Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fred and Wilma

My afternoon class is a little crazy. Of course I pride myself on being the craziest person in the room, but there are a few kids who give me a run for my money. For the purposes of this blog I'll call them Fred and Wilma.

I usually seat my classes in a horseshoe so as to encourage dialogue. I've moved this class into rows so as to impede it a little. And I've carefully calculated where kids should go. This is very tough to do because 90% of my students speak the same first language, and it's literally unnatural for them not to use it. But my job entails battling nature at every turn.

I do get quite a bit of English out of this group. But I get it at odd times. Fred likes to speak his first language, and I've moved his seat on multiple occasions. There are really no places to put him where he won't find people with whom he can speak. His verbal English is not bad, but he can't seem to control himself. The odd word in his first language comes out here or there, now and then, but several times in every class.

Wilma is different. She'll speak English all day long, but has a voice that can cut through anything, and she's not afraid to use it. She's challenging because she has a 95 average, and is likely as not the smartest person in the room. My go-to remedy for overly loud students is calling the home, but for her it's problematic. Last time I did that, her parents took her phone away and she sat in the class for two weeks with her arms folded, refusing to utter a word. I found that a lot worse than her outbursts.

But she's got a sense of decorum. For instance, she knows people aren't supposed to shout. And if anyone does, she will shout, "Stop shouting!" to that person loudly enough that the walls shake. Bright though she is, the irony of that escapes her utterly. She just can't help herself.

Yesterday, after Fred said something particularly amusing to those in the room who understand his language, I got a flash of inspiration. There's a vacant seat in front of Wilma, one of the few students in my class who does not speak Fred's language. I moved Fred to that seat.

I then started asking questions. Wilma is always ready to answer, even if it entails shouting above anyone else who'd like to answer. Yesterday I called on her more than usual. Actually, she'd prefer that I call on her exclusively and ignore everyone else. So she was pretty happy to get this attention. But I asked her to repeat her answers. I told her I couldn't hear. She was only too happy to oblige loud, louder, loudest, and well-beyond. Fred cringed from the seat in front of her.

Both Fred and Wilma understood exactly what I was doing and why I was doing it. I managed to throw Fred off-balance and channel Wilma's energy in such a way that its innate distraction was under my control. It was a miracle.

I wonder whether I can sustain it for the next five class days. It's a little tiring having to think of things like this. But there's always a way, somewhere.
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