Where have you been all year?

15 06 2010

Let me take a moment to complain about my kids.

I’ve taught English 2 days a week, every week excluding vacations, of course, for 9 months now.  And EVERY day, in EVERY class, I do the same opening ritual:

  1. What’s the date?
  2. How’s the weather?
  3. How are you?

And the kids answer.  I write the date on the board and make them read it.  I ask them the weather, which I’ve taught them and we’ve repeated since the beginning of the year.  They can say sunny, rainy, cloudy, overcast, “the sky is blue” (or gray), snowy, windy, cold, chilly, warm, and hot.  They have a good vocabulary base, although I’m sure they can’t spell these things because we only do it à l’oral.  The same goes for “how are you”.  They can say a lot of different responses.

In the morning, in my very first class, a girl comes up to me after the weather portion of the above ritual and starts talking to me during the “How are you” part while the kids are answering.  She stands up and walks to me, without asking, while the class is doing the next part of the ritual, and she said to me (in French…):

Teacher, I don’t know how to say the weather.  I wasn’t here when you taught it.

What…?  Girl, I never gave any hand-outs about the weather, but I sure as hell TAUGHT the weather!  Every day with them!  Where was she then?  In my class.  She should have learned it by now!  I think I was mean to her with my response…but I couldn’t help it.  Good grief.

It’s beyond words.

I don’t get it.

The rest of the day went as usual: the kids were rowdy, they weren’t paying much attention, they talked a lot, they joked around, they hit each other, annoyed each other, you name it.  Badly behaved kids.  Some days are worse than others.  Today was a tiring one, for sure.  Plus, I’m getting sick again, and speaking all day made my throat hurt.  The kids were at least (for the most part) nicer to me and a little better-behaved when I told them that my throat hurts.  Most quieted down.

But then, this afternoon, in my very last class, I got another comment that cut me to the heart.

Maîtresse, je ne comprends pas.

“Teacher, I don’t understand.”  Spoken by a kid who says this literally every class.  I’m not even exaggerating.  I see this kid staring out the window, or playing with his ruler or what not, while I am explaining the directions for the activity.  And, as if on cue, as soon as I finish speaking, his hand shoots up.  I call on him (maybe I should stop doing that…ha), and he says he doesn’t understand.  He wasn’t listening; no wonder he doesn’t understand.  And it’s always the same.  Every single day.

Sigh.

Does it really matter?

I honestly believe most of these kids will forget the majority of what we’ve learned this year over their summer vacation.  (If they haven’t forgotten it already, that is.)  I am sure of this, because it’s human nature.  Only the kids who were really interested in learning English will hold onto the things I’ve taught them.  There are at least 2 or 3 in each class, so at the very least, I’ve made a positive impact on 16 kids and their English abilities.

At the very least, several kids have drawn me pictures and expressed their liking for me.  Yesterday, I even got a love note from a 9-year-old that said “Y love you Sara”.


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3 responses

15 06 2010
Julia

I do believe all teachers go through this no matter the age or subject. You really are as a teacher only going to truly reach a few students a semester. And many are happy if they can at least help / change/inspire the lives of a few then they feel it was worth it and then many just get really jaded and bitter. We ALL have a few of those teachers growing up hah!

I think you are reaching more than you think. Language is so difficult to retain if it isn’t used everyday. I think people who live abroad and never had a single class in the native language of where they live pick up the language faster.

16 06 2010
Karl

Sarah, thanks for writing about this. You’ve done well I’m sure, and you’re learning much yourself by doing this. Here’s my take on it, your words with a couple of mine added:

“Only the kids who were really interested in learning French will hold onto the things I’ve taught them. There are at least 2 or 3 [Sarahs & Peters] in each class, so at the very least, I’ve made a positive impact on [a bunch] of kids and their French abilities [over the years].”

When I taught in American public school and 100+ students, I began to recognize the few that were really learning French. It’s the same in most subjects.

Will we see you anytime soon?
Karl

16 06 2010
Nina

Wow, I thought it was just the kids in my art classes that behave that way!
Thanks for sharing that. I’m sure there is a strategy for engaging the kids who don’t listen/understand, at least so they won’t drive you crazy.
Keep up the good work!
Nina

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