Temoiner (Friday, 2011 March 4)

March 4, 2011

Wednesday, on my way back from getting bread and returning beer bottles (consigner, to deposit — 150 CFA a bottle, which you get back when you return them), I ran into a nice older couple who decided to start talking to me about God. Turns out they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses (temoins de Jehovah) and I think they have a salle just up the road towards the chefferie. They left a French "Awake", "Réveillez-vous!" for me to read, and then they asked for a donation. Basically exactly the same as Jehovah’s Witnesses back home, except I had to debate theology in French. Guess it’s better than grading papers.

Temoin, a witness, is also a verb, temoiner, to witness, and it happens to also be a helpful counterexample to my recent theory that English is more regular about noun suffixes then French. In French, it’s silence, "silence", but silenceux, "silent"; there’s "danceur" for "dancer", but "cuisinier", cook-person. In English it’s often -er, like driver, dancer, singer, but we don’t say stealer, cooker, or witnesser. So I guess it’s a crap shoot. Thanks, linguistics!

My Premiere class today was only 8 or 10 students, which was great. They did a little better on this sequence’s exam, which is good.. still show an appalling lack of creativity and originality for "literary" students. I blew up at one, even picking up a stick and banging it on a desk for effect, as the other students laughed inappropriately. Not sure if they were laughing at me or at him. It’s probably bad form to blow up at a student who really deserves it, since it signals that you’ve lost control in some way, and let them bother you, which is of course exactly what you are never supposed to let a bully do.

He had copied another student’s program, failed to understand it, and then asked me to give him credit, calling me "nduk", patois for "white person". It’s probably a little better than "le blanc", which refers directly to color — "nduk" is distinct from the patois word for white, which I learned once, and is "just the name given to Europeans", according to one of the other teachers. It’s still not extremely polite (though maybe not outright rude), and it’s an ugly word — you have to swallow the word, to borrow a phrase. Not as nice, for example, as nasara, in Fulfulde. (We compare notes on this sort of thing when we get together.) Ah, I hear it now; some lowbrows are wandering around outside. I guess losing my temper really was a tactical error. I try to respond with "le noir"/"la noire" ("black") when I hear it, but lately I’ve been stepping it up to "le nègre" — which my dictionary translates as "sometimes offensive Negro". Side note: expect me to be extremely politically incorrect when I get back; that’s just how service is. It’s just weird that growing up white in a Caribbean neighborhood means I know more about actual racism than a country full of for-realz Africans.

I guess the good news is that it wasn’t really that bad as far as Premiere classes go. I need to talk to the brighter students about how to really help their comrades, and I promised to give another remedial class Monday. I figured out a neat trick, which is to focus on the slowest student who wants to learn, and just teach "at" him/her. Focusing on one student lets you bring a lot of the old tutoring tricks to bear on the teaching problem — ignoring the noise/disruption from other corners of the class, ferreting out problem spots from signals on the face, mental models of what they’re likely to understand/not understand — which are a lot harder to wield at the front of a class. Of course, it should have been pretty obvious to focus on the students that actually want to learn and aren’t just being useless for fun. I’m a slow learner, I guess.

This week’s been a little bit of a challenge; 4e and 3e didn’t do so great on the tests, although there’s always a few that do perfect or almost-perfect, and giving back a test like that is basically a ready-made discipline problem. Jenny and Ryan are in Bafoussam tonight, going out and drinking, and right now I’m having a bit of FOMO ("Fear Of Missing Out"; also, one of my students’ names) despite the fact that I really would rather sit here at the computer and consume chocolate.

I just feel lately like I’ve been giving a lot, putting a LOT of myself into this stupid country with its stupid students. I’m developing that eyelid twitch that I tend to associate with sleep deprivation, although maybe it’s outright stress. I feel my blood pressure rise when the Boys walk into the house, because I know they’re just gonna sit around, do nothing, fuck around with my electronics, eat my food and ask stupid questions when I’d really rather just not deal with them. All I want right now is to sleep in, eat sustainably-made pancakes and watch 30 Rock in bed — and I’m all out of 30 Rock. This duty I have to be a volunteer teacher is starting to feel less like an opportunity and more like an obligation. Also see months 7-10 and 11-15 in the chart.

At least I graded and handed back all the tests for the 4th sequence. Any classroom you can walk away from..

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