Thursday, September 11, 2014

In the Beginning...

I'm continually frustrated the first few weeks of school. Here I am in a classroom, but it's not really my class yet. I'm struggling to learn names, my kids come from all over the world and it turns out in many parts of the world they use names that are wholly unfamiliar to me. No matter how many years I teach, that doesn't seem to get any easier. My only consolation is many of my kids have just as much trouble with English names.

Worse than the name issue is that I can't really see who the kids are yet. Many of them are accustomed to sitting quietly in classrooms, and that practice can be pretty deeply engrained. That's no way to learn language, if you ask me. Even if they don't have some cultural compulsion to stay quiet, they are checking me out just as I'm checking them out. I see them coming out of themselves in dribs and drabs, and some are bolder than others, but they're unsure of me.

Who knows what a new teacher will do? Likely not the kids facing him. Teachers get kids in trouble, and maybe if they answer me I'll get them in trouble. Who likes trouble?

The first few weeks I always feel like I'm walking on eggshells. Usually, as kids become more comfortable, one or two will speak up, and the others follow. As it turns out, we're at the one or two phase. I'll be a lot happier and more comfortable when there are more. I'm pretty sure the kids will too.

Now I could do things like ask them to turn and talk. But I've wiped out a great deal of what they'd say by making it clear that they may talk only in English. In fact, the first day I walked into the hall and explained that the hallway was a free country. In the hallway they can speak Spanish, Chinese, Korean, or whatever languages they liked. In my room, unfortunately, it's a dictatorship where only English is permitted.

So I'm in the odd position of encouraging conversation when I've ruled the overwhelming majority of their conversation unacceptable.

But year after year I've managed to drag these kids, kicking and screaming though they may be, into speaking English. It's my fond hope this year won't be any different.

As Tom Petty said, the waiting is the hardest part. For me it's not merely the shock of moving from summer into fall (and work). It's that I can't wait for the kids to wake up and see they can do this. But I'm moving as fast as I can!

And if you're further interested in the beginning, here's what actually happened:

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