Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Generation gaps

Tomorrow is my first night of class and I am already experiencing the expected pre-first day of school jitters.  Will I make friends?  Will the teacher like me?  Will I get a good grade?  In all honesty, I do not know if there are grades to be had.  Often in more informal class settings such as I expect to find, it is more about the process than measuring the result.

This is fine, but it also makes me a little sad.  You see, I am a good test taker, especially in foreign language class.  Not to shock you, but I always carried 100% or higher in French class in high school.  Perhaps it was because I loved learning the language.  Or maybe it was the flashcards and reviews I obsessively made for myself.  Maybe I just like to "win."  Who knows?

Four years ago, my family took a trip to Sweden and Norway.  As a lark, and to prepare ourselves just a teensy bit for the language barriers, my mom and I took a Swedish class through a local community education program.  It was taught by an older native Swedish woman who was quite lovely and patient.  Our class consisted of about six to eight people, depending on the night.  My mom and I were by far the junior members of the class.

I learned many things in this class.  Yes, I learned some basic Swedish vocabulary and grammar.  I also reaffirmed my aptitude for learning language and desire to win, much to the annoyance of my mother.  But I also had many of my preconceived notions about the elderly put to the test.

You see, I have long believed (based on what older people have told me) that "back in their day," students respected their teachers, worked hard and never spoke out of turn because it was such a privilege to learn.  I never doubted this information because really, why wouldn't I?

Imagine my shock, confusion and horror to discover that my mom and I were the most polite and respectful students in the class.  Our older cohorts routinely spoke out loud to one another while the teacher was explaining important information.  This alone not only irritated our kindly Swedish teacher, but it also meant that when the time came to practice what we were to have learned, none of them had any idea what to say our how to pronounce it because they weren't listening when she explained it.

Now I am not an unfeeling person.  I understand that people learn at different paces and levels.  You can't control the fact that people can sit and listen to the exact same lecture and retain different facts or details.  But when you have half of a class that is not listening at all, you are losing from the start.  And I get impatient. 

But then again, you are supposed to respect your elders, which is why I never voiced my irritation to the offenders.  My mom and I ranted about it on our own, and our teacher even finally gave in and snapped at them on more than one occasion.  Lest you think that they apologized and toed the line, be prepared again to have your preconceived notions challenged.  These folks actually had the nerve to get mad at the teacher.  For what, I never knew.  But gosh darn it, if they wanted to waste her time along with ours because they couldn't be bothered to pay attention, so be it.

So I think I am justified in being a little nervous about a repeat performance tomorrow night.  My hope is that the location of the class at a church in a somewhat questionable neighborhood might make it less attractive for the older folks to approach.  But I doubt it.  I mean, who else would be interested in learning Norwegian?  Besides me, of course.

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