Teaching in Speicher
I found a story about our school and our cadets on the Internet; if you’re interested, check it out:
In it, Captains Dorsson and Martinez (the one who picked us up from the helicopter) are both featured, as is Marcus Scorer, our site lead. General Ali is the higher ranking of the two generals – the other one, General Khuder, is a one star and the one we mostly deal with. There’s a photo of the pilot cadets marching away from the school.
We teach two groups of Iraqi air force cadets here: pilot cadets and GSO (Ground Support Officer) cadets. They cycle through alternatively in an approximate ten-day rotation. “Approximate” because nothing, and I mean nothing, ever goes according to plan here and there are endless changes. You never know what’s going on until it’s either happening, or it’s already happened but, I don’t really mind that part – never been a big planner myself.
The pilot cadets are younger; they’re all between 21 – 23 years of age and most of them are from somewhat to very privileged backgrounds. They have varying degree of wasta (Arabic word meaning clout due to good connections); for instance, I have the air force commander’s nephew in one of my classes and the Prime Minister’s nephew is in another. They all have high school diplomas but most don’t have university degrees. Most are unmarried.
The majority of the GSO cadets, on the other hand, do have university degrees; several of them have already held jobs in their chosen fields (biology professor / computer programmer / engineer / teacher) before resigning that life to join the air force. They are mostly in their late twenties; about half are married with young children and they are much more mature, as might be imagined. They are significantly easier to teach; overall, they are more motivated, more disciplined, more focused and require virtually no classroom management. Some of them are well-connected as well, but not so many.
Really, though, despite the greater classroom-management challenge in teaching the pilot cadets, I’m equally fond of both groups. It’s like in the Emirates… even the “bad” students tend to be quite sweet and charming and you can’t help but like them. And, really, Arabs in general are just so friendly and hospitable with, very often, a great sense of humour; it’s pretty hard to resist the charm. Not that they are all Arabs here; a fair number of the pilot cadets are Kurds from up north. Several of whom, interestingly, look very Scottish!
The actual teaching material is pretty uninspired – we’re teaching the American Language Course (ALC) from the Defense Language Institute (DLI) from out of Texas. There’s a placement test which they have all taken and their goal is to improve their scores to as high a level as possible so that they can study the aviation courses they need to take. There are 30 some odd books in the series (#1 being ABC… and the highest being advanced) and we basically just teach to the test so that they can improve their score. Really, it completely goes against the grain to teach this way but it’s what has to be done.
I currently have the Bravo class – second to highest group – of GSO cadets (Alpha is the highest and levels descend down to India – military alphabet) and they are very, very good. We are forced to sequentially follow the series of books so I am currently teaching them Book 12 (about a pre-intermediate level) but they are all higher than that. I would estimate that most of them are Upper Intermediate (at least with respect to speaking and listening) and some even higher. They’re bored with the material and so am I so my goal is to try to punch the boring Texan material up as much as I can and to go through it as quickly as I can. This particular ten-day session that they’re here has for some reason allowed us more time with just one book than usual so the guys and I have agreed that when we finish the book, tomorrow or the next day, we’ll do some fun stuff. There’s almost nothing in the way of materials here which is frustrating but I do have the Internet and we can play some games and do some interactive activities on the topics they’re going to present to me tomorrow. I’m as excited as they are!