Friday, September 14, 2018

Geniuses in Albany 1--ELLs 0

Yesterday I was sitting in an office trying to catch up. I was doing pretty well for a while. In fact, I planned to go ahead and expand my planning a few days into the future. Then a guidance counselor walked in with a young newcomer. She was looking for a translator since the newcomer could not hold a conversation in English.

We learned that this young woman had aced the test designed to measure her English. No ESL classes for her. The fact that she could not hold a conversation in English was neither here nor there. Go to that English class with a bunch of American-born native English speakers and do whatever they're doing. After all, speaking is not that important. We only do it maybe 20 or 30 times more frequently than we write. In the hallowed halls where the geniuses from Albany work they do much more writing. After all, it takes a lot to sit on your ass all day shooting memos to your subordinates.

My AP was not around. I had no idea where she was. I decided to take her to the principal. I wanted him to see the sort of kid Albany thought needed no help with English. Unfortunately his door was closed and he was doing Important Principal Stuff. You can never talk with principals when they're doing that, of course, so I turned elsewhere. Then I remembered the Top Secret place where I find my AP when she doesn't wish to be found. It's good to be the chapter leader. You learn everyone's deep dark secrets.

Once again I dragged the kid and her guidance counselor up the stairs. I have to give the counselor credit for allowing me to drag her all over the building. Not everyone is as patient as she is. I know I'm not. But she also knew there was something seriously wrong with this placement, and wanted to fix it. I was dispatched to find the girl's composition.

We looked at it, and evidently it used advanced constructions. I did not much like it myself, but what do I know? If the geniuses in Albany say writing one semi-coherent paragraph means you no longer need help with a language you've been trying to master for only a week, that should be good enough for anyone. "Where are we gonna place her?" asked my boss. She rattled off a bunch of course codes. I had no idea what they meant.

"I'll take her," I said.

So today, this newcomer will be in my advanced class. One of the questions I asked her, through a translator, was whether she had ever read a book in English. The answer was no. This further confounded me. How the hell can the geniuses from Albany think someone who's never read a book in English would feel at home in a high school English class?

We will remedy that in my class. While I was interrupted, I was warming up to write a lesson on chapter one of The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, a beautiful book about a young woman coming into herself in Botswana. The thing I really love about this book is that it conveys a lot of complex ideas in relatively simple language. I think this young woman may hate me for a while, like all the students in that class, but will end up very proud she was able to get through an entire novel in English. At least I hope so.

I asked her why she didn't like her English class.

"Accountable talk," she said. "What is accountable talk?"

I'm not really sure. I see signs up saying, "I agree/ disagree with this because..." and other conversation prompts. Evidently it has something to do with giving reasons for things you say. I'm not at all sure that's trending in the United States these days, what with President Trump saying any goshdarn thing that comes into his brain, whether it makes sense or not.

"Don't worry," I told her. "In my class, we will never talk about accountable talk."

I figure if I need to know why a student says something, I can just ask. 
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