Oscar and “tracking” (this post is a little long, but I am really frustrated at the moment)

This morning I had class with Oscar.  I dread the time I have to spend with Oscar because he is one of the worst teachers I have ever seen.

A few of Oscar’s teaching techniques:

  • never speaking in English
  • showing up to class late
  • showing up to class without the materials needed to teach it (his book, etc.)
  • dilly dallying around so that the class doesn’t start until 15 minutes into it (on average)
  • form of discipline: ignoring the class until they get really loud and then giving them the silent treatment until they shut up.  Then he makes fun of people in Spanish and threatens them with having to copy lines (like they do in old movies)

This morning, Oscar was not late to class.  He was actually there before me for a change.  He shows me the teacher’s manual and wants me to do an exercise with the kids.  “We already did that one,” I said.  We did it over 2 weeks ago.

Then Oscar shows me a piece of paper that he had typed up with a list of famous people on it.  The idea was to write a famous person on a piece of paper and tape the paper to each student’s back.  Then they were supposed to ask one another questions in English in order to find out who the person was.  Not a bad idea.

But Oscar didn’t have the names already written down on the paper.  So he went downstairs to get some paper (see bullet point 3).

Then he comes back up with the paper and decides to be real particular in the way he tears it.  First he has to fold it in half and then he tears it in half.  Then he folds one half in half and tears it into halves, etc.  To assist him in the task, I tore the paper like a normal person into roughly even rectangles and did it in about double the time.  Then we proceed to write the names down on the pieces of paper, me again writing much faster than he was.  When he went downstairs to get yet even more paper I counted the students and realized that we were four names short.  So then I tore some more rectangles and wrote down four famous people of my own.  Then Oscar comes back into the classroom and explains the class activity in Spanish (see bullet point 1).  Then he calls each student up, one by one, to be taped.  As he does this, I am taping all the little rectangles myself and walk around the classroom and tape half the students.  Finally, the students can begin the activity, 17 minutes after the class started (see bullet point 4).

As the students are going, I notice that not only are they not asking questions in English, they’re not even asking questions in Spanish!  Instead they are just talking to one another.  I really don’t think even one person in the classroom tried to do it in English.  Did Oscar say anything?  Did he walk around helping them or encouraging them or instructing them in how to ask a question?  No, he just stood there, and when the students announced that they had figured out who they were, he began folding and tearing again.  “Clearly, this activity was not successful,” I thought.  “Why would Oscar do it again?” And then I remembered that Oscar is the king of wasting time and he couldn’t care less that his students are learning absolutely no English*.  As long as the time can pass without him actually having to do anything, his job is done.

So Oscar has all his little rectangles and he is struggling to think of 22 more famous people so he distributes the rectangles to the kids to write their own famous person.  And then the kids repeat the activity with the same level of failure.

As they are doing this, I tell him, “You do know that no one is speaking in English.”  And he says, “Yes, well the problem is they are telling each other who the person is before they even ask questions.”  Then why would you repeat the exercise?!!  And I said to him, “The problem is that they don’t know how to talk in English.  Most of them can’t even ask a question.  They don’t even know that who is quien!”  Oscar is nodding, but I don’t think he understood one word I said.

Then he decides to do an exercise in the book.  They are supposed to read 2 small paragraphs about some tourist destinations in London and then answer questions about where things are.  In other classes when I did this, the students would practice sentences with locational prepositions (next to, across from, around the corner, etc.) before listening to me reading the paragraphs aloud and answering questions together in a group (and that was 2 weeks ago, meaning this class is 2 weeks behind).  Yet in this class they were supposed to read it on their own and answer the questions on their own.  And like I said, they don’t know English.

I can’t say if they ever even learned the prepositions because last week Oscar told me not to come to his class as he would be speaking in Spanish the whole time explaining grammatical stuff (I couldn’t figure out what could possibly be different about that class last week except for maybe the fact that Oscar was going to teach that day, but I find that hard to believe).

He lets them do the exercise for about 10 minutes and with 5 minutes left in the class I asked Oscar if we could start answering the questions together.  So as I asked the questions to the class it was the same 4 students who actually know English who were answering the questions every time.  Because the other students know no English, I made a girl who had given me attitude earlier answer one of the questions.  The question was, “What can you see at the National Gallery?” and in the paragraph it said that you could see pictures.  So when this snotty girl told me that she didn’t know and that I should ask someone else (in Spanish of course) I said that I was asking her.  I read the sentence aloud that talked about seeing pictures and I asked her if she knew what a picture was.  When she said no the other students translated for her and since she still didn’t know the answer to the question, I presumed that she didn’t know the word see either.  So I told her, “See is ver and pictures are cuadros so what can you see at the National Gallery?”  And she says, “Cuadros.”  And I said, “In English?”  And she said, “Pictures.”  At this point the whole class was snickering a little, which only made the girl feel more uncomfortable but I really have no tolerance for someone who isn’t even going to try to get the answer right.

