Saturday, November 3, 2012

46 Mysteries

I am newly in awe of the 46 mysteries that sit in my classroom for a period a day, every day of the school year. Parent-teacher conferences do that to me every year.

Actually, parent-teacher-student conferences. We just finished 3 days of them. I had meetings scheduled for 40 of my 46 students. In 4 cases, the student did not come, only the parents. But when the student was there, I opened by asking him or her, “What’s something you enjoy about English class this year, and what’s something you find challenging?” Here are some of their answers:

Something you enjoy about English this year:
  • The vocabulary--it’s like real SAT words! 
  • The writing--I really like thinking about things until they make sense.
  • The groups--It really helps to get other people’s perspectives.
  • The reading--It’s really deep and has so many meanings. I read it over and over for about an hour!
  • When you just marked our grammar mistakes but didn't tell us what was wrong, it make me realize I have to be responsible for my writing

Something you find challenging about English this year:
  • The vocabulary--I think I know the words, and then I get them mixed up.
  • The writing--it’s so hard, and we have to come up with our own topic.
  • The groups--people separate into friend groups, get off topic.  
  • The reading was really hard for me to get into.
  • When you just marked our grammar mistakes but didn’t tell us what was wrong, sometimes I didn’t know!

Some of the conversations told me I’m making progress on implementing my goals and learning this year. Raising the vocabulary focus was one goal, and that students have noticed is reinforcing! An editing exercise with classmates’ actual errors was an idea from an October workshop that registered positively with at least two students. Another learning from that workshop was about how students learn second languages, and as a result, I formulated a new question to ask students when they are using Korean or Japanese: “Are you helping yourself and your neighbor learn and practice English?” When I asked one EAL student if that question was effective, she relaxed and began grinning about half-way through my recitation of the question. I’m thinking that means at least she recognized and understood the question. I’m taking that as a “yes.”

Some of the conversations told me that students really do want to learn. I sent follow-up emails with links to a website about public speaking and a TED Talk about introverts. I recommended books to read and writing strategies. 

And every conversation told me that each of these mysteries is loved and worried over by his or her parents as much as if he or she were the only mystery in the world. From the parents who are just delighted their child is happy, to the ones in deep perplexity, to the ones asking what’s up with this 98% on this one assignment. 

And I tremble to think that I am entrusted with all 46 of these beloved mysteries. God help me. 

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