Sunday, September 09, 2007

Tower of Babel or Babble

The class is intently creating world maps. Some students are working cooperatively, some are solely fixated on getting the coordinates perfect. There is a slight murmur of conversation but there is education happening in this classroom. Then this cracks open the calm in the classroom, "Why can't you just speak English??!!!" My class falls silent and you can almost see and feel the walls of hostility slamming up. You have to understand that my classes are amazingly diverse. Every class represents just about every continent except for Australia and Antarctica. To make a list of all the nationalities would take up all of this blog. I'd like to say that I've never had to deal with a problem like this before in my years of teaching but I have. This situation kinda caught me off guard though. The girl who yelled this out is actually one of my better students. She is motivated, mature and very pleasant to have in class. She is African-American. The girl she was yelling at is also motivated, pleasant and has a very, very strong Honduran accent. She struggles with English at times. Absolute silence rings. I have a moment of panic. Teachable moment ideas run through my head. Damage control is of course paramount to the situation. "Frequently skipping, already suspended the second week of school" Hispanic boy jumps up and wants to bring it on. Class is now shocked beyond sound and movement. I now have two incidents to handle. Boy sent outside. Boy won't go to office. Nice big coach from across the hall assures him that he will. He's off to the office where his short term memory problems keep him from remembering just exactly why he is down there. After emails and a phone conversation with the assistant principal, young man is sent home and I am back to the original situation. Quiet conversation with first girl. Explain the problem to me please? She says, "They might be talking about me and I don't like it." In my head I'm thinking that I can't believe I am having this conversation with a 9th grader. But I explain in my best teacher voice that I don't have a problem at all with Spanish being spoken in my classroom and especially not if someone needs help. I ask her to speak to me privately next time if she believes that the conversation is directed against her. She apologizes and the class relaxes as nods are exchanged between the two girls. My 45 minute cultural sensitivity seminar/soap opera draws to an end. TGIF

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