Let me paint a picture…
A classroom flooded with light from a huge, wall-length window. Not a single desk, only tables to encourage collaboration rather than isolation. And students looking at me with anticipation in their eyes, waiting for the kernels of wisdom I will bestow upon them.
Sigh. Nice dream.
I do have a big window and I do have a classroom full of tables (which I love,) but my students are less like appreciative apostles and more like hungry mosquitos. They come buzzing into the classroom full of questions, emergencies, and conundrums.
I’ve taught both American students and international students and they can all be high need. My heart goes out to the international students more so because I know how anxiety ridden life can be in a foreign country. You never quite feel like you know what’s happening or what’s about to happen. What if you misheard a teacher? What if some health record has expired? What if you have a toothache, but you don’t want to be a bother at your host home. What if you need to buy a plane ticket to travel half-way across the world, the rates are about to shoot up, and you don’t know the school calendar?
I believe strongly that English language learners of all nationalities need special help. They have a lot to negotiate in their daily life without the comfort of linguistic mastery. These students need someone at school that can answer questions about daily life. They need someone they trust. I love being that person, but it makes it very difficult to teach them dependent clauses, transitional phrases or the Great Gatsby.
So, back to the beginning. What is my classroom really like? A small group of Asian kids sitting around a table vying for my attention, answers, promises and resources. I’m trying to prepare them for academic success and they have practical needs with which they trust me. It feels like a constant stream of emergencies are pouring out of them at all times.
I feel strongly that half of my job is to serve as their guidance counselor, to help them learn to navigate the world of the American school system (some schools have the resources to employ both, but not mine.) These kids don’t have their parents with them. They have been sent to the other side of the world as young teenagers, and they need someone to help.
The question then arises: How can I teach them academic content? It is possible to corral the conundrums of the students, help them find solutions to problems AND make it through my lesson plan.
In my next post, I’ll give you some tips and tools that I use to make that happen.