When I first moved over here to IHE, the most controversial posts I wrote (at least, according to the comments section) were about teaching writing. The reality is that I have a PhD in Comparative Literature and the main role of my job is to teach writing. It’s not the best situation, admittedly, but I have to work, and this is the reality of higher education today, particularly in English departments, but not exclusively: 18 credit hours in the broadly defined discipline is all you really need to teach a class. And, I’m trying to make the best of the situation, given the constraints.
This semester, I’m now teaching a course that I am possibly even less qualified to teach: Introduction to French. Of course, this isn’t exactly true: I am fluently bilingual who grew up in a French-speaking place, and my PhD is in Comparative Literature (focusing on French and English Canadian literature), with my current research focus looking at Francophone writing from Haiti. Many of my classmates funded their PhDs in Comparative Literature teaching language classes (Spanish, Japanese, Russian, etc). But, like teaching Freshman Composition, does having 18 graduate credit hours in a foreign language qualify one to teach an introductory-level class?
There are degrees that can be earned in second language teaching. In fact, our Spanish program is largely about training high school teachers how to teach Spanish. We have English Second Language (ESL) courses for exactly this reason: anyone who has taught Freshman Writing to foreign-language students know that it presents an entirely different set of challenges. I am being reductive but knowing a language isn’t the same thing (clearly) as being able to teach a language. Now, there are many students who spend a year or two overseas teaching English because they are native speakers, but at the end of the day, is this approach the best way to teach languages?
I’m not trying to bite the hand that has fed me a new and challenging course for me to teach. But in the same way that we aren’t prepared for teaching writing (or literature) nor are we necessarily prepared to teach intro language courses (even if that is the bread-and-butter for most foreign languages departments). I was going to start this post by saying how hard it’s been to teach this intro to French course, but that would have opened me up to the fairly easy and obvious criticism:
Well, what did you expect?
To be honest, I’m not sure. Like many courses taught by non-tenure-track faculty, I inherited a course that was not my own, but that follows a certain sequence that needs to be followed. I also got it at a time in the semester where I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to reading up on the various schools of theory and thought on foreign language acquisition in the college classroom. Or much time to even examine the textbook. It’s hard to come up with innovative pedagogical approaches when one is neck-deep in grading and holiday planning.
So I’m doing my best to make pronouns and verb conjugation as interesting as possible. I discovered the University of Texas’ free Introduction to French resource, which is helping to at least make the homework (or as I say to my students, practice) more interesting. I think I am making up for the…dry subject matter with enthusiasm and humor. But please, those of you who are foreign language teachers, be nice.
I’m making the best of a less-than-ideal situation.