The scene: Historia class. I’m 12 years old, listening to Dona Susan lecture about something to do with Tiradentes or some other facet of the Brazilian independence. My portuguese is really just not good enough to follow along with the whole lecture, so I’m just staring into space. Then we’re told to take out our textbooks, read and answer the questions. I give it my best shot – reading is easier than listening, and scribble the answers using the bolded words in the text as clues to where the answers were.
Technically I understand everything I have written down. I look as glazed over as the other kids in class, so Dona Susan has no way of knowing how little I’m actually getting. The information will not stick at all, and come exam season, I’ll be trying desperately to remember any of it.
In history class, on the other hand, I barely need to read the text book at all. I mean, I’ve already skimmed most of it and have read other books (Horrible Histories!) on the topic. I am the picture of focus during Mr. Chandler’s lectures. The information goes in, marinates and sinks in. I don’t really need to study for the tests. I soak it all in.
In retrospect, Mr. Chandler was definitely a more engaging teacher (I mean, he threw things at us, for one). Dona Susan was… dull.
In retrospect, Historia and History should not have been as different as they were. Learning about Britain in WWI should not have been more interesting to me than the history of the country I grew up in.
A major difference lies in the language. My portuguese was just not good enough to keep me in the loop in class. Just decoding Dona Susan and her dull dull dull textbooks was so much work and it never stuck in my brain anyway. I hated that class so much. It was one of the only classes I ever failed. Me! Fail a History class! What a sign of things gone wrong!
Now I have a total of 6 beginner English learners in my classes. Kids who are in my situation, who have to work 500 times harder than everyone else just to know what to do in class. I was luckier than them – I grew up speaking half-tuguese, so I definitely understood more than they can.
I’m a luckier teacher than Dona Susan – I can show videos with subtitles (ALWAYS WITH SUBTITLES). I can easily modify activities to be focused on understanding rather than writing. I can set wee exercises that pre-teach and check essential vocabulary. I can let them research in their home language, so long as they write their ‘answers’ in English. I can do all these things. I was lucky that out of my 11 classes*, only 3 were taught in Portuguese. ALL of their classes are in English. They must be so tired all the time.
I wish I could be a more effective teacher for them. I wish I had better ways to support them in class. It’s so hard. It’s hard to be patient with them. It’s hard to spend enough time with them to fully be able to explain something in a way that they can prove that they’ve understood it. Especially in the Middle School, when kids in general are still very needy, ‘independent’ work frequently means answering 5 million questions from anxious students. The ELL (English Language Learners) kids get kind of lost in the muddle. I might even be able to check in with them, but not in-depth enough to actually see if they understand what’s going on, rather than just following a direction and doing the equivalent of copying the sentences surrounding the bolded words.
I hope I will be more patient with them. I hope I can remember how frustrated and tired I got. I hope I can remember how hard it is for them and support them more. I hope that they don’t give up the way I did. If I get them again next year, I hope that I set myself higher goals for them. I hope that they won’t sigh and say, “Aw man, not Ms. G again. I hate social studies.” I don’t even care if they don’t like me. Just let me support them enough that they don’t end up hating my subject just because of my own incompetence!
Anyway. End of year thoughts. Having a lot of them. School is weird and intense and hard and I’m so ready for the holidays it’s not even funny.
*Holy crap, 11 classes. 11 binders. 11 sets of homework. What the heck?!