The Perfect Plan

I’m now teaching in a brand new building, with brand new desks that kind of cluster together. I really like that arrangement, and I was quite excited about using it. I like to teach in a way that pushes student involvement as much as I possibly can. This is a big challenge when you’re teaching an English class and a whole lot of kids don’t speak it. 

There’s also a big conflict in this sort of class–it’s very natural for students to speak their own languages. If you and I, and others we know went to China, we’d probably search for opportunities to speak English. That would be counter-productive for us if our goal were learning Chinese, but hey, we’re only human. Well, kids are human too, and teenagers are more social than we are.

That’s why each cluster tended to be one language group. The dominant language groups in my classes are Spanish and Chinese, and that’s how they arranged themselves. In fact, they were largely segregated by gender as well. I tried to fix that. I’d take three kids here, and exchange them with three there, and we now have a few clusters with people who speak both languages. My hope is that they will ultimately communicate in English, but we’ll see how it goes. 

I did have one interesting development. A Spanish-speaking boy was sitting with another, and they were quite talkative, completely in Spanish. I moved him to a table full of Chinese girls. He was pretty upset with me for a day or two, but Friday I noticed him trying to talk to them, and appearing to fancy himself the luckiest person on earth. So that’s good, as far as I’m concerned. 

However, one of my classes really started bumming me out on Wednesday, and then on Thursday. You see, I was VERY successful in promoting dialogue. It was continual. It never stopped. However, none of it was in English, and there was general disinterest in what I was presenting. After all, why listen to some old teacher when you can discuss important stuff with your friends? I singled out a few students, and thought I might call their homes.

Of course, I had no capacity to do that. The DOE, in its infinite wisdom, had shut down Skedula and substituted its not-ready-for-prime-time whatever, something that provided me with even less info than the spectacularly failed ARIS. I did speak to administrators, and finally managed to get one to send me a list with phone numbers, but by then I had an alternate plan.

I decided to rearrange the seats in this class. No more clusters. They would sit in rows. Also, I was going with a more exercise-based curriculum, with English from level zero. I don’t like to introduce this so early, because I have new kids each and every day all year. The later I do it, the more of them I manage to cover. But hey, it’s important that no matter what, I be the most crazy person in the room, always. 

So I set the seats in rows, which was a pain in the neck, and will continue to be. I’ll have to do it every day, for a long while at least. And I tried the new material. And it worked. This was a great relief, because the day started very badly, with the worst Wordle of all time. And actually, some of the students who bothered me the most on Thursday turned into the most active participants on Friday. Having anticipated ten phone calls (which are borderline diabolical on Fridays), I made only one. I recorded it nowhere, because that is where the DOE software allows me to do so. 

I know. I should probably do it somewhere else. When things like this come up, I always say to my AP, “They can put a letter in my file.”

She always gives me a very stern look, and asks, “Do you know who actually will have to write that letter?”

So to her I say, it’s recorded right here. In the future, of course, there’s that LIF option.

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