Forced Integration

I found a news website in English about Denmark. In it there is an article about “forced integration” and my eyebrows were raised.

In Copenhagen, apparently, kids are assigned to schools based on their Danish competency. Leading to kids not being very competent in Danish, one would assume. Also, a lot of black children in one place, I cannot imagine that would go done very well here.

In Aarhus, apparently, kids are “integrated” as in all children are assigned schools so as not to have ghettos. Apparently, again, children do quite well (Danish and udlander) in this environment so CPH want to copy.

Calling this system “forced integration” is the opposite of calling something horrible a nice name (eg. oh I dunno, extraordinary rendition sounds a bit like a show tune at a talent contest)

The thing you need to know about me is that I do not, by any means, have the answers.

In the UK, we do not “integrate” so much as bung everyone together. Of course there is a lot of choice in the school system, so white middle class people get wind that black foreign children are going to the local school, they pretty much dub it “bad” and pull their kids away to whiter schools.

I have taught in bad schools with no EAL kids (English as an Additional Language). I have taught in two schools with a fair chunk of EAL kids.

First school of this type was in N. London. The EAL children were 2nd gen for the most part and as far as I could tell, got no support beyond their regular English lessons in terms of literacy. Imagine having an intellectual age of 15+, an English reading age of 8 (home language reading age around chronological age) and being confronted with the GCSE science syllabus.
Imagine having to teach such children. I am allowing myself a small shudder as I type.

Second school was in S. London. The EAL kids were very very 1st gen. They even had an acronym FOB (Fresh off the boat) I yelled “ABUUKAR!” in surprise when a cheeky one of mine used it. He smiled and said “I know, I know, I used to be one! It’s okay. I know! It is terrible…” and shrugged a “what can you do?” shrug. I miss Abuukar.

They had lessons with me from day one but they also had EAL lessons, I think during English time and maybe French time? So, they seemed to be happier in my lessons. Or maybe I was just a better teacher? I certainly leveled up after my TEFL. A lot of vocab drilling before teaching after that little insight. Pronunciation, meaning, form.

Here, the kids are siphoned off into groups to be taught Danish before going to the mainstream. Some don’t appear to leave. I don’t know how good they have to be at Danish to leave. Some come to the international groups for tuition in English, science and maths in English.
The lessons sound pretty good from having overheard one when I had to cover for a class.

Funny story, I spoke to a woman in class about teaching her daughter but I had to do it in Danish because she only speaks Danish and Portuguese and she was all like “YOU are teaching my kid Danish” and looking really distressed and how do you explain the cover lesson with limited Danish anyway.

I liked the idea of Danish for beginners classes for new immigrants after seeing the wide terrified eyes of my new students. Arriving at random, without warning and I would have to change my plans BAM, these children need extra help and I do not know how much.

Now I am not so sure. I want them to be friends with the Danish kids, I want them to be part of the school and not an annex but it is fucking liberals like me that made all those kids in the first school so resentful and frustrated in my lessons.

I do not know the answers, I already said.

For my part, I have decided that my teacher is terrible. She does so many teaching crimes that it is hard to keep it in perspective.

She gave us a reading exercise and of course we all freaked. It was the hardest of the hard.

The hardest thing to get a language learner to do is CLOZE (fill in the gaps), the most very new vocab you should dare introduce is around 7 (plus or minus 2) after that people’s memory gets a bit sketchy, “comprehension” questions that can be answered just by looking for place names are pointless, following up an activity about crime in the news with one about letter writing is a bit odd.

She gave us a CLOZE with 26 new (to me) words. Of those, six were repeated. We struggled with our dictionaries, giving each other shy little looks, not one of us shared a common language, we struggled to build up a rapport.
We struggled for ten minutes while she was out of the room, translating words like
estimate, quantity, robbery, rise and other very specialised vocab.

She came back and asked us if it was too hard. Even her tone of voice when she asks is enough to set me off. We agreed it was was too hard. She told us ex. 2 was easier.

Indeed it was. There was more unfamiliar vocab, I understood nothing but I could answer it correctly because it was a case of finding the placename. I could do it in Martian and run a mile.

The third was a stats exercise. Again, let’s get the dictionary out because I need to know stuff from the stats set and from the violent crimes set.
This was a piece taken directly from the National Statistics Bureau. Absolutely no concession to our collective beginner status.

She got us to read. I think, perhaps, she should have done this first and then perhaps, she would have known we could not understand it. Every other fucking word she corrected. Every other FUCKING word.
I read it fast and evenly so she had no way of correcting my pronunciation. CAN SHE NOT HEAR IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE? She says the word again and the people do not repeat it properly, because as a strategy it is doomed to failure. Even with babies, they hear the word enough from Mum and Dad and they say it right. Correcting them does not make them say it right.
As soon as I hear “modesty attacks” in my day to day life, I will be able to say it.

