Futile teaching

2 05 2015

Tried to teach my mom to pronounce some basic Spanish words and phrases by starting with the vowels and how to actually pronounce letters so that she’d be able to pronounce any and every word. And of course it failed because she has difficulty even saying words and letters in English. So inevitably she ended up writing her own pin yin on top of the Spanish, some of which was so cringeworthy and shameful to the language I had studied for years. Whatever works, I guess.

Problems with UBC: Teachers (or lack thereof)

7 03 2013

“Well, the construction may be noisy as hell and inconvenient, and the AMS may be a greedy, slimy joke of a student union, but neither of those things are what I’d go to UBC for.  What’s important to me is my education, and that is what UBC is known for.”

I will say yes and no to this.  Let me first start off with all the negative things about the teachers — sorry, professors — at UBC.

Here’s a story.

Before transferring to UBC, I attended Langara College for about three years.  Many, if not all, of the instructors I studied with had a background in education and teaching — that is, they had been trained as a teacher and an educator.  Even if they didn’t tell me at the beginning of the semester, you could easily tell if an instructor had teaching training.  You can tell it in the way they are organized for class, the way they have a mix of activities to enforce information, such as worksheets, exercises, and different assignments.  But most of all, you can tell in the way they speak: their tone is patient and understanding because they care about their students.  I felt that from instructors at Langara a lot of the time, particularly one of my Spanish teachers who I took 3 courses with, who fostered my enjoyment for learning and speaking Spanish.  I felt encouraged and I always did very well on tests (my lowest test mark ever was 98%).  It was a great learning experience.

When I got to UBC, one of the first courses I registered for was Spanish.  I was excited to keep learning Spanish, and I figured that all instructors would be as enthusiastic and as good a teacher as mine at Langara.

To be fair, he wasn’t a bad instructor.  It was just painfully obvious that he didn’t have a background as a trained educator.  He would give us handouts to translate from English to Spanish, an assignment I didn’t find useful because the translations never focused on a particular grammar or vocab lesson.  It just seemed random.  In fact, his classes, in general, lacked the enthusiasm I was so used to.  I found myself unable to absorb a lot of information thrown at me, and my tests always hovered around 80%, as if he had determined that I was a B+/A- student and was determined to keep me there (all my tests were either 80% or 81% — coincidence?).

The literature we read had the same themes.  The exercises in the textbook didn’t come with an answer key so I wouldn’t know if I was right or not.  I didn’t feel encouraged to speak because everyone in the class seemed to have a better grasp and understanding of the material.

Less than midway through the semester, after learning Spanish for more than 5 years, I didn’t want to take my favourite language anymore.

It would be easy to blame my instructor/professor/whatever you want to call him, but I think my story points to something deeper: many professors at UBC aren’t trained to actually teach.

Now, there’s a difference between being qualified in your field and being qualified as a teacher.  UBC boasts some very qualified researchers, scientists, and speakers.

But just because you have a doctorate, doesn’t mean you can teach.

Teaching is complex, nuanced.  It is not something you learn while you do your research or write your thesis.  It takes years to become a good teacher.  And many instructors at UBC simply are not good teachers.  Considering the amount of tuition students have to pay yearly, the lack of congruency equals to frustration, and ultimately, an education that isn’t worth the thousands of dollars you paid.  So what if you get a Bachelors?  What have you really learned?

Now for the positives: there are some good teachers at UBC who actually have a background in education.  It really is hit and miss though.  And the chance of all your teachers being fantastic during your 4+ years of study?  I’m not sure I like those odds.

— Taking the You out of UBC.

El ratón y los pupitres

30 09 2012

I’m taking 5 courses this semester, three of which are Creative Writing courses.  Ironically, the first story I wrote this term was for my Spanish class, in which we were to re-tell a story we read and studied in class called Cajas de carton (Cardboard Boxes) from one of the other characters.  The word limit was 200-250 words, which I found incredibly difficult to do, and when I was done my first draft, I was up to just over 450 words.  I was able to edit and cut out a bit part of my story, but it just wasn’t as good.  I debated whether or not to simply hand in the long version, since I found it to be a lot deeper than the shorter, edited version, but decided not to, in case my teacher would take off marks or whatever.

Anyway, here is the longer version that I didn’t submit.  I’ll post a translation in English tomorrow or perhaps tonight once I get through my piles upon piles of homework.

