My Students Are Lucky to Have Me

I think that my students are lucky to have me. I really do. I’m now creating the final exam for my language courses. Creating an exam for a language course is a huge headache. An exam needs to test all of the language skills simultaneously: reading, writing, listening comprehension, grammar, and vocabulary. The final exam doesn’t test speaking skills because we have a separate oral exam for that. Speaking in a language course is too important, in my opinion, to be crammed into the final.

Each assignment has to contain a certain percentage of new words that students are not familiar with. The goal is to create a situation where they can handle unknown words and deduce their meaning from the context. All of the exercises have to be connected in some way and have to test more than one skill. They should also cover everything we have learned. Making these activities is a humongous pain in the behind.

So the reason why I say that my students are lucky is that I prepare two such exams for each course. They are identical in structure and in the material they cover. One is a mock final exam that we do in class before the week of the finals. During that activity, I approach each student individually and help him or her make a list of what they need to go over before the exam. Then, when the day of the final arrives, they feel very comfortable with the format, nothing unexpected happens, and even just that security of knowing precisely what will happen during the exam and what activities it will contain makes students feel more relaxed.

And what do you think I do during the 2,5 hours that the exam lasts? Sit there, reading a book? Yeah, right. I barely even manage to spend 15 minutes altogether sitting during an exam. I walk around the classroom and help students. I believe that learning is a lot more important than assessment. If we have 2,5 hours together, why spend it doing nothing but assessing? If a student makes a mistake with, say, the personal “a” at the beginning of the exam, s/he will then reiterate that mistake 15 times in a row. How is that helpful to anybody? If, however, I point out the mistake from the beginning, the student can self-correct.

Helping doesn’t mean giving out the correct answers, of course. Normally, I just point at the mistake and make big eyes. Or I underline it and say, “Ay yay yay.” That is always enough to get a student to think instead of just reproducing a mistaken response.

I wish I had a prof like me when I was learning Spanish. In the only Spanish language course I have ever taken, the prof never got out of his chair. At all. I, on the other hand, walk up to 5 miles inside the classroom during each teaching day. I know for sure because I’ve been wearing a pedometer and creating a graph.

In case it isn’t clear why I’m writing this, the post is my response to people who say, “Why do we need to pay so much (ha, ha!) to people with PhDs to teach these language courses when any native speaker can do it?” I have four native speakers in my Advanced Spanish course and they are thanking me profusely on a regular basis for helping them to learn to read and write better in their own language.

I’m very annoyed with the person who made this comment to me today. And it isn’t the first time either.


Memento Mori

I went to the webpage of a very prestigious journal in my field where I’m thinking of submitting my new article. The Table of Contents of the most recent issue of the journal is populated by scholars who were in the same graduate program with me at McGill University.

That department does not exist any more. It was closed down last year. A department that, in recent years, graduated a group of brilliant young scholars who are getting published in the best journals in the field of Hispanic Studies. I cannot begin to tell you how great that department was and what kind of an amazing intellectual environment existed there.

Whenever I pass by the buildings of McGill University, I feel like I’m seeing a tomb.

Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow

I promised a while ago to write about the history of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. This is the place that a group of pseudo-feminists in Russia has defiled as part of its self-promotion strategy. As I said before, you have to be a real hater of the Russian culture to vandalize a cathedral with such a painful and tragic history.

The foundations of the Cathedral were laid down to commemorate Russia’s defeat of the invading Napoleonic troops in 1812. For decades, people from all over the country donated money (often as little as a few kopecks) to create this beautiful work of art. This was a huge project for such a miserably poor country. Only in 1883 was the Cathedral finally finished and consecrated. For seventy years (which is the same number of years that the USSR managed to exist), people saved and donated money, while the most outstanding Russian artists worked on decorating the cathedral. It became a symbol of Russian creativity and a beacon for all Russian Orthodox believers.

After the death of Lenin, Stalin, who wanted to eradicate every vestige of religious feeling and put his own brand of religious Communism in its place, decided to demolish the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. He was planning to erect a temple to the Communist God, Lenin, in its place. It was going to be called “The Palace of the Soviets.” You can see in the picture on the right what it was going to look like.

In 1931, the cathedral was demolished. Remember that the Cathedral had been filled with frescoes by the leading Russian artists of the XIXth century. You do not need to be religious to appreciate the barbarity of this destructive act. One of the goals of the Nazis was to destroy the cultural heritage of the Slavic peoples. The Soviet Communists had started this project long before Hitler even came up with this plan.

It took almost a year to clear all the rubble from the site. Then, the construction of the Communist Temple began.

It never managed to progress beyond the attempts to lay the foundations, though. The site where a humongous cathedral had stood for years with no problems whatsoever suddenly started to get flooded. Stalin exterminated several groups of architects and engineers but nothing could be done. The flooding continued. For the religious people, it was a sign that God was not going to allow this site to be defiled by the Palace of the Soviets. Soon, the project was abandoned.

In 1992, the Russian Orthodox Church started collecting money to rebuild the Cathedral. Once again, people from all over the country began to donate money for the construction. These were the years of great poverty for the Russian people, yet they found money for this testament to their desire to salvage their cultural heritage from complete oblivion.The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow was consecrated in 2000.

I hope that now everybody understands why it bothers me so much that the pseudo-progressive Western media are glorifying a bunch of money-hungry idiots who vandalized this place of worship with its unique and painful history.