Friday, March 13, 2015

The Name

Every time I get observed, some kid calls me a big fat liar. I'm not sure precisely what in my classroom culture leads my kids to do that, but it seems to happen every time a supervisor walks in, like clockwork. In fairness, the last time it happened, a few days back, another kid corrected the first one, saying, "MISTER big fat liar." The first kid repeated the accusation with the honorific attached. I'm not certain that will aid in my rating, but it was something.

My students don't know a lot of English, so they don't speak as often as I'd like. Still, they tend to sense what I will and will not put up with, so there is a little freedom there. One time I was being observed, and I was talking about some grammar or writing thing, I have no idea what, when a very vocal student stood up and demanded, "Why did you give me an 85 in participation?" I had just begun to put my grades online, and I said, "Wow. You actually LOOKED at it." She said, "Yes I did and I'm not happy at all." I was thrilled anyone had actually examined the grades I put up, and I raised her participation grade to 92. I figured taking interest in her grades rated as positive participation.

Last year I had not yet been kicked out of the trailer, and I spent many inclement days in the auditorium. On one such day, a young girl saw fit to point out to me that I was a big fat liar, and did so in full hearing of the principal. I asked, "Did you hear that girl call me a big fat liar?" He immediately sprang to my defense, asking, "Well, what is it you lied about?"

I like to think my classroom is a happy place. Of course, not everyone is happy all the time, not even me. But I always hope to make kids feel free to express themselves. Sometimes kids, after ten years of being told to sit down and shut up, take a long time to open up. Sometimes it's very hard to coax a smile out of a kid whose idea of school is a place where no one ever talks. And by the way, the no one ever talks thing is a particularly awful way to teach language. That's why I often get kids who have studied English for years but can barely squeak out a coherent utterance.

Most ESL teachers I know don't like to teach beginners. You have to really exert yourself to reach these kids. You don't get to sit around and debate profound ideas. But there's a rapid progress that you can see and sense, and a huge difference in these kids from one year to the next. It's almost like watching children grow up.

One kid who was in my class about 7 years ago has come back and is working as a math teacher in my building. I'm extremely proud of her. She's a big reason I keep fighting for sanity in a world full of Cuomos. I think it's important that I be nice to her because any day now she will probably be my boss.

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