Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Let's talk about teaching middle school.

Today I am compelled to change entirely the focus of my blog and talk exclusively about those who would choose to teach middle school ELL.

They must be stark raving mad.

Oh yeah, that would be me.

So there was a man a plan and a canal with this job, which is a ridiculous way of saying there was a logic behind taking this job. Basically it was "If I like it, I will stay. If I don't, I will attempt to move back to high school."

Frankly, I think the first year anyone teaches anywhere, they should expect difficulty. Not insane difficulty, but challenge. So, it is truly no surprise.

But every day I get more and more referrals in my box about what my little newcomers are doing outside my classroom, which explains sufficiently why they are acting so wierd inside the room.

They are, to be succinct, beating, kicking, slugging and verbally harassing each other, in that gentle way that only middle schoolers are capable of. Yes the school disciplines them every time. Yes, they get expelled. And then they come back, and once again we suffer through the days until they are again sent out.

I have seen teachers that give up. They become more of a referee than anything else. And why don't I just pull a Freedom Writers on them? Because they cannot speak English, and this is my job. They are very, very smart. But their English is kindergarten level and max first grade.

Most days are fine, nothing to comment. But once every couple weeks, they just go bananas on me.

What's going on here? Today the issue was "what is a swear word". I learned a few choice Mexican swear words living in Mexico. It is nice to know them, even if you aren't really going to use them. And my kids use them in class. And when I tell them they are not allowed to use those words in class, they fight against me "But my mom uses this word at home!" And while my mind clicks through many comments, the only one that comes out is "But you don't use it here, got it?" They believe I am horribly, horribly strict. Beyond strict, I am ridiculous. But to be honest, these kids are from the sticks, often their parents cannot read. I met them at conferences, they are wonderful people; humble, thankful, proud.

In teaching ELL, or any language really, the classroom has to be a safe place to make mistakes, practice pronunciation. But when a 40 percent contingency of my class is alpha bullies and the bullies, kids so short they look like 3rd graders, safety looks like an impossible goal. Not only am I teaching them English, I am socializing them. I expect that too, but some days (I got 4 behavior writeups today about these kids) I wonder if maybe it wouldn't be nicer to be an Instructional Assistant part time.

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