Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Another Teaching First

Today's classroom event is either evidence that I should not teach young children, an argument against leaving a non-bilingual, native-English speaking teacher alone in a classroom, or both.

Here's the scenario:
It was my fourth, second grade class of the day so I felt like I had mastered today's speaking activity. As a matter of fact, all of the classes were speaking so much English and so proud of their efforts with this particular game, that I was actually thinking I should submit this idea to an ESL website so other teachers could be inspired these last few weeks of school.

The game was called "Race to the Moon." The classes were divided into teams of 3 or 4. I drew rocket ships and paths to the moon on the chalk board. Each team was assigned a rocket ship and given a pile of flash cards. The students were to create sentences using their assorted flash cards. The teams were awarded a star for each sentence they spoke. The first round was pretty slow as the students got the hang of the game but by the 3rd round, some teams were getting pretty clever. Ex: The pillow is on the bed. The pillow is under the bed. The pillow is next to the bed. There are 50 pillows on the bed. There are 50 pillows under the bed...etc. (Unfortunately, some teams were not so clever.) But, the best part for me was that ALL the students were excited about the game. All were participating and speaking English. I could hear that a year's worth of flash cards and exercises were coming together with the positive results of both speaking and comprehension. It was exciting to see..for about 30 seconds that is.

Unfortunately, one team had to win. Team 1 was the first to land on the moon. (Actually, it was pretty neat that Team 1 won because 2 of the 4 students are not usually so successful.) However, a boy on Team 4 was jealous, got mad, and refused to participate in the rest of the game. Then, another boy from Team 3 joined in and started to cry. So, I sat down and tried in my most simple English to explain that it's "just" a game. Trust me, "just" is a hard word to explain. So, I tried changing the activity. I pulled some smiles out of my pocket..temporary relief. I tried the "ha, ha" game. No luck. Turkish words were thrown across the room and before I knew it, 7 of the 14 students were crying, not fake crying, but outright bawling: tears dripping from chins, red puffy ears, a cacophony of sobs, heads buried in arms on desks. I had absolutely no idea what to do. One part of me wanted to laugh, another part of me wanted to say "Stop, this is so stupid!", and another part of me started to panic. If the homeroom teacher walks in, this looks pretty bad.

Just then the bell rang. I wanted to hold them in class and garner some semblance of control before they left, but the students are so conditioned to bolt at the bell, that I thought maybe their trips to the bathroom and separation from each other would be the best. Unfortunately, things continued their downhill slide. As I was picking up my notebooks, one of the grounded, really cool, easy going students said, "Mrs. Jansen! Come! Run!" and she grabbed my hand and led me out the back door, around the side of the building, and out towards the front of the school where one of the crying students was marching to the gate, her backpack bouncing up and down one her back, and tears streaming down her face. She was "going home." The security guard came out (thank goodness he like me because it looks pretty bad right now) and he convinced the girl that she should turn around and go back to school. I think he was trying not to laugh, but I was still worried about how this looked and I still didn't even know why all the kids were crying.

Back pack girl and I headed into the school and up the stairs to her classroom. As luck would have it, I met my co-teacher at the top of the stairs and asked her if she could find out what just happened. I was right about most of the situation. The boys were jealous of Team 1, and particularly this girl (who never wins at games and is usually picked on by the others) and they chose to be really mean in flinging their Turkish insults and brought the class to tears.

As I reflect back on this day, a first of its kind with so many students bawling, my inability to communicate in Turkish the problems with and possible solutions to their behaviors coupled with my lack of tolerance and understanding of this age-appropriate behavior remind me why I prefer to teach the older students.

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