Long Post. Sorry.
So today was the first day that I went to "help" the Mormons with their English classes. The boys who had come over for dinner had told me to come today so I could see how they did things and offer my input. Let me just point out here that this was their idea and their tactic, not mine.
When I got there, the boys who had come over were at the door, along with three other American boys, all about 20 years old. They were friendly and nice to talk to and everything, of course.
The classes were set to start at 10:00, but they were waiting for the last American (let's call him Steve) to show up. Steve was the middle-aged man who was apparently the American in charge of the missionaries and the teacher of the advanced English group. He came rushing in, disheveled and with a toddler at his heels, at 10:10. The boys tried to introduce me to him, but he didn't even look at me. I quickly noticed that Steve had no notion of conversational skills, and that he had a habit of not responding to anything anyone said. People asked him questions or said things that required a response, and he just kept talking as if he were the only one in the room.
The boys were eventually able to shuffle everyone into the chapel, where they had quick announcements and a prayer. They also introduced me and told the group (and me and Steve at the same time) that I'd be helping Steve with the advanced group.
After their announcements, I asked the boys who had come to my house what I was supposed to be doing, exactly.
"Do you want me to just watch, and talk to you later?" I asked.
"No, no. Teach with Steve. Help him out. He doesn't speak Portuguese, so go ahead and explain things if the students don't get it."
Based on what I'd seen of Steve in the last few minutes, I had a feeling that wasn't going to go over very well.
After that worrisome exchange, one of the other boys led me to Steve's classroom, since Steve hadn't bothered to wait for me or anything. There was another missionary in the classroom with me (so the Americans in the room were me, the missionary, and Steve). The missionary had just gotten here to Brazil from New Jersey. He was really good to talk to.
Steve spent a few minutes arranging things for the toddler to do. The toddler turned out to be his son. After the kid was settled in with some toys and chairs, Steve finally acknowledged the class. It was 11:20 by this time. He plopped himself down in a chair and didn't get out from it until class was over. He was sorely unprepared. The room had a chalkboard, but he didn't have any chalk with him (not for lack of resources -- I discovered later that the other rooms had chalk). He eventually explained that they'd be continuing their group reading of a religious text, but that he didn't bring any copies for the 5 or 6 new people, so the group of 12 or so would just have to share the old copies floating around. The result of this was that 3 or 4 people didn't have the text or even any way to look at it over someone's shoulder.
Steve then asked everyone to go around the room and introduce themselves. Since he and I hadn't even properly met yet, I explained why I was there.
"My name's Danielle. I'm an English teacher. I'm living here because my husband is Brazilian. The missionaries asked me to watch the class today to see if I can help."
As per usual, Steve didn't directly respond to anything I said. "Are you a member of the church?" he asked.
Again, with no answer, he turned to the woman next to me, who was a student. "Who are you?" he asked, apparently just planning to continue on with the introductions.
Before getting into the lesson, though, Steve first spent about 15 minutes babbling about how his shower broke a few days back and how he tried to buy the parts to fix it but how it "lit up like a menorah on Hanukkah," a dumb joke that the students clearly didn't understand. In fact, Steve was clearly making no effort to modify his speech in any way for his students, or, heck, to even follow a single train of thought. The students were totally lost, but he didn't seem to notice or care.
Imagine trying to learn Portuguese from some old drunk who sits at the street corner bar and shouts nonsense at people who walk by. It was kind of like that. I know he wasn't drunk, but he clearly didn't have all his wits about him.
Eventually, one older man picked up on what he was saying, and explained to the group in Portuguese, "o chuveiro dele queimou" -- "His showerhead blew out." One of the guys in class was an electrician, and he offered, in Portuguese, to help fix it. The older man translated to Steve that the guy would help, and then they spent the next few minutes hashing out the details of the repair, while all of the other students, bless their hearts, waited silently and patiently. (It was also a big red flag that the electrician was in the "advanced" class but that he didn't even speak English to offer to help with the shower.)
After that, Steve said that the text he'd chosen was some speech that a Mormon bishop gave once. I imagined that he would read it and discuss the ideas with the students, but there really weren't any ideas to discuss. The text was just as disjointed and nonsensical as Steve was.
Steve's system was to have people with copies of the text read one sentence at a time. Then he went through the sentence "explaining" it word by word. By that, I mean he said things like this:
"OK, what about this sentence? 'The attendant gift of the baptism sets us apart from other churches.' What's that about? Anyone know? Anyone know? What's 'set us apart' mean? Set apart? Set apart? OK? Anyone know? What are some things you can set apart? Huh? What can you set apart?"
As you can imagine, the whole thing was painful to watch.
The students were being so polite to a man who clearly had no interest in teaching them anything, whether it be English or LDS beliefs. It seemed like his only real interest was getting his shower fixed.
Because the boys had told me to help, I waited until things were really unbearable before I spoke up.
"Well, maybe we can stick to the meaning of 'set apart' in this context. It's different from the physical 'set apart,' so that question might be confusing," I said quietly to Steve. "I think, here, it's like 'make different'." Then I turned to the students. "Does that make sense? The verb 'set apart' means 'make different'."
Absolutely not the way I like to teach, but I was doing my best to salvage something of the hour.
Steve was NOT PLEASED with my interjection. "My students are not confused," he said hotly. "Confused? Anyone confused? You guys got that? Huh? Any other words poppin' out at ya?"
No responses, obviously. Steve took that to mean that they were clearly not confused, so he repeated his question.
"What are some things you can set apart? Huh? What can you separate?"
"I do not separated from my wife," one student tried.
"Right, great!" was Steve's response. That's about the time I started imagining myself butting my head against the wall. I turned to the guy from New Jersey, who also had a pained look on his face.
