All in a term’s work (by Dr. Mela Sarkar)

It was a good fall. But it was a full fall. We have heard from all our BILD members since the last time I wrote in midsummer — and then some! Having guest bloggers has been enriching beyond all measure. Among all of us, though, I seem to be the only full-time faculty BILD member (for now!), so I thought that as term starts to wind down, I would add the faculty member point of view to all the other perspectives we have heard.

We are fortunate in my department at McGill; the maximum number of courses we are normally required to teach in a term is two. Usually we are assigned one undergraduate course and one graduate course; for me this term was no exception. My undergrad course was the first-year course in the basics of English grammar for our future TESL teachers in the B.Ed. program. There were just over 70 students, which entitled me to a graduate TA (teaching assistant) who did wonderful, quite exceptional work helping me explain points of grammar to this mixed class. Over half were first-year TESL B.Ed. students (many of them 19 years old, with a sprinkling of non-teenagers — but I have now met the Harry Potter generation in force!). However, the class is also open to future Kindergarten/Elementary and Secondary English Language Arts teachers, all of them somewhat older. And I can tell you that among this mixed group of future teachers of English in Quebec, most did not have English-speaking ancestors, any more than I did myself!

The graduate course I taught is a course in critical applied linguistics, so particularly relevant for BILD (our guest blogger, McGill M.A. student Stephen Davis took it, which was fun for both of us). Our department has had to increase class sizes because of budgetary constraints. In the past, a graduate seminar at M.A. level would not have been allowed to go above 25 students (in the distant past, 20, but that was before my time). This term the cap was raised to FORTY…which is too many. I was relatively fortunate in that I had only 33 in the class. They were hard-working, interested and interesting; they taught me fully as much as I taught them (that’s what I love about this job). We learned together really. Their final projects (which I require them to do individually, though a lot of the other work is done in groups, just to make the marking manageable) are going to be extraordinary. I encouraged the non-thesis students to do posters rather than classic term papers. About half of them took me up on it, and this week we’re having a poster session! The whole department is invited.


A couple of weeks ago, when it seemed that there was a light at the end of the tunnel of this term, my Indigenous research partners at Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation asked the McGill-based members of the team to help them with a grant application to be submitted to the Aboriginal Languages Initiative section of the Aboriginal People’s Program at Canadian Heritage. They decided on what they hope to do with the additional funding a little over two weeks ago; the Ottawa deadline is this Friday! The light at the end of the tunnel is undergoing some flickering. With a lot of effort, I think it’s going to be a good application.

But I did my Christmas baking, a highly collective event (several BILD members have personal experience thereof) last weekend anyway. Baking helps keep me (sort of) sane. There are always children, and what they wind up creating, given a plain cake as canvas and lots of colored icing, astonishes and delights me, year after year. I call this one “Jackson Pollock, Eat Your Heart Out”.


And I must not forget to mention that three M.A. students finished their theses — one of them is BILD member Michaela Salmon! I took on three or four new ones, so the number stays more or less the same. No Ph.D. students finished, but several chapters, comprehensive exams and ethics applications came down the pipe.

Writing for publication…sigh…I made a long list of all the writing I plan to do next term, when I will be on a half-sabbatical, oh, hallelujah, no teaching, no committees!

Somewhere along the way, my small granddaughter’s syntax in all three of her languages — English, Spanish and French — took a quantum leap forward and her one- and two-word answers of September became eager attempts to hijack whole conversations. Helping take care of the grandchildren has been not only a joy and a privilege, but also a very good antidote to the insanity of full-time academia. Last Friday, as every MoonGoesToBed.jpgFriday, we walked home from her (French-only) daycare and watched the nearly-full moon. We sang the “I see the moon” song, before some clouds came over. “The moon went to bed,” said she. Then we bought some grilled chicken to take home for supper and she raced in the door to where her papá (he is from Mexico) and another hispanohablante friend were hanging out in the kitchen, waving her package and hollering joyfully, “¡Esta es la comida!


So with that thought — of multilingual meals shared as the days grow shorter but the sense of holiday and festivity starts to swell — I wish you all a linguistically rich ending to this year, and an uncontrollably diverse start to 2016!

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