Sideways stories from Pascual

29 June 2006
12:00 PM

Teaching day to day at the local agricultural high school, like most routines in life, can be rather dull. This is a verb; this is not a verb. Attendance, lesson plan, worksheet, group work, quiz. “I don’t get anything!” Fortunately, and again like many thing in life, there are plenty of interesting and humorous happenings within the mundane if you look out for them. Here are couple of my gems.

• One day three students approached me independently and asked, “What does oooh may mean in English?” Oooh may? I didn’t have a clue, and I hate to tell the students that I don’t understand their attempted English pronunciation. Instead, I told one student to write the word down. When I saw it, everything was clear. “Abrázame,” I told them, “and it’s pronounced hug me.”

• A student asked me to translate a song from English to Spanish. I agreed because I think songs are a good way to learn and because I want to encourage students’ interest in English. As I sat down to translate the requested song, Guns N’ Roses’s “You Could Be Mine,” I hit some problems. How was I supposed to translate this? I barely understood it in English. “Cause you could be mine / but you’re way outta line / with your bitch slap rappin’ / and your cocaine tongue.” I could hazard a guess, but I have no idea what a cocaine tongue really is. I finally decided to translate “bitch slap rappin’” as “damn singing,” but I paused to think how funny it would be to hear my students try to use “bitch slap rappin’” in a sentence. I needed to warn them that using whatever words they see in songs might not be advisable.

• For the upcoming school-wide cultural fair each class had been assigned a country. The group that had the United States pummelled me with questions for a week. “What are traditional legends from the U.S.?” “What is your most traditional food?” “Is the Statue of Liberty’s book open or closed?” And the best question: “Will you teach us a traditional American dance?” Better yet is their timing: they asked the day of the presentation, about two hours before it took place.

My first preference would have been to teach swing dancing, but the only music we had was a fiddle-and-banjo tune. So I decided to do a square dance, despite the fact that I know next to nothing about square dancing. I cursed myself for not remembering more of the square dancing I learned in fourth grade. An hour later, I had choreographed a little dance with plenty of clapping, moving in a circle, do-si-doe-ing (whatever that is), dancing in pairs, and so forth. The kids practiced for 15 minutes and then I sent them off to the assembly.

On Friday, I asked the students how the presentation went. “Great,” one of them told me, “and we won first prize because of the authentic dance.” I crossed my fingers and hoped none of them ever get invited to a real prairie hoedown.

• In a more advanced class, I wanted to use a song to practice listening and the present tense. I searched through a couple hundred songs—Beatles, Beach Boys, U2, Simon and Garfunkel—but all the songs used the past tense, the future tense, the present progressive, or worse. Finally I found “Love Stinks” by the J. Geils Band. I played it for my class and they immediately liked its simple, upbeat rhythm. They listened to the lyrics intently. “You love her, but she loves him, and he loves somebody else, you just can’t win … love stinks.”

Afterwards, everyone agreed that they liked the song, although they weren’t able to understand more than a few words. As we went through word by word, they slowly realized what the message was. Most everyone was shocked that such a happy sounding song had such a pessimistic moral.

• A student asked me, “Teacher, how do you say yegua in English?” After consulting with a dictionary, I told him mare, though I was perplexed as to why he wanted to know. Another student explained that yegua is used as a mildly derogatory term for a woman. Sure enough, the first boy was pointing at his female classmates, laughing and calling them mares. I politely informed him that mare doesn’t work that way in English, and if he tried to use it, people would look at him like a blithering idiot.