Jun 15, 2018

Teaching My Non-English Speaking Students English


Word Walls are great for English Language Learners
I start each work day with a cup of coffee. I check work e-mail. Then I go to my Google Drive and open up my lesson plan files for the day and mark what I need to photocopy at work. I don't own a printer. So I usually just cross my fingers that the printers at school will spill out glorious spreads of worksheets for me. It's a daily prayer to the teacher gods. Athena, hear me. I don't have a homeroom so I use that time before the first period to staple, collate, or just talk the talk with colleagues. I teach six class periods a day. But I don't have a traditional teaching schedule.

I teach my classes to a cohort of eight to twelve kids from mainland China. They all speak either Mandarin or Cantonese. That's not entirely true though because I have a kid from Thailand and I've taught kids from Turkey, Vietnam, and South Korea. My students are fun to teach but it's exhausting work because we are with each other for most of the day. The kids push out for lunch and their math class - and for the rest of the scholastic schedule, they're parlaying in English with me. Or it is usually English. Sometimes I learn a few Mandarin or Cantonese words.
   
    That's how I learned the word for "dumbass" in Mandarin Chinese is 傻逼. But Google Translate tells me that it simply means "silly." I think something is lost in translation because one kid says this word all the time. It's annoying. It's like having that kid in your class who always mutters not-so-slightly under his breath "[expletive] this shit." At least that is how it feels. Sometimes the Mandarin teacher will push-in and hang out. She told me the word has multiple meanings. So there. I like my job because I've always loved playing with language and meaning. It's fun getting the kids to play the game. To get them to see how language works. To engage them. I want my kids to feel confident and to be OK making mistakes. So sometimes I'll take out the bilingual dictionary and practice pronouncing Mandarin. It's what's humorous. I am mostly frantic during the school day because I am always thinking twelve steps ahead.

I have lots of ideas and not a lot of resources to bring 'em to life. I don't use textbooks but that's to my advantage. The hardest class to teach is social studies. The easiest class is the speaking class. I hate teaching grammar. And even though I love to write I'm not the best writing teacher. So that leaves me with my greatest strength: I'm really good at classroom discussion. When my kids take turns talking in English about fun and interesting topics I'm so proud of them because it ain't easy to parlay in a language that ain't your own. Now that it's May I'm in reflection mode about the year. I think we done did good.* And I'm super excited about Summer. Of course. 

But I wonder how next year will flow. It's important for me to feel successful. On Friday I had a meeting about goals for next year. And when I think of next year one thing I want more than anything is for my students to go to a cool museum, write some cool sentences, and feel good about learning in English. Go us.

*I recognize that my grammar is not correct. Did I ever tell you I dislike the grammar police?