My priority today was to focus on the girls, after having seen footage of me subconsciously ignoring their quieter side of the room. I’m really glad I taped myself and caught myself doing this. I also moved less quickly and stopped and stared more. The last time I taught, I was moving around the room constantly and speaking at the same time. Today, I wanted the kids to focus on what I was saying instead of worrying about where I was moving to next.
We reviewed the sports, then split them up into boy/girl pairs. They would copy down a dialog where they would ask each other what their favorite sports were, and then their spelling would be graded. One by one, my co-teacher each pair up to the front to recite the dialog. I made sure to sit in the back of the room so that they would project their voices. Aside from unpredictