As of Friday, I was determined to call one new student’s parents. As with most newcomers, he does not understand most of my lessons without L1 language support (i.e. translation). Everything I do is embedded with language supports, scaffolds, and adjustments so that comprehension is possible even for students with the most minimal amounts of English. I work hard to be informed about the various languages, cultural differences, and even body language differences with my students (like the South Asian students who say “yes” by making a motion most Westerners interpret as uncertainty or a nonchalant attitude, which has gotten some of my students in trouble with other teachers).
And I expect the relationship to go both ways; I expect them to work just as hard to be understood and to understand. I have routines in place where students help each other, especially the newcomers. As a result, my experience has been that typically they try harder to not draw much attention to themselves and, instead, find someone who will help them to understand.
Of course all children are different, and you can’t really hold one child up to expectations gained from experiences you’ve had with entirely different children. But this boy calls out to the other Chinese students, gets up and walks around, browses the library at inappropriate times, comes up to me when i am doing small group work, and typically does not even try to pay attention during lessons. He spent last Friday making origami stars most of the time. So, despite (or perhaps because of) all my experience working with newcomers, this was the first time I felt disrespected.
But I hate calling parents with bad news if I don’t have to even more than I hate being disrespected. So, I decided instead to give him a second chance, and started by making him my assistant. He is very quick to grasp math when I can teach the concepts first and then the English. So I decided that when he finishes early with the work, he would be an assistant teacher of sorts, helping the others. This required him to learn enough English to help the students along with their thinking, without giving up, exasperated by the less mathematically-inclined and just laughing at them or giving them the answers. So, while he still acts out, he is becoming more productive and is learning and trying out new English, in context, in the process. He still acts seemingly unaware of the rules, and he is still creating origami. But now he is giving them to me, rather than hiding them, and has agreed to teach the class how to do them. It’s a start, and it means not having to discuss behavior with a parent just a few weeks into the school year.
It’s not just paper that has to learn how to bend…!