Monday, November 23, 2015

Off With Her Rubric!

When you teach English language learners, particularly when they're rank beginners, you can never be sure how much of what you say the students understand. A typical coping technique when learning a new language is nodding your head and pretending to understand, whether or not you actually do. Different people will do that to different extents, while others will make their best guesses about what you've said and move on the assumption they're correct. Sometimes they are, but not all the time.

So there's a lot of mystery and misunderstanding in my job. One thing I make it a point to do when I teach is to refrain from showing anger when I'm actually angry. That's just not productive. But I'll frequently feign anger and/ or frustration to get attention, and I'll argue with kids who like to argue for pretty much any reason (or even no reason). If they're using English when they do it, it's a pretty good exercise.

A few days ago, a long-lost student returned. She'd been absent for maybe a month, and though I'd had people who spoke her language call her house multiple times I couldn't get a real answer as to where she was. But she had the misfortune to see me in an office that day, and pretty much had no excuse not to show. It was too bad, because she'd have likely done well, you know, had she been here.

At some point, some kid started laughing. I don't remember why. I said, "Listen, this is English class and there will be no enjoyment. Anyone else who has a good time is going to get a zero." This is something I've said before, and most of the kids are used to it. But the student who'd been absent for a long time had not, and she said, exactly, "Oh, you so bad teacher."

Now I didn't know whether she was serious or playing, but it struck me as very funny either way, and I could not stop laughing. This is usually a bad thing, as once you, the teacher, lose your composure, everyone else tends to follow suit. And thus, that day, things fell apart for a few minutes.

As of now, I'm leaning toward believing the girl was making a joke. For one thing, if you were seriously upset with a teacher, would you shout out how bad the teacher was? (Actually, there's probably a large number of teenagers who might do just that, but I don't personally believe this one was among them.)

So here's the question--were they engaged?  What would've happened if a supervisor walked in? A teacher told me the only good way for this story to end would be for a supervisor to walk in just as this was happening. And what does being engaged mean (if you haven't got imminent wedding plans)? What if I distributed 17 decks of cards and told them all to play gin rummy? Wouldn't they be engaged?

I guess it wouldn't earn me Danielson points. But for me, and for all the students who were in that room, I think we were happy to be there at that moment.
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