Now I don’t know whose fault it is that she doesn’t even know the verb to see after 6 years of English but it’s certainly Oscar’s fault for not taking the time to go back to the basics for the 18 students in the class who are on her poor level or worse.  You can’t expect them to ask questions to one another in English when their vocabulary doesn’t extend past hello, goodbye, and how are you? I’m fine thank you and you?.  Two weeks ago they were working on question words like what, who, when, where, and why but as far as I could tell no one was actually absorbing all that besides the people who already knew it.

It’s very frustrating to be in a classroom with a teacher who doesn’t mind his students not learning anything.  What am I supposed to do, walk around the class from person to person, making sure they understand how to do the assignment?  That is actually what I end up doing in almost all his classes but the problem is that there’s not enough time for me to get to all the students and I’m only there once a week.  And why isn’t Oscar doing the same?  If they have an assignment, why isn’t he making sure that they are doing it correctly?  Even the best students make a lot of mistakes.

I just don’t understand how in 4 years of Spanish in high school I managed to learn so much more than the majority of these students.  Sure there are always slackers, but this is basic vocabulary. To see? Who?  I mean this is basic basic.  And here we have Oscar who’s not even doing anything to ameliorate the situation.  He doesn’t take advantage of my being in the classroom and he coasts by on his own lack of preparation and apathy.  It is just a huge waste of time for me and I want to help these students actually learn something but without a teacher who wants the same thing it’s almost impossible.

And this leads me to my core belief that language should be taught by level, not by age! Clearly a curriculum that expects the students to know the word picture is too advanced for most of them.  So why are all these kids put in the same classroom just cause they’re all 12 years old?  It makes no sense.  The class is too hard for most of them and too easy for some of them.  They need to be divided by proficiency cause this is not working.

I’ve raised this concern a lot because in US high schools we have history, advanced/honors history, AP/IB history→differing levels of difficulty for every subject for every grade.  History class too easy for you?  Go to the more advanced level!  Spanish class too easy? Take 10th grade advanced Spanish or enroll in the 11th grade Spanish class.  This term is called tracking in academic realms and I know some people disagree with it but I do not.  I think it is the best way to accommodate students of differing intelligences and differing strengths.  We were not all born good at math and we were not all born as intelligent in one another.   We have different kinds of intelligence, sure, but classroom intelligence is not shared equally by all.  And apparently the US and probably eastern Asia are the only places with tracking.  But I believe you shouldn’t be inhibited by people with less capabilities and people with less capabilities should have a class structured to their needs.

At least in language classes, divide people by level.  It is uncontestable that people have different levels of proficiency at language so people shouldn’t get offended that their kid is in the lower class.  He’s not dumber, his English is just worse!

But here in Spain, from what I’ve been told, people are super sensitive about their kids being different from one another.  They think everyone should be treated the same and they don’t want to confront the idea that some students perform better than others.   Post-Franco Socialist resistance to the notion that inequality exists.  But let’s face it, some people are smarter than others.  Some are better athletes.  Some are better singers.  Some are better writers.  Some are better builders.  People are different and should be treated that way.  It doesn’t help to act as if those differences don’t exist, you’re only hurting all the students.

*After all, Oscar himself can barely speak English.



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3 responses to “Oscar and “tracking” (this post is a little long, but I am really frustrated at the moment)

  1. Sarah

    That is truly depressing. I took 3 1/2 years of Spanish between junior high and high school, and while I no longer get any practice in it living all the way up here now, I’m still relatively familiar with terms. Mother, father, brother, sister, and various verbs (despite my dimming recollection of all the proper conjugations). I’m am 23 years old now, almost NEVER got to practice my Spanish, and took the classes for considerably less time than these kids. This is truly sad and I can understand the immense frustration. I would ask if there’s a supervisor that you could go to, but I can also see how Oscar would react to learning that you found his teaching “inadequate”. I’m sure you can come up with something to help these children. It’s not like they’re supposed to be there for fun, and my Spanish teachers through those few years were merciless! It’s a shame.

  2. Hey Ariela! I like your blog a lot. It’s really funny and you make very good points about so many things, this one in particular! It’s soo frustrating teaching sometimes because I feel like I’m not making any difference being there, and it’s such a waste of time. Anyway, let’s try to get a coffee in Miranda sometime! -Leeandra

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