January 31, 2007

Oh Those Boys!

I have a few new boys in my night school class who are just cracking me up.

The third night of class I had to send Jose to the office because he was out of dress code. It was the day each of us teachers was asked to review the dress code with the students. Considering I teach the last periods of the day, I thought the students might be irritated that they should have to hear it again. But then, there's Jose, who had had gone to every single class, wearing a blue and white striped shirt. He can wear white or blue, but not both together.

Of course he was angry when I sent him to the office because nobody else had said anything to him, but he did not hold a grudge against me because he is desperate to pass his proficiency exam so he can graduate this year. In fact, he was hoping that I would teach him everything he needed to know in the four class periods I had him before he had to take the exam. A student who trusts so highly in my skills as a teacher! Seriously, dude. It's not like I can wave a wand and you'll pass. It will be by the skin of his teeth if he passes the exam this time, so we will be working closely all quarter so he can nail it next time the test is given later in the spring.

And Jose, you know, he has a great personality and he is funny. Not in a class clown kind of way. I already have two of those. No, he is just a light-hearted character who feels comfortable joking a little with me. That's good though. His affinity for apostrophes is already a topic for laughs. Just because a word ends in 's' doesn't mean it should have an apostrophe.

Todd is another student who has a nice sense of humor and is always smiling. He doesn't like his American name, and I wonder about the story why his parents named him that. He still has two Hispanic last names. I told him I didn't think his name was bad at all, but then what do I know? Nobody in his neighborhood has a name like that, and that's not cool.

The first time I read an essay of his, I was saying, "Come on! You have got to be kidding! This is it?" I still fight apathy on a constant basis, so initially I thought he was just trying to skate by. He had a paragraph with 3 sentences and then 4 more sentences placed separately, apparently acting alone as paragraphs. When I read it, I realized that he did not know English very well. I talked to him about some of his basic errors and asked him to continue trying to put ideas down on paper.

The next night, he could not get started on the essay. I probably humiliated him by noticing that he needs a lot of work on his language. Should I lie to him? He couldn't spell talk. Everyone is there to learn to write. No big deal. I tried to get him to brainstorm some ideas. Write down some words. Anything! I promised I could help him put those words in a paragraph if he could come up with ideas.

I came back to him little while later, and still, there's nothing on his paper. I asked him if he was having a hard time coming up with the English words for the ideas he had. He confirmed that was the problem. So I look around his table, asking if anyone spoke Spanish and was willing to give Todd a few translations if he needed them. (Why do I keep forgetting to bring a Spanish/English dictionary?) A few did speak, but they did not look interested in helping. I turned around and saw Jose. He has his own issues, but he is a nice guy, and he'll do whatever I ask of him because he needs me. I mean, I'm the coolest teacher he has.

"Jose, do you speak Spanish?" There was a 99.6% chance he speaks because some of his writing errors have to do with his language acquisition.

"No, Miss, I don't speak Spanish." And then he started laughing. Technically, laughing at me.

"You don't? Okay." I moved on to find another helper.

"Miss! Seriously!" He's laughing pretty hard now.

"Jose, do you want me to stereotype? Just because your name is Jose Martinez, I should assume you speak Spanish?"

He became sheepish. "No, Miss."

Of course, nobody had ever given him the courtesy of asking if was bilingual.

Plus, that's the kind of goofiness that endears me to my night students. As if! Actually believing an obviously Hispanic-looking kid doesn't speak English. Miss! You're so weird! (What they don't know is that it is possible.)

Todd and Jose exchanged a few words, mostly in Spanish, and Todd moved to sit next to Jose. I went over to get them situated and gave Todd a little talk about not giving up.

And then the more I talked with him, the more I realized he doesn't understand everything I say. Not even close.

"Todd, are you understanding everything I say?"
"Do I ever talk too fast and you get lost?"
"All you have to do is ask me to slow down. I forget sometimes."

Red alert! Red alert! Todd smiles and laughs all the time because he is clueless. We have a lot of work to do.

So Jose and Todd. The blind leading the blind. Sitting in the back of the classroom, in their own little writing corner joking with each other, making a new friendship while they struggle to find just the right words.

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