Showing posts with label ESL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ESL. Show all posts


Teaching My Non-English Speaking Students English

Teaching English to language learners is a challenging job; but, I do it every school day after I drink my first cup of coffee and stand slave to the copy machine.
Word Walls are great for 
English Language Learners
I start each workday 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 first period class 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 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.
Bilingual phrasebook in Mandarin and English
A bilingual phrasebook in Mandarin and English
       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.


Teacher Journal #2387: "How do you deal with negative experiences in the classroom?"

My co-teacher expresses her feelings
It just so happens I was on Facebook and I saw a post from a kid I taught way back in 2008. He just got a job as a cable news reporter; he’s stationed in South Dakota working the weekend news desk. It made me realize not only how fast time flies, but how in this job, in teaching, in working a classroom full of students, so much depends on a "red wheelbarrow."

What I mean is: so much depends on the subjective experience! For example - I get really bogged down in the minutiae of teaching - the grading, the preparation of lessons, photocopying (double-sided, with staples) - that I do not allow myself to zoom out and get a better perspective on what I am doing and why I am doing it. Let yourself be the wheelbarrow à la William Carlos Williams.

I have to constantly reflect on my teaching practice. Not the mundane stuff. But the me who is in the classroom now. Like. Sometimes I am not happy with my class, how it is running, and what I am doing. If I am having a bad day at school - it's probably because I am preoccupied with all of the stuff I have to do and the little time I have left to do it. I will admit - it makes me crazy and my students notice a shift in my personality. “You didn’t do your homework?” I ask with a more accusatory tone. And the kids slink down into their chairs. Not a good sign.

I feel like we bring our psychological junk into the classroom. Well. Anywhere. But it is interesting to look at the classroom setting. I do not think educators think about this enough. No matter what your rapport with your students is - bad, so-so, or great - if it is a group of thirteen kids and a teacher - that’s fourteen globules of psychological junk. The good news is that technically the teacher has more experience dealing with psychological junk than the adolescent students in the room. But it is a mistake to ignore that junk. I have the power to make “a lesson out of it.”

It is a good idea. Take a negative feeling you have about your class. I feel like my students do not care. For me - it’s the feeling I get that my students - who are English Language learners - do not spend enough time practicing English outside of my class. It frustrates me. I noticed I was becoming annoyed by it - especially when in class my students would revert to their own language rather than what they were supposed to be doing.

When that happens I either A.) become pissy (which is not a good remedy - I’ll have you know) - Or, I will stop myself and think why is so-and-so not loving ENGLISH!!! Usually, it is because he or she does not have the vocabulary or does not know how to phrase what they want to say OR they are lost on the meaning of the lesson or off track on what I want them to achieve.

For the past two years, I have been building my own ELL curriculum. So I am well-aware that many of my lessons do not always hit the target. I am constantly tweaking lessons, fixing lesson goals, and thinking really hard what I want my students to achieve when it comes to skills and abilities. Often I am scrambling to get my students back on track. However, I have to remind myself that learning is still going on. Those negative feelings are valuable if I allow myself to be curious about them.

I do this. I ask, "What feels good about learning English RIGHT NOW. What feels bad RIGHT NOW. And because it is a language class I write all that junk on the board. It looks like this:

I realize that many of my students do not practice English outside of class because they do not feel that English is important to their social and home life. They do not speak English with their family, their friends, or in their social lives. English is something they associate with work, school — all things outside of their personal sphere. In fact, one odd thing is that the kids in my current class who do try to assimilate English into their “out-of-class” time sometimes get ostracized. But I can make lessons out of those experiences. I can try to make a speaking class based on those scenarios because I have been listening to my kids complain, gloat, and talk. Turn the tables. Get them to externalize their feelings. And if they do it in English - guess what?!  - we both win!

Not everyone will feel great about being in the classroom - I cannot get all of my students to love English or to immediately see its purpose. However, just like that kid who is now a television news anchor - when he was in my class as a high school student - he didn't always see the point of what we were doing in class. Maybe I didn’t either. But I remember conversations we had. I do not always remember the lesson. But I do remember the conversations.

"Why do I have to learn about Homer? Isn't he some dead white dude?" And then we read Homer. And then we talked about how we felt, and we were able to be in that moment - like a William Carlos Williams poem.