After I read, her question was not “so, what happened?” it was not “who was affected?” it was not “was anyone killed?” it was “you didn’t understand any of that did you?”

And my answer was “not one thing” and she said “do you know what — means?” and I said “I don’t know what — means, I don’t know what — means” and I hunted for more words I didn’t know but I realised what a slippery slope I was on so I just repeated I didn’t know ONE word. So, she had a go at explaining it to me and kept asking the class if they had read about this in the news, seen it on the tv?

Why would I read the news when I cannot understand one word? Surely, surely, she should be doing something about that? Instead of just assuming I have picked it up by fricking osmosis, testing me on it and then asking “you didn’t understand?”
The explanation coming second is the wrong way round for beginners.

Elicit, teach, test. It is all cock a hoop at my sprog skole.

We went through the answers and then the next activity was about “how did so and so sign off his letter?” (He said “VH Lars”)

Talk about a change of gears. CRUNCH, ooh did you feel that?

It got to be break time so I whispered to the girl sat next to me “I am so angry, I have to leave” and she smiled at me, a little encouraging smile and I loved her for it even though I do not know her at all.

Apparently, stats are on the exam. I suppose being able to have a nice conversation at work about riding my bike is NOT on the fucking exam which is why I can still only do it in English. Thanks, ministry of integration, you really have helped me fit in here.

I suppose I will ask the people at the sprog skole if I can be moved down and hope that there is a beginners group. I thought I *was* in the beginners group.

Or, maybe find someone to teach me but I am in the sticks somewhat. It would be a different story in CPH I think. Even in Odense or Aarhus. But a little town? Someone must have a cousin who knows someone who would teach me. I think it would be a bad idea to get a colleague to teach me, even though I bet a lot of my friends would kick ass at it.

If I had known all this last year, I wonder… I bet I would have still come because I am so happy here it is ridiculous. I love my job, I love this way of life, I love how I am finding out new things about myself, I love the travel possibilities, I love the new community, I love being 10mins by foot away from work, I love it here. But if I had known how hard THIS language would be to acquire and why, I wonder if I would have tried to get lessons before I left?

I do not, by any means, have the answers.

More Danish

Last week, I had a Parent’s Evening (Mon) and then a massive sulk (Wed) which prevented me from going to Danish class.
This week, I have no meetings and it is getting increasingly harder to think of excuses for absences.

It was not so bad. It was in many ways, bad. But overall, it was okay.

There was a lot of book work, lots of self-study. Reading and writing exercises are my bread and butter so that was fine. There were some listening exercises, made harder by my teacher coming over to speak to the person sat next to me for both listens. At the same place in the tape.
There was also a bit when I got a question wrong and instead of being told what I had heard (I was all “hey, but he didn’t say “brev” what did he say?”) being told “yes, he sent a letter”. Uh. It is okay I got it wrong but I really wanted to know what that last word was.

There are a lot of Anne Robinson moments in our lessons. “No.” “That’s not right.”
I at least try to soften stuff a bit. Until I know the kids anyway, a bit of curt “you are the weakest link” stuff can be fun for all round. It is not for funzies here.

She really likes moving people around the classroom. I hate it. I didn’t move today but it really winds me up. Also, she stands behind me when she speaks to me and that also winds me up. It is a horseshoe table formation. No need to stand behind me.

Do I ever stand behind my students? I really don’t think I do. I can read upside down though. It really is making me look at my teaching. Do I correct every word? Do I say “no, wrong”. Do I read over my students’ shoulders without checking if it is okay first? Do I move people around to groups they have not chosen?

I bet I do some of the things, I will have to watch myself because these things seriously wind me up so I cannot imagine my students take kindly to it.

Also, I think the vocab she uses to talk to us is Advanced. For instance, she was saying “jeps” for “ja”. If I am still struggling over when to say “hendes” and when to say “sin”, I really appreciate the instructional language simple and sloooow.

The work was pitched at the right level this week at least so I felt okay by the end. Plus I worked with someone that I like. When we are not sure of a word, we put it into French which makes us Extra Special.

I had to talk about my books, the books I have read for the exam. The thing of it is that one book is about a stabbing and two are about rapes. I feel bad reading them because they are blatant trigger-fodder, having to talk about them with a semi-stranger makes me feel really awkward. You just never know who you are talking to. I hope I was not a PTSD trigger today. I resent my Danish lessons for putting me in that position. I really do not mind reading boring books about someone getting his car serviced. Why all this action?

But by the end, because it was aimed at my level, I was able to leave feeling pretty okay. If I had left at break it would have been a different story.

I have looked into private tuition, I think it is probably the best option for me. There is another school in the suburbs with a different approach and smaller classes and I guess I could ask around and see if anyone knows anyone who wants a keen student with too much money.

