One of the reasons I started this blog was to record some of the amazing things my students say. When kids are learning English, what comes out is often hilarious, touching, and simple yet profound. I remember their words and I feel joy, pain, pride. My teaching partner and I often quote things to each other that our students have said to us over the years.
So, here are 8 of the best things heard in our classrooms and the lesson learned from each one.
1. Last week, one student made fun of another student’s language by mimicking it with exaggeration. I saw the student who was being made fun of and his face fell. I grabbed on to the teachable moment and talked right then and there to them about it. I pointed out the sad face and told the other student that maybe he thinks it’s funny, but it hurts. I asked him to consider how he might feel if the other student made fun of his language. I think he got it- at least somewhat- and he apologized.
The student who had been made fun of, looked at me and declared, “Miss!!! You are SO cute!!”
Lesson Learned: This students uses “cute” as a compliment for everything right now. I interpreted it as, “Thanks for sticking up for me. You’re so kind.” We have to teach kids how to treat each other, and we do it by being vigilant and watching and taking advantage of those teachable moments.
2. We have a pretty intense student this year who seems to be missing some social and emotional skills and does not have much of a filter. He’s really bright but can also be kind of in your face.
At the end of a day recently, he came up to me and was about 1 inch from my face and loudly said, “HOMEWORK! HOMEWORK! HOMEWORK! HOMEWORK! HOMEWORK!"
I took a deep breath and a step back and said, “Can you ask for that in a nicer way?”
He thought for a minute, took a step back toward me (yah, personal space does not exist for him) and said in a quieter and calmer voice, “May I have homework, Madame?”
Lesson learned: You have to teach social and emotional skills just as much as content. And, where do they come up with these things???!!!
3. I remember the winter day in December when one of our Muslim students arrived in the morning and with sparkling eyes declared, “Miss! I looooove Christmas! Lights! Pretty!”
Lesson learned: Appreciate the simple things. Notice what is going on around you. Find beauty in the world. Discover the miracle in something that is very different from what you know.
4. Every year we watch a short video on Halloween and describe the holiday and show pictures to our students so they understand what is happening when they see people walking around in costumes and trick or treating. We had done that the previous day.
Today we were watching a district video on the drug-sniffing dogs that would be coming in to the building soon and sniffing around the lockers for problems. We didn’t want our students to be alarmed so we watched the video and tried to explain it. We needed someone to interpret to some of the kids who didn’t understand.
Often we rely on more proficient students to help other students. One of our newer students raised his hand enthusiastically and asked if he could interpret. My partner and I exchanged glances but decided to give him a try.
When he was done explaining, one of the students who spoke the language very well started waving his hands and yelling, “Miss! All wrong! All wrong, Miss!”
It turns out that he had conflated the Halloween story with the dog story and said something about the dogs sniffing for candy in lockers and you getting in big trouble if you had candy in there- succeeding in terrifying and confusing all the students.
So, now, when something happens that we really don’t like or someone is totally wrong about something in our opinion, my partner and I will look at each other and say, “All wrong, Miss. All wrong!”
Lesson learned: Be careful who you trust as an expert. Some people will be really confident about something they know nothing about. But, it’s really fun to pull out that phrase from time to time.
5. A student was accused of calling another student a very bad word. Please note that English is the 2nd language. Here’s how the conversation went:
Accused Student: Miss, I no say mutter f...r. I no know what mutter f..r means. Miss! I no call him mutter f....r!
Me: Please, please! Stop saying mutter f...r!
Lesson learned: Swear words really don’t sound bad to your ears until you know a language well. And, the one thing that all kids in the world have in common is the deep desire to learn swear words in as many languages as possible. And, also, it’s not easy to keep a straight face when kids are throwing around the word mutter f…r!
6. We get new students throughout the school year. When they come, we have them introduce themselves and tell the class what country they are from and what language they speak.
Then we turn to the class and say, “What can we say?”
And the whole class yells brightly, “Welcome!”
Lesson learned: Job #1 is to help new refugee and immigrant students and their families feel welcome, safe, and supported. And, that is where we start with each and every student.
7. Evolved teachers like me don’t yell at students or use demeaning words when they are driving us crazy. Rather, we say things like, “I’m really sad that you’re not doing your work. I’m really sad that you’re choosing to do that.”
Last week, a student was experiencing a consequence as a result of his bad behavior. He didn’t get to play chess that afternoon. First he had to do some cleaning and then he was doing some time in detention. He was shooting me killer looks. And, finally he said, “You making me so sad, Miss.”
Lesson learned: Be prepared for kids to use your own carefully chosen words against you. So, be careful of Every. Single. Thing. You. Ever. Say. J
8. The end of the school year with these kids is always rather gut-wrenching. We get so close to them and see them come so far. It’s so difficult to say goodbye. This is an entry from a post I wrote a few years ago:
How do you say goodbye to the 15 year old, 6 foot tall young man whom you and your colleague call the peacemaker? This student speaks the two most common languages in our program and so helped us resolve conflicts between countless kids. It wasn't just the fact that he knew these languages. It was the leadership, humor, and warm spirit he brought to these interactions that made the difference.
The moment this boy hugged me tight, started crying, and whispered, "Thank you for everything, Miss. I'll never forget you." is the moment I lost it and just began weeping openly. Then he pulled this beautiful stuffed camel out and pressed it into my hands and said it came from his country and it was for me.Lesson learned: No matter how hard this job is, I will always have moments like this. No matter if I feel burned out and stressed out, I can find comfort and solace in remembering these times. No matter how often I feel like I can’t go on, there will always be these moments. The relationships I build with young people as a teacher are more important than anything. If they know that someone cared for them and believed in them and fought for them and championed them, then I have done my job. And, that is everything.