Tuesday, February 17, 2009

February 17th - FIM DE SEMESTRE

Happy belated Valentine's. I spent mine with Cathryn at Jota's house. He cooked us steaks! Can life get any better?

This week is the last week of classes in my first semester here at Uni-CV. I don't write about work too much, so I figure it's about time to explain what exactly I am doing here. If you take my blog for face value, you might assume that I am a complete waste of space and spend most of my time chillaxing.

In reality my week is much more routine, busy, and worthwhile. This past semester I taught English and teaching methodologies at the University. I primarily work with the first and fifth year English students. My teaching methodologies course changed over the course of the semester and became more of a true seminar course. I tried to mold the activities and discussions to concerns expressed by my students and specifically to teaching in a Cape Verdean context. It was a great course to teach and by making the course increasingly discussion-based I actually learned more than I could have ever hoped to about the schools, practices, and challenges that teachers here face. The students that I teach are thoughtful, reflective, intelligent, and amusing. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for them the end of this semester marks the end of the coursework for the fifth year students. Now they have to focus on their student teaching and their dissertations. They are the first group of English students to be graduating from the Mindelo campus, so keep your fingers crossed that they all fulfill the last of their obligations.

Which brings me to the dissertations. A good portion of my time and energy goes toward helping the fifth year students complete their "monographias" - dissertation papers. I formally supervise five students enrolled in the English program now, one student who moved to Mindelo from Praia, and another student who lives on a neighboring island who is trying to complete his degree after a ten year hiatus. The dissertation is an interesting aspect to the coursework here. ISE has historically been the university that trains secondary education teachers. This past year ISE and a number of other schools merged to form Uni-CV. The English department went from being English for educators to English for future teachers, translators, or tourism employees. The university is switching from a five year model to a four year model. The new students will not have to complete dissertation papers, but those that entered (ie fifth year students) are still expected to complete and defend their thesis papers. These papers have been a major factor in preventing many people from acquiring their degrees. Many pass their course work and training, but fail to complete or defend their thesis papers. I'm not even saying a few. I'm talking the majority. Try to imagine writing a thesis paper in a language that is not just your second, but your third or fourth language. OK. It's good practice and if they are teaching English, they should be expected to master the language. That I agree with. What makes the dissertation so difficult is a lack of proper resources and materials. Think back to when you wrote your thesis. Head to the fully stacked school library. Check out the Eric Database for academic articles. Check online for titles available at the public library. Not so easy when you are on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Not only are books extremely limited but so is internet access. One company provides internet and phone services. Downloading articles is astronomical. As of right now students do not have free access to journal databases. On top of this many of my fifth year students also work, or have family obligations. Anyone who has been there can probably imagine how easy it becomes to believe that the dissertation is like the holy grail here. I've read almost all of my students proposals, and have informally been working with students during the day between classes and whatnot, and I can promise you that motivation is not the problem. Hopefully, the motivation continues (which is another challenge considering how many revisions and hours a dissertation requires). In the meantime, I as an adivsor worry about due dates, APA vs. MLA, and trying to figure out how I can best guide my advisees to help them complete their thesis on time and to prepare them to eventually defend their thesis as fact.

In addition to teaching I am also responsible for helping to supervise "estagio pedagogico" - student teaching. I love going to the high schools, but it's been really hard to coordinate with the department head, orientadors, and teachers due to conflicts in schedules. I'm hoping to spend more time at the schools in the upcoming semester, but in the meantime I've visited a few classrooms to observe some of my students who already teach full-time. It's a double edge sword because going to the high schools makes me a tad sodade (longing) for teaching at the high school level. Granted as any high school teacher will tell you, at times the whiteboard looks like a perfect place to bang your head against, it's still an amazing job. Sometimes I imagine what I might do after service, and when I contemplate returning to teaching high school history, I can't help but to think of Heritage. Call me crazy, but I miss those crazy kids. Granted I don't miss the lack of school-wide policy or cohesiveness, I do miss my old colleagues and the energy that teenagers invariably have.

As far as my first year course, I feel like I've been struggling a bit. The range of students levels and abilities, having to re-learn English grammar and rules, and trying to teach as much info as possible without losing students or boring students to death, have been major challenges that I've faced. I started with an extremely organized curriculum and plan. I had the materials. I had the lessons organized and structured. After the first two months I think even my eyes were glazing. Overall I don't think the class wasn't a complete bomb, but I can't help but to think I could have done better. We did a little of everything. literature, dialogue, phonetics, pronunciation, maps, everything, but it was too random. They need a clear structure and to go from the bottom up. I need to figure out how to bridge the gap. I need to figure out how to teach them info relevant to either feild that they choose to enter into (teaching, tourism, or translation). I need to figure out how to give each of them more individual opportunities to practice speaking without losing the attention of the class. All of the typical ideals of teaching that in reality often seem impossible. I also think I was too lenient. I thought that each semester had a testing period for the mid-term and final. Makes sense right? Don't ever assume. Now at the end of the semester I found out that the grade is based on a continuous assessment and the final is only for students who score below a 10 out of 20. Luckily have work to assess them on, as well as their oral assessment, but what I had planned to be their final evaluation can't be done due to a lack of time. A typical live and learn situation, but I hate feeling like my class didn't have a clear direction, objective, or evaluation. Pretty much the recipe for a sub-par performance. On the bright side, I've already started daydreaming about potential changes I can make to the course and how I can do things a bit differently.

That has pretty much been my work experience up until now. I'm hoping to start working on some secondary projects, but that means throwing myself into the fire as far as language goes. Ideally I'm hoping to get involved in creating a summer camp with my roommate at the SOS (orphanage) that she works at. I'm also hoping to find a place to offer English lessons to the community. Right now I'm tutoring a family twice a week at night and I enjoy it. As usual I have a million and one options and ideas, but I need to figure out which ones are actually possible.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


This is what happens if you try to drink out of a shoe.

This is what a van packed with sailors would look like.


Why not? Random wouldn't even begin to describe what happened on Sunday after we went to the Beach Bar to grab some dinner. We did find out that my favorite Mindelo group is now called the Palace after combining members.
We also may or may have obnoxiously screamed OH-BRI-GA-DOH at the end of each song...


A week straight of trying to make every second together count had us all looking like zombies by Saturday. Or as Brett texted me, wanting to "vomit our brains out of heads" from exhaustion.


The ED's back together again. A week of full days of training. Indulging in food of all sorts. Fake mustaches. O-bri-gad -OH. And meeting a certain barefoot contessa. All in all a good time. Two days of recovery good.

Saturday February 8th - "ASSOMADA E SABI"

The first week of February marked a week of In Service Training (IST) and a return to Santiago. I requested to get there early to have a chance to get up to Assomada to visit the host family. Assomada is amazing. Of course the trip wouldn't have been complete without a little reunion with the volunteers living up that way.

The first picture is of two of my faves Dacia and Andrew doing the typical CV pose. The girl stands up against the wall looking back while the guy has to have a look of serious contemplation. It really is an amazing combination.

The next picture is a reminder that you should dispose of fish that you do not eat/cook. Leaving them in a bucket under the sink will not make them disappear. Instead their presence will only be reasserted.

I just thought the last picture was funny. Rejected.