El ratón y los pupitres

El peor día del año: el primer día de clases.

Entre la inundación de carros, niños, padres, profesores, y mucho ruido, me siento en mi cárcel por el año siguiente otra vez, mirando la multitud a través de la ventana.  Suspiro.  En la pizarra, he escribido “Sr. Lema.”  Los pupitres en el aula son romos, vacíos, y fríos.  Lentamente, los estudiantes entran, hablan en voz alta, se ríen.  Nunca me prestan atención, nunca me miran.  Cuando llenan los pupitres, me pongo de pie.

“Hola, todos, y bienvenidos al grado sexto.  Me llamo Sr. Lema, su profesor.  Vamos a aprender muchísimo este año.  Espero que estén listos y excitados.”

Todo se ríen.  Me imagino que soy la broma.


Recuerdo cuando era niño.  Me encantaba aprender todo – matemáticas, ciencias, geografía, música.  Era tan curioso del mundo entero.  Pero cuando veo a niños hoy, con sus aparatos de alta tecnología, su vocabulario diverso y confuso, sus caras indiferentes y aburridas, es un recordatorio que estos chicos y chicas no son como yo era.  El entusiasmo, la pasión – no está allí estos días.

O quizás ya no exista.


Una mañana, el director me dice que un nuevo estudiante matricula en mi clase.  No pienso mucho en su noticia.  Mientras la clase llega, un muchacho bajo y tranquilo, como un ratón, está a la puerta.  Mira el suelo en el silencio.  Pero puedo ver algo especial en los ojos de este joven, algo brillante, como un poquito diamante esperando ser minado.  Durante la clase, no quiere leer, no habla inglés muy bien, y parece aterrorizado por todo.

Los estudiantes están fuera durante el recreo.  Me estoy sentando a mi escritorio cuando percibo alguien en el aula.  Es él, por supuesto, y me sonrío porque veo las joyas brillan.

Por un mes, durante el almuerzo, lo ayudo con sus estudios, particularmente inglés.  Puedo sentirme la pasión tranquila en este ratoncito, la curiosidad en sus preguntas  constantes.  Nunca me dice de su familia o de donde viene.  Dentro de poco, habla más y más en clase, mejor y mejor.

Un viernes, estamos en la sala de música.  Ve los muchos instrumentos diferentes en el temor.  Cojo una trompeta, mi instrumento favorito.

“¿Quisieras aprender a tocarla?” le pregunto.  Asiente con la cabeza, una sonrisa en su cara.  “Es un instrumento poco pero fuerte,” digo.  “Puedo enseñarte mañana.”


No lo veo después ese día.  La gente dice que su familia simplemente se fue.

Mientras los estudiantes aburridos llegan como siempre, y el gran ruido vuelve otra vez, me siento a mi escritorio y me doy cuenta de que los pupitres romos y planos, y los estudiantes que los llenarán año después ano, ambos esperan nada.


26 08 2012

Almost done reviews…. I’m so behind.

Synopsis: after a mysterious diary is thrown out on the street by a drunk father, a trans woman named Ale discovers it and begins to settle herself in his family.

Super awesome things: where do I start?

A slow, deep dissection of the meaning of family and how far we go for a sense of belonging.  It’s deliberate in its framing of every single shot and every movement.  The protagonist, well-meaning but lonely Ale, is a good example of a strong but flawed character.  She resists even going into the young girl, Julia’s, house when they meet, but the moment she steps foot inside, she’s also setting her heart in it.  Her friend even tells her not to go back there, but Ale tells him stubbornly, “Julia chose me”, like it’s some kind of sad but true excuse.

This film reminded me of Rebecca, the Hitchcock classic, in that a big part of the film involves a character who doesn’t even have any screen-time.  As Ale gets deeper into Mia’s diary, she also gets deeper with the family, turning more and more into a mother herself.  Ale’s desperation reaches a climax as the night before the family is set to leave the city for good, Ale nearly kidnaps a sleepy Julia before she realizes what she’s doing.  Whereas this film could have ended the way My Last Round did where everyone is unhappy and/or dead, Javier van de Couter, the writer/director this little gem, gives the film that magical hopeful ending — the birth of a child, and the birth of a family and new life for Ale.

It’s also important to note that although Ale’s actions, such as the almost-abduction and the holding-a-homophobe-at-knifepoint-to-the-throat, seem pretty extreme, she’s never presented as a crazy person.  Instead, we empathize with her and her longing to protect her family, something that often don’t come across in films with flawed protagonists.

Not so awesome things: the plot with the shantytown’s destruction, although tragic, is sidelined for Ale’s story, which is a good choice.  But because Ale is rarely seen there, its bulldozing isn’t as sad as it could have been.  I suppose she isn’t there because she’s at Julia’s, but the Pink Village’s fabulousness isn’t all that fabulous, it seems.

Overall: very interesting, captivating film about the family.  One of the best queer films I’ve seen, and certainly one of the best ones with a trans protagonist (much, much better than Romeos).

Grade: A

Congrats to Javier for winning the audience-voted Best Feature Film Award at the Queer Film Festival for Mia!

Mosquita y Mari

17 08 2012

Alright, so here are my famous reviews for this year’s Queer Film Festival.  I won’t be going to see the big-name movies (ie. Tomboy, North Sea Texas, Invisible Men), as I’ve seen those already (all three of those are fantastic films, btw).  Nevertheless, I have a pretty full schedule lined up ahead of me.  Let’s get this thing goin’!

Mosquita y Mari

Synopsis: two Latina girls in the US deal with a friendship that may be more.

Super awesome things: I needed to think about this film.  I left quite quickly after because I had to run off to the next film of the night, and didn’t have much time to really absorb this very good debut feature film from Aurora Guerrero until, well, about now.  I left the theatre having really enjoyed what I watched, but why?  Could it be the obvious fact of a story between two Hispanic teenagers that wasn’t at all cliched or follow the typical formula of other gay teen romance films?  Could it be the pauses and silences between characters, ones that leave audiences wondering what the people on-screen could be thinking?  And then I realized it: it’s all of these things.  Moreover, all of these things are simple things.

What I like best about Mosquita y Mari is the simplicity.  Guerrero knows the formula (or at least, should be familiar of it) of other gay films, and having the film between the two, wonderfully-acted leads be more about a confusing but rewarding friendship than a super dramatic romance thing was a probably the best choice she made.  From the simple plot point of Mosquita (her real name is Yolanda, but Mari calls her Mosquita, which translates to “little fly”) helping Mari with math, to simply framed shots of the two girls lying in side by side in the abandoned car lot while the sunlight pours in from the open roof — there’s a very great sense of sincerity and genuineness for reality in this film.  It doesn’t strive to have everyone win.  This is a simple, realistic story of two girls.

Not so great things: the film is noticeably low-budget, but frankly, it’s so charming and well-made for an independent film that it doesn’t really matter.  I also didn’t quite understand why Yolanda, who says she is a sophomore, is given college pamphlets by her math teacher.  Really?  I mean, yeah, she’s super smart, but it’s just a tad early, isn’t it?  The dynamics between both sets of parents and their daughters is not excavated much, either.  We see Yolanda’s parents getting in a huff about a “boy” they think is the cause of their daughter’s declining grades, but when her mother makes the discovery of looking out the oft-looked-out-of-window by Yolanda to Mari’s place across the street, there’s a look of realization on her face.  It’s not a boy after all.  Unfortunately, there’s never a confrontation between parent and child, and in a film about an ethnic community said to have voted in large numbers in favour of Proposition 8, the infamous bill that kicked same-sex marriage back in dreamland in California a few years ago, there was a clear opportunity to explore the how and why the Latino community feels about queer issues.  But this film is about Mosquita and Mari, yes, and most, if not all of the conflict in this little film, comes from them, not from external forces such as homophobia.

Good for watching: as an exercise in what you can do with an independent production.

Overall: an excellent, simple first feature from Guerrero.

Grade: A-

“Los vestidos desarrgados” — Alberto Iglesias

2 04 2012

Working in a theatre has allowed me to watch the credits of all the films that screen at our little theatre.  I may not have any time to watch the actual movies themselves, but I can tell you exactly what happens during the end credits, knowledge which is by and large useless (unless there’s a scene at the end and I can spoil it for someone, which is always fun).  Cleaning up to the credits of The Skin I Live In was really cool because I actually got to listen to intense, fantastic music of Alberto Iglesias, who wrote the score for the film.  I love how frantic and dramatic it is, which fits perfectly with the tone and plot of the film (I did manage to see this one, albeit at a second-run theatre after it had exited our cinema).  It’s interesting that Iglesias’s score for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was nominated for an Oscar and not this one.  I do think Tinker Tailor was much more subtle, as the film itself is quite an engrossing, quiet film, but man, sometimes it’s just fantastic to hear something so dramatic and exciting as this one.  And all played by strings too.

More updates on my crappy existence.

22 12 2011

I realized this blog is quickly becoming a woe-is-me blog about how I’m (not) coping with the recent news.  And then I thought, “Well… guess I should just go all the way then!”  Until further notice, this blog will become my new venting and sharing how sad I am blog.  I could retitle my blog name to “aaron’s random mournings” instead.

Last night, as I was trying to sleep, I remembered how I used to text G. on our monthly anniversaries (sometimes; on other occasions, it was meeting in person and spending time together).

And then I pictured him doing it with this new guy.  Without thinking, I yelled, “No!  No, no, no, no!” into the covers in my bed, which even startled me.  Part jealousy, part sadness.

Today, I heard and saw this guy speaking Spanish on his phone on the bus and willed myself not to think of the times I would speak Spanish to G.  I imagined talking with this stranger, telling him, “Puede usted no hablar en español, por favor?  Mi ex-novio hablaba… lo habla, y me gustó hablar con él.  Es de El Salvador.  Muy guapo.  Pero ahora, cuando oigo alguien habla español, recuerdo todas las veces con él.  Solía decirle, “Eres tan mono/cuco”, “te amo”, “te extraño”… buscaba por una solucíon para nuestro problema por muchos meses, pero cuando lo descubrí, era demasiado tarde.  Parece que no le gusto nunca más y tiene un nuevo novio que vive en un otro país por mucho meses.

Pienso en él mucho.  Lo extraño mucho.  Lo extraño muchísimo…”

The reason I speak Spanish better

6 04 2011

In Spanish class after my oral presentation:

Theresa:  That was great!  You did a great job!  Very creative.

Aaron:  Thanks!  🙂

Theresa:  Yeah, your… prounciation and accent has improved a lot since last term!

Aaron:  Oh, thanks!  🙂 🙂

Theresa:  Thanks to your Spanish boyfriend and all.

Aaron:  I was gonna say it might be because I’m taking two Spanish classes this term and–

Theresa:  No, it was your boyfriend.  Don’t let go of him!

Aaron:  :)?

La langue oublié

28 03 2011

I wrote this just now and it’s really really rough.  Lo siento para la falta de los accentos.  Soy haragan y tengo mucho hacer.

La langue oublié

A veces, quiero escribir
o aun hablar
en frances.
Pero solamente las nubes violetas
caben en la mente.

Todas las puertas abren a las palabras espanol
y lo que quiero decir es sobre,
sobre las raices de la tierra.

Y despues de todo mi fuerza,
dispare con un fusil una cosa
que cae del cielo.
Dice, “Le langue oublié.  Tu te souviens?”


3 02 2011

… I just have nothing to write about but I feel like I have to write something as I’ve made the resolution to post something for at least half the year this year.  Sure, I could lazily post something I’ve already written but when even that seems like too much work, hmmm… where do I go to search out inspiration?

I’ve been told to just write.  Anything.  That stimulating your creative juices but revving it up with some free-writing helps, and yes, sometimes it does.  Most of the time, I find I write about the most pointless things though.  Maybe I just have the mentality that everything I write should be premeditated — like murder! — or that I should have a plan or an idea of what to do before doing it — like robbery!  Probably that.

I think I just care too much.  I want everything that spews from my pen (in this case, my typing fingers) to be a golden treasure of metaphors, deep, life-changing themes, and strong enough words that they will make people cry after finishing the last period.  But that’s not the case.  After having gone through a lot of my older material, most of it did make me want to cry — not in a good way.

It was still a good attempt though.  I feel like I’ve learned way more in my last two years at college in terms of writing than I had all the years prior to that.  Probably because I could finally get other people’s real opinions on things rather than my friends who would look at a poem I wrote and say, “This is good…”

There appears to be no end in sight for this entry.  Plus, I have to start doing mi tarea de espanol porque tengo un examen el martes.  Dios mio.  Por lo menos, lo hablo y escribo bien y tengo un novio que le gusta correctarme frecuentemente.

Deseeme suerte!