Friday, February 10, 2012

Making Ties to Kazakhstan

Translating experience can often prove difficult. Walking into the classroom at Las Casitas for the first time brought back memories of teaching in Kazakhstan. The furniture was an odd mix of Victorian gothic, utilitarian, and mid century in a variety of colors, with a twisted leg here and there to add some character. The men in their hats and coats and the ladies with their colorful scarves and long hair and wizened even resembled some of my former students. But theses students brought with them a whole new set of challenges. Whereas my former students grew up under the strict Soviet system, which drilled them in the grammar, literature, and composition of the required Russian language, many of these students had never read or wrote in their native tongue. Moreover, writing the phonetic spellings of new words in their language was out of the question. When all else failed, I always had my Russian to fall back on in Kazakhstan; here it was not so simple.

In some ways, though, this has put me in a better place to relate to my students. One of our frequent class visitors has been a high school student seeking help with her math homework. She often shares how in Nepal she was one of the best math students because she studied for hours. Here, there is too much else to do for her to devote that much time to one subject. The math hasn’t really changed, but the environment has, presenting a whole new set of challenges.

However, I’ve also realized that certain experience do stay the same. Just about any student enjoys listening to their teacher butcher some words in their native tongue. The chance to teach the teachers is always greatly appreciated, whether in Kazakhstan or Tucson. And I think that part of my job this semester as a teacher will be to better learn to translate my own past experiences in order to be a better instructor for my students and to help my students learn to translate their own experiences both in and out of the classroom.

Kara Haberstock, HCET Intern

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