Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The First Test

Yesterday I wrote a test to give my beginners on Thursday. It's mostly easy, I think. I'd like them to do well. But you never know. Today a kid walked in who appeared to know absolutely zero English. If he blows the test I won't count it. The thing is, kids walk in every single day. He's missed maybe two weeks. He can catch up, though.

But he's far from the last. I will get new kids in month two, three and four. I'll get new kids in May and June. And while they talk about differentiating instruction, you can only go so far. You can't, for example, go back to day one a hundred times. Differentiating, to me, is a function of treating students as individuals. You can't just address them as though they are a room of potted plants, though I wouldn't be surprised if the Gates Foundation funded a study investigating that possibility. After all, Bill thinks teachers should be replaced with DVDs.

You never know what to expect when you're teaching beginners. Kids are very different. The number one predictor of success, or lack thereof, is generally whether or not the kid wants to be here. Imagine you were 15 years old and your parents dragged you to China. Imagine you didn't want to go there. How would you feel, with all these people speaking some strange language, eating weird food, while all your friends and loved ones were on the other side of the world?

Kids who don't want to be here tend to flock to people from their own country. They're terribly annoyed by crazy teachers like me who insist they use nothing but English in my classroom. What a wasted opportunity, with dozens of people who speak their perfectly good language sitting right in the room with them. Why can't this crazy teacher just shut up and leave me alone?

I can't do that because the only way to learn a language is to use it. In their homes, with their friends, and quite frequently even in bilingual classes they speak their first language. Who is going to be nasty enough to drag them kicking and screaming, if need be, into the United States of A.? Me, that's who.

I predict the overwhelming majority of my kids will do well. Only a small handful will fail. Those will be the kids who haven't been paying attention when we've reviewed this stuff, and possibly the kids who walk in this week.

But anyone who tries can learn English. And I'll be in the faces of each and every kid who doesn't, until they not only pass tests, but also begin speaking with me and others. A great thing about teaching this is I can assure all the kids that I'm teaching them skills they will use each and every day of their lives.

I should know, because I use them each and every day of mine too.
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