"Is this your first time in an English class?" I whispered to him.
"In Brazil, yes," he whispered back. "But I helped teach English in the US."
New Jersey guy was doing his best to speak up when he thought he could be helpful. Mostly he just tried to put Steve's ramblings on hold to ask, "Questions? Does anyone have any questions?" I mean, there wasn't much else we could do. Things were out of control and there wasn't much time left in the one-hour class anyway, since Steve had wasted so much time on his son and on the business with the shower.
I took to taking notes of things that might be helpful advice for Steve. I wrote down things like, "controlled English for lower levels," "focus on student speaking," and "more board support."
The boys from dinner came in at 11:00 to announce that the class was over. The came to me eagerly to ask what I thought.
"Oh, well..." I hesitated. "I took some notes about some things that might help the students speak more. I don't know if you want me to go over them with you, or with Steve, or what..."
The contrast between the boys' faces and Steve's face really was incredible. The boys were nodding excitedly like bobble-heads, while Steve had a look of stone that was clearly saying, "How DARE you question my way of doing things!"
"She and I can talk later, another time," Steve butted in. I took that to mean that he was obviously not interested in any advice, that there had clearly been some miscommunication between him and the missionary boys.
So while Steve stayed in the room to chat with a few students, the boys and I talked outside the door.
"Ugh, my class was beeeeeewwww," one of them said sadly, while making the motion of a plane crashing with his hand. "I just have no idea what I'm doing!"
"Well, maybe Danielle can sit in with you next week and help you out," the other one said.
"Yeah, I'm not sure...I mean, only if you guys want. I'm just here to help, I don't want to impose..." I was feeling pretty crappy after that whole drama with insane Steve, and not sure if I was up for another hour of watching that, just to have my help be rejected.
Before we could decide, Steve came barreling out of the room and waved his hand at me. "OK, let's talk now," he said, motioning for me to enter into another classroom (at which point I saw that the chalk was in full supply). He'd apparently had a change of heart.
"So what? What do you want to say?" he asked quickly and distractedly.
"Um, well, I mean, the boys told me to give you some advice to help your classes, so I wrote down a few things." I took out my notebook from my purse. "For example, it's hard because the students are supposed to be advanced but they really aren't. So I think it would help if your English was a little more controlled, you know, with less slang or not so many jokes, so it would be easier for them to understand and follow the class."
"No no no," Steve said quickly. "Look. I am a professor of English. My forte is conversation. So that's what I do. I have conversations with them. If they don't understand me, it'll inspire them to study more. They'll go home up and look up the words I used. They'll be inspired to read good literature. Then they'll learn."
It was at this point that I realized there'd be no way I'd be able to have a rational conversation with this guy.
"OK then, well that's fine. I mean, if that's the way you do things, then that's fine," I said.
But Steve apparently had more to say. "So there are lots of English schools in town. There's the schools teaching, there's you teaching, and you may think that you know how to do things, but that doesn't mean you do. I'm not going to change my English just for them. I am who I am. As I always say, there's business English, and there's poetry."
This made no sense, and I said so.
"I don't understand what you're talking about."
"Don't you read e.e. cummings?" he asked. Illogically.
"I don't see what that has to do with teaching English to foreigners."
"Because there's formal technical English, and then there's slang. Poetry is slang."
"OK, well I have a Master's in ESL," I said, exaggerating a bit, since I didn't finish my Master's, "so for me, those two things are not the same thing at all."
Steve clearly did NOT like the fact that an educated woman was trying to tell him what was right and what was wrong. At this point, he got very defensive, and was even more rude than he was with his last comment. "You can have a PhD for all I care, but our students are never going to get PhDs, so that's not going to help them. I may not have a fancy technical degree, but I know what I'm doing."
"Then clearly this conversation is useless, and I can just leave," I said directly, not bothering with polite pretenses anymore. "There must have been some miscommunication here, because the boys specifically asked me to come in and give you some tips, but you're telling me that things are fine just the way they are, and you're happy with the way you're doing things. So I'm disappointed, but I'm not going to waste anyone's time."
I picked up my purse to leave, and skitzo Steve seemed to have some kind of moral crisis / personality shift. "Look, I'm sorry," he said, sticking out his hand as a sort of peace offering. "I guess I just got defensive. But it really is nice to meet another American. You'll definitely be a good resource here. Just stick to the basic classes. They need you, since you speak Portuguese."
I walked out. This guy was an idiot at best and a crackpot at worst.
The boys were chatting at the entrance to the church, so they didn't hear my conversation with Steve. They asked if we could meet up this week to talk more about the classes. I told them to call me and that we'd set up a time.
I was so irritated and disappointed. I don't know if it's worth still trying to help the boys. You are only able to help people who want to be helped, and it was very, very clear that psycho Steve didn't want to be helped at all. I'm not sure if the boys are going to respond in the same way. I'm guessing they sent me into Steve's class because they know he's bad, but they should've predicted his response and at least prepared him (though, who knows? They could have very well told him beforehand).
I mean, I was hoping we'd all overlook the fact that I am not Mormon. I was hoping they would respect the spirit of my intentions, which involve biblical teachings of loving thy neighbor and giving to the less fortunate. I thought we had the same goal, which was to teach English well, but I'm not sure that's the case, at least not with Steve.
So now I don't know if I want to go back. The climate I left in (and left Steve in) was angry and uncomfortable, and frankly, I'm a little scared to have to interact with him again. I also don't think I'm being unfair in expecting to be receive politeness and to be treated with respect as a volunteer. Even if the boys are sincerely open to improving their teaching, I don't know if I want to go back to that climate again.
I'm so disillusioned. I just wanted to do something Good, but I don't think this is the right way to go about it.