Wednesday, November 01, 2017

The Sitting Dead

Some days there's just nothing you can do. I mean, they are there. You can see them. But where are their minds?

I understand, of course. I can't remember how many days I spent, in high school, surreptitiously staring at the girl next to me and wondering whether she liked me. I wasn't really sure what to do beyond that.

The thing is, though, that my teachers weren't required to elicit participation. I had a bio teacher who had one of those things, an opaque projector I think, and every day he'd project notes on the board. He would stand there in his white lab coat, stroke his beard, and ask, "Is everyone finished copying?" When he determined we were done, he'd place a new page up and begin again. (If I had the notes, I could've taught that class, knowing nothing about the subject.)

I was sitting next to Donna Coe. She was gorgeous. She had long brown hair and seemed to dislike the class as much as I did. But she paid better attention than I did and passed all the tests. I did not. I remember the last two weeks of school I walked around with a red Barrron's review book, learning all I would ever know about biology. I retained it long enough to get a 68 on the Regents. At that time, in that high school, if you passed the Regents, you passed for the year. Donna Coe found a boyfriend who went to college and shattered all my dreams. But at least (and I don't generally go around boasting about this)  I graduated high school. Otherwise I'd probably have to teach in a charter school.

When you teach language, it isn't enough to place notes on the board and have students copy. In fact, I'd argue it's never enough to have students copy. As I heard a college student once say to another who questioned the value of an in-class assignment, "It's a class. You have to do something." I subscribe to that philosophy.

As a teacher of English as a second language, I do get students who are reluctant to learn. There are a lot of reasons that could happen. One is being dragged here against your will. It's nothing short of traumatic to leave your friends and extended family behind. It's pretty hard to be in a place with a strange language you don't understand. One way to deal could be to cling to people who speak your first language, make no friends who don't, and hope your parents will come to their senses and move back, like now.

Another issue is that, in some places, going to school is optional, or at least somehow difficult. Thus we have some Students with Interrupted Formal Education, or SIFE students. Sometimes the school system has labeled them thus, and sometimes not. I notice that more of them are boys than girls, and wonder whether their parents put them to work rather than sent them to school. I had one student whose father told me that, in his country, if you didn't sign the kid up by a certain date, he couldn't go to school. I understood that, but I thought if it happened to me it would happen once. It happened to this parent at least five times in a row.

Usually I will have one or two such students in a classroom. This year I have a class with a more significant number. If I aim toward them, I will lose half the class. Of course if I don't, the other half will almost certainly fail. So it's kind of a tough spot. I was thinking about splitting the class and offering two distinct curriculums, with different tests for students in each group. I've never done that before and I don't know whether it will work. Yesterday a few of them surprised me and did better on a test, so I think I'll hold off on that for a while.

In any case, for me, the Sitting Dead is never a good option. Doubtless Charlotte Danielson would have them dancing in the aisles, even the kids who haven't been educated in their first languages. Alas I, a mere mortal, cannot pull that off every day.
blog comments powered by Disqus