Tag Archives: student

In Theory, I Hate This Class

Education only works if someone cares

Professor —–,

The following is a hypothetical situation, but I think you’ll find it helpful in understanding my performance in class and how we can work together for our mutual benefit.

Let’s say I’m taking a class, the purpose of which is to equip me with a certain skill. For this exercise, let’s call the class “Literary Analysis in Arabic.” This class, like any class, is built upon the relationships between the student, the professor, and the material. In order for the class to successfully equip me to analyze literature in Arabic, one of several scenarios must happen (combinations are also possible):

A) I enjoy the professor and want to excel in order to make her proud.

B) I am passionate about Arabic literature and as such am driven to do well for the love of the material alone.

C) I am a mindless slave to grades and would sacrifice everything in order to get an A, regardless of my relationship to the professor or the material.

However, in this theoretical class, something interesting has (theoretically) happened. Not only do I not enjoy the professor, but I am also not particularly interested in the material, which is made up primarily of reading novels in Arabic, an act that takes grotesque amounts of time. Indeed, in theory, I determined while sitting in the very first session of this theoretical class that my time was better spent elsewhere doing something I enjoy and find useful instead of honing this skill which will likely go unused in the future and wasn’t all that lucrative to begin with, personally and financially.

At this theoretical juncture, it is clear that I’m not motivated to excel by the material itself or the professor, who theoretically I find overbearing yet absent. The only thing left to compel me to do well in this hypothetical course would be the promise of a good grade, a letter on a scrap of future-trash that means nothing to the rest of the world and to me would only signify the hours I wasted earning a clearly meaningless letter. Actually, I have theoretically found grades irrelevant and am no longer motivated by them.

Indeed, the only reason I have to continue attending this theoretical class is the desire to avoid personal embarrassment complete withdrawal might cause in addition to administrative issues that are not related to the subject matter or professor. In short, my theoretical motto for this class is, “I’m here but not interested. Please do not disturb.”

For that reason, the lackluster professor should theoretically avoid doing things like assigning a surprise presentation and then adding with a flourish that it will be done, “for a grade,” because theoretically I would sense a challenge. “What if I just didn’t do it? What if I just sat here and stared? Will you fail me? FAIL ME ALREADY!”

So in theory we should avoid doing that. But there’s nothing to say this theoretical situation could be a positive experience, with each one left with less work to do and more time to do the things she loves. In theory, this could be the best of every world.

Thanks for taking the time to hypothesize with me, Professor —–. If you have any questions please let me know. See you in class tomorrow!

Photo Credit: Grant Cochrane at freedigitalphotos.net

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You’re not from these parts are you

One of these things is not like the other

Brace yourselves. This might shock some of you.

I am not fluent in Arabic. It’s unbelievable, I know, and after 4 years of studying it no less. Moreover, I do not believe I will ever be “fluent” in Arabic. Though in the far future I may be able to consume the Arabic language perfectly through the mediums of reading and listening, I am completely certain that my language production will remain quite obviously non-native.

I dream of future self like this:

Native Arabic Speaker: “Hey you down for getting a bite to eat after we ditch this joint”

Me: “I think that a nice plan but first of all it is necessary for me to go to the house and get my knapsack since I have left her there.”

Despite my language short comings, I can still speak Arabic better than most infants, toddlers, and other foreigners. Therefore, I feel my Arabic studies cast in a particularly ironic light when someone, perhaps a toy shop employee, sees me, surmises that I am not Egyptian and instantly becomes mute, believing he cannot say one word to me unless he says it in English, a language in which he never progressed past “Welcome in Egypt.” He quickly determines that his only other option for communicating with me is through a complicated series of sounds, hand motions, and facial expressions that would be much simplified through the miracle of speech, which he has already ruled out.

Should I begin this mode of vocal communication by speaking in Arabic, the result is usually confusion, surprise, and then disbelief, sometimes with a swift return to hand motions and one word sentences. In the most depressing of cases, the person will not recognize that I’m speaking Arabic (albeit poorly) and will ask someone passing by if they speak English, and I’m standing there like an idiot thinking about my past four years of Arabic study, realizing it’s all led to this point of me being unable to find out where the spices are at the grocery store.

Here’s another example:

Man who comes to check the gas meter knocks on the door. I answer it. He notices I’m probably foreign, tipped off by the American flag I drape around myself at home. I’m speaking in Arabic, he’s speaking in English.

Me: Good morning.

Him: Good morning. (motions to his notebook) Gas.

Me: Please come in.

Him: (motioning with questioning signals, asking where the meter is)

Me: It’s in the kitchen.

Him: (goes into the kitchen, checks the meter, emerges) Eight pound.

Me: (I pay him and he gets ready to go) Goodbye

Him: Bye Bye

Of course, there are plenty of circumstances when I have wonderful conversations with people who are delighted to know that I can speak their mother tongue despite the fact they are slightly baffled that anyone would learn Arabic, saying

“Why? Why do you learn Arabic?” (I often ask myself the same question after every disaster similar to the spice search.)

But occasionally you meet a person who simply will not believe someone of my appearance could speak scribbly. Encountering this disbelief  is just another one of the joys of learning Arabic.

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