Feb 16, 2010

honoring our students as people

I posted the following over on Ben Slavic's blog a while ago.  If you want to see the original discussion, click on the link in the title to this entry.

I had some truly amazing students last year. Amazing intellect, amazing creativity, amazing personality. Truly, I was blessed as a teacher to have some of these kids. One boy borrowed a grammar workbook to study at home. He came back to me a few weeks later to report that “I’m not quite sure I understand the subjunctive.” This was in the 8th grade. As far as our stories went… out of this world.

I have moved on to another school, and so have they. And, I am seeing what they are saying about Spanish. Oddly, they post about Spanish frequently on Facebook. Sometimes, they quote random lyrics or story lines from our classes last year. More often I see complaints about how boring and endless the verb conjugations are, powerpoint vocabulary lists that never end, worksheet after worksheet on topics they already understand, and homework.

These brilliant kids who could write novelettes in Spanish with minimal errors last year, who voraciously read through three Blaine Ray novels and Mira’s Piratas, are now defeated by the monstrous verb conjugation task at hand. They report that they are only now beginning to understand the preterit (although they were successfully using the preterit and imperfect in class last year) and they are feeling dumb that it is taking them so long. Two of them discussed their recent mid-term exams and how they spent so much effort trying to remember the rules for i->y and “basement verbs” that they were unable to answer a simple question “How do you say ‘they are singers?’”

And, oddly given all the complaints I got last year about how “boring” the Ana books were… they are begging to read “Real Books” like Pobre Ana again.

At first, reading through this recent discussion of theirs I too felt crushed. I didn’t prepare them properly for high school. I should have taken the time to explain the grammar… Then I felt angry. Who are these teachers who crush these absolutely brilliant kids? Why must we take these confident children who can speak and communicate in Spanish and force them to pay attention to such minutiae as whether or not they spelled a word correctly with an i or a y and thus convince them that they have not learned what they thought they had, and that they are not good at it. And then I felt pride too. Here they are, a year later (some more than a year later) posting to each other from multiple high schools, IN SPANISH, talking about Spanish, remembering our stories, reading Ana…

Then I wrote about a conversation I overheard in the hallway between a former student of mine and her new Spanish teacher, my colleague.  It broke my heart.  This girl is habitually tardy, she draws on herself in Sharpie, she smokes, she probably drinks, and she doesn't do homework. She has been suspended several times this year, which doesn't help her spotty attendance. She is also very introverted. It took me weeks before I got a glimpse of the beautiful person she is inside. The person waiting inside like a butterfly in its chrysalis.  She was never a superstar student of mine, but she did have a role to play in several of our stories. She is amazingly creative, and I honored that whenever I could.
So, there I was working madly during my planning period (back in the days before the double blizzard when I still went to work) and I heard a heated discussion in the hall. I glanced up. This girl was standing there, head hanging down, and her new teacher was telling her that she should go withdraw from the class because maybe a foreign language wasn't for her. She was telling this beautiful person that she could not pass if she did not try harder, that she was guaranteed to fail, that she wasn't cut out for languages, she should withdraw before it affected her transcripts.
And, it seemed to me that I could see her retreating back inside of herself to a place of safety and warmth where before I had seen this beautiful person near the surface ready to spring forth. It seems to me that this child has something much bigger on her plate right now than her grade in Spanish class.
What does humiliating children do to them? Does it make them want to try harder? Do they respond by showing their brilliance? Or do they retreat to somewhere we can't reach? Do they withdraw and then decades later tell others that they never could learn that new language, they must not be good at languages? 
I just want to call bull____.
I know how I respond to humiliation. I threw a pen at my professor and withdrew from a class I loved.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Gifted Education 2.0 Ning