Friday, March 13, 2015
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.