a mixed class of beginners and intermediates about the past tense. So many verbs are irregular in past tense, but when we do happen upon a "regular" verb, ~ say, "worked" ~ the kids consistently pronounce it as two syllables ~ "work-ed." Equally consistently, I point out that the pronunciation is more like "workd" or "workt." Finally, yesterday, one exasperated kid raised his hand and said, "but you are wrong ~ Teacher (at his school) says it is 'work-ed.'"


Other bloggers, other posts.
The Center for Global Development has
an interesting piece this week aiming to keep an eye on Secretary Clinton's new women-centered foreign policy aid plan. A laudable aim, but will it simply further fragment both strategy and funding? Stay tuned.

Muslimah Media Watch has a couple of posts, one creatively funny and one depressing, on the "Sex and the City" sequel. I admit to loving the series ~ fashion and hair porn, nothing more ~ but found the movie an embarrassingly bad self-caricature. Would have absolutely no interest in the sequel if much of it hadn't been filmed right here in Morocco; kind of like Omar Sharif, Morocco is the generic ethnic go-to for filmmakers looking to set a scene in any Middle Eastern location (see everything from "Lawrence of Arabia" to "The Mummy 2," but not "Casablanca"). From what little I've read, it is nothing but one offensive Muslim stereotype after another. What a missed opportunity; these were once intelligent, feminist women who might just have found solidarity with equally intelligent, feminist women who happen to have different fashion ideals.


Joy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joy said...

lucky you! i had the opposite this weekend. bac students coming out of the dark, begging for last minute study sessions but with minimal understanding. thank goodness the exam was today! :)

william said...

Sounds like teaching English has left you frustrat-ed.