Danish lessons~

I nearly lost my shit in Danish lesson today.
The first thing that pissed me off was the teacher moved me. She asked me to sit with some other people (who I do not know very well).
She then went on NOT to cater for my learning style by giving me a sheet of comprehension questions and asking me to *talk* about them with my group. I hate talking about comprehension questions with the group. You either got it or you didn’t, teachers. There is no discussion.

Then there was a whole bunch of her asking my opinion on work-life balance but not the normal one where you have a really cool teacher who has to balance their work and their life but the BORING one where you have a married couple with kids.
Who cares? I am not married, I will not get married. I don’t have kids, I will not get kids. Who cares if someone works full time or part time?

There was the added complication that I am not good enough at Danish to talk about this shit. I wanted to say something along the lines of “well, someone needs to look after the kids who actually knows them. These daycare centres have such a high staff turnover that the children will be cared for by different people and that is not stable. Doesn’t matter if it is Mum or Dad or Grandparents, just as long as they are someone the child can trust,”

I put it more simply but (and this may come as a shock), I have been doing Danish for FOUR MONTHS and therefore do not have the vocab nor grammar to put those thoughts together.

I would have struggled in French and I am shithot at French. She kept saying “try, go on, keep going” but I know when I do not know something.

There was a bit where I almost cried. I got through a really long sentence, explaining it all and she goes “No, I didn’t understand that at all, could you rephrase” and it was so frustrating because of course, if I could have rephrased it better, I would have.

What I need to be doing is elementary Danish speaking practice to bring my confidence up. She tried to get me going by asking about my family.
All they ever want to know in Danish is about my fucking family.

The thing of it is MY family is easy, I live alone, no kids, no boyfriend. But that isn’t the Danish way so I have to talk about my parents and brothers.
And my family, in common with much of Britain, are really bloody complicated to talk about.

Even in English, I don’t bother explaining it all because it is complicated to the point of tedium. The constant house moving, the different jobs my parents did, the things my brothers have been doing.

It is not like in Denmark where Mum is a paedagog and Dad works in a fabrik and you have always lived in Skagen in a little house with your brother and sister. And you all went to kindergarten at 12 months and school at 6 years old.

I mean, Jesus, she wanted to know had my mother worked when I was growing up and the answer is sort of. The answer is complicated. The answer is not “yes” or “no” or “part time”, it is “hang on, let me draw you a diagram” even in English. I required the word “dog handler” and only because I could not be bothered to get into the whole “sort of like police but not military police and he kind of guarded nukes as best as I could make out but he did not really talk about it”

I need to be practicing my Danish for the shops and for the post office and for officials. I have been saying “I have come to deliver my package” when I mean “pick up” for a month. And why is that? Because I know how to say “the children from day care went on a trip to the pond” instead.

The course assumes I am a mother who is evily not going to speak Danish to her children, DAMAGING THEM FOR LIFE. So, it equips me to have a good Danish family life. I swear to God, one of the words I have learned in Sprog Skole is “cornflakes”.
When do I get to learn about buying things? When do I get to learn about how to be polite? They assume I have already learned it and I have not.

Then to top it all off, I wrote a longish piece about my opinions on work life balance and she was like “oh, the task was to write about your day to day routine” which I had misread. Because who writes to an agony aunt about their routine?

I dropped out of Danish and got arsey again “Why do I need to know how to be able to write that?” which actually had her stumped which made me feel bad.

I really could do with a list of learning objectives (imagine ME saying that). I really could do with “this lesson you will learn…” I really would like to see what I am being taught.

I love learning languages and this is the first time I have ever felt so disheartened. And it is all from being asked to do something beyond my ken. And being moved away from my friend when I wasn’t doing anything wrong. And being given tasks that I could not see the utility of.

I am so careful not to do this stuff in class so it really hacks me off when it is done to me. I could see that she could see that I was pissed off and I felt bad. It is a bit of a double bind, of course you don’t want your teacher to have a bad lesson just because you’re grumpy. But I need practice in the basics before I can be asked about what I think about working Mums.

Shit, I do not even know the word “someone” in Danish, how the Hell can I express “well, as long as SOMEONE is home, it doesn’t matter”

The subject matter is too hard for me. It wasn’t the lesson plan, the lesson plan was fine. But it was for the wrong person. And not entirely sure what I would have learned even if I had been able to express myself.

Afterwards, I had a lovely evening at the pub quiz. I laughed so hard at one stage I got hiccups for the rest of the evening. We came second this week.
Also, got a postcard from Costa Rica from Swap Bot. That was enough to make me crack a smile too. I still like it here but am considering quitting Danish class and going it alone. I suppose I will feel different in the morning.