Thursday, September 06, 2018

Teacher's Diary--Class Day One

It's kind of nerve-racking meeting classes for the first time. First and foremost, you never know anyone's name. Our ELLs are largely Asian, and some of the names are very tough for me. My pronunciation is better than it once was, but it's never gonna be anything to brag about. I've called kids by the wrong names for months sometimes before they corrected me.

Yesterday, in my first class, I did diagnostic essays. This class is supposed to be the highest level ESL class there is. Yet I found students who would clearly benefit from what I teach in my beginning English classes. I found really fundamental errors, like failure to capitalize anything, utter ignorance of tense use, and writing I am with an apostrophe between the two full words. It's pretty clear to me that the students I used to get in beginning levels are now simply in higher levels.

Now it's nice that the students are in higher levels, I suppose. It certainly makes me look good, if I happened to teach those kids. However, for all but three in that group, I did not. That's not really the point. The actual point is to make NY State look good. We have this insane thing about giving way less ESL instruction. I'm not exactly sure what made the state go this way. I have theories.

My first is that there has always been a shortage of ESL teachers. That's why I've frequently been offered the chance to teach and extra class, in a shortage area, and make an extra 12K or so per year. I've said no each and every time because I have no idea how I even do what I already do, let alone teach an extra class. Fortunately, a whole lot of my colleagues have worked this out better than I have.

So you move all the kids up a level or two, cut a good half of the actual ESL classes, and maybe there will be no shortage. Hopefully you'll have so few kids studying English you won't need any ESL teachers at all. They'll simply acquire English by pure magic. You could write a book--How to Learn a Language Without Studying at All. Or not. It doesn't really matter whether you learn the language as long as you pass this test. And since NY State not only designs the test, but also creates the cut scores, the test can say any damn thing they wish it to.

It's sad, really. My beginner classes are now almost exclusively rank beginners, which is kind of sad. These kids would benefit from being challenged more by their peers. Of course, I'm not a genius from Albany. I'm just a lowly teacher so what do I know about teaching? If I knew anything about teaching, I'd be sitting on my ass in some Albany building telling all the working teachers what to do.

Meanwhile, I'm losing the perpetual battle of man vs. machine. For years, I was in the trailers, No one ever put tech out there. Last I was there, there was some ancient windows laptop chained to the wall. When I taught The Cask of Amontillado, I told the students the guy was just like the laptop. I think I showed a video from it on Chinese New Year, when only four kids showed up.

I was later promoted into the building, where I had a dead Smartboard. Though I dutifully hung my coat on it each and every day, I never could talk my AP into giving me credit for innovative use of technology. Then, something even worse happened, They pulled out the thing and replaced it with something that actually worked.. This grieved me deeply. I actually had to learn how to use the thing.

So now that I've done that, I'm in a new room with tech that is absolutely non-functional. I have a student who visits me who's a computer genius. He pointed to a box on the wall and said, "You see that thing? That thing needs to be replaced." As if that's not enough, the teacher who precedes me pointed out the lockbox the computer is in. It has no handle anymore, and it's impossible to open.

What bothers me most is I've become someone I used to ridicule. I found it hilarious when young teachers would freak out because the tech was unavailable. What am I gonna do without my PowerPoint? Actually I don't say that. I say what am I gonna do without my Keynote, which is completely different.

That's the ticket. I wish you all a great day two.
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