Friday, January 25, 2019

The New Girl

Last night we did an additional parent-teacher conference for ELLs only. I'll tell you the truth--I didn't expect much of a turnout and brought a book. I was all set to sit around reading crappy fiction all night, but to my surprise, people showed up. One of the people who showed up was a girl I'll call Sylvia. She showed up with her dad.

I was pretty happy to see them. I've called dad and left messages for him, but I never knew whether or not he listened to them. Evidently he did. Sylvia ended the semester with a 67 average. I'm sure I passed her, but not by much. She failed the last test or two, and I'm worried she'll fall too far behind by the end of the year.

My beginning class contains two groups, and two groups only--speakers of Spanish and Chinese. My goal is always to get them to mix as much as possible, because English is their common language. If I can get them to cross-speak with one another, they'll have pretty much no choice. It's hard, though. Imagine if you and I were in China, learning Chinese. It would be our natural inclination to stick together and speak English, even if it hindered our Chinese. It's the same with my students.

Sylvia has always looked kind of shell-shocked and terrified, so I've been pretty easy on her. I won't place a non-disruptive student at a table with students who don't speak her language if I think it will make her miserable and uncooperative. But last night she surprised me a lot. Dad and I were speaking Spanish, and she was very sociable and cooperative. When I spoke of her coming late and missing homework, she copped to it all and hid nothing.

She also showed a sense of humor I'd never seen before, laughing at things her dad and I said. I told her she'd made a big mistake by showing me who she was. Now that I knew, I'd hold her to a higher standard. I wouldn't hesitate to move her seat. Her days of sitting with her friend and hiding out were numbered. I also told dad that any problem would result in a call home. Now that I know there's someone actually hearing my messages, I don't feel like I'm wasting my time.

Sylvia, like a lot of my Spanish speakers, is from El Salvador. I don't know if this is will sound like a bad thing, but I'm very careful with my Salvadoran students. This is because frequently, when I speak to them alone, or when their parents come in, they have horror stories you'd never anticipate. Once, I brought a girl out into the hall, and I don't even remember why. Whatever the issue was, it paled in comparison when she broke out in tears and told me she'd had a brother murdered before coming here.

Another time, I had a boy from El Salvador who had trouble passing tests. He would do the homework, sometimes, but I couldn't understand what he wrote. I recommended him for special education. Eventually I heard that he came here after being beaten so severely by some gang that he was permanently brain damaged.

These are the people Donald Trump wants to keep out with a wall. Trump, unlike my students, has never been beaten. I'm glad they've escaped from the violence and misery they knew, and I'll work to make sure they're happy here.

Except for Sylvia. She made the mistake of showing me she is intelligent, capable and unafraid. Now she has a problem. I hope we can work it out to our mutual benefit--she excels, and I get to watch her do it.
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