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.

The Rat and the Desks

1 10 2012

Here is a translation of my short story, El ratón y los pupitres.

The Rat and the Desks

The worst day of the year: the first day of classes.

Between the flood of cars, kids, parents, teachers, and lots of noise, I sit in my jail for yet another year again, watching the crowds through the window.  On the blackboard, I’ve written “Mr. Lema.”  The desks in the room are dull, empty, and cold.  Slowly, students enter, talking in loud voices, laughing.  They never pay attention to me, never look at me.  When they fill the desks, I stand up.

“Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Sixth Grade.  My name is Mr. Lema,  your teacher.  We’re going to learn a ton of stuff this year.  I hope you’re all ready and excited.”

They all laugh.  I imagine that I am the joke they are laughing at.


I remember when I was a child.  I loved to learn everything — math, science, geography, music.  I was so curious about the entire world.  But when I see kids today, with their high-tech gadgets, their diverse and confusing vocabulary, their indifferent and bored faces, it’s all a reminder that these boys and girls aren’t like I was.  Enthusiasm, passion — it’s not there anymore these days.

Or maybe it never existed.


One day, the principal tells me that a new student is registering in my class.   I don’t think about this news much.  While the class arrives, I short and quiet boy, like a mouse, stands at the door.  He looks at the floor in silence.  But I can see something special in the eyes of this young boy, something shining, like a little diamond waiting to be mined.  During class, he doesn’t read, and seems afraid of everything.

The students are outside during recess.  I am sitting at my desk when I feel someone in the room.  It’s him, of course, and I smile because I see those shining gems.

For a month, during lunchtime, I help him with his studies, especially English.  I can feel the quiet passion in this little mouse, the curiosity in his constant questions.  He never tells me about his family or where he comes from.  Little by little, he talks more and more in class, better and better.

One Friday, we are in the Music Room.  He sees all the different instruments in awe.  I pick up a trumpet, my favourite instrument.

“Would you like to learn how to play this?” I ask him.  He nods, a smile on his face.

“It’s a small instrument but loud,” I say.  “I can teach you tomorrow.”


I haven’t seen him since that day.  People say his family simply left.

While the bored students arrive as usual, and the grand noise returns again, I sit at my desk and I notice the dull and flat desks in the room.  I notice that the students that fill the desks year after year, both waiting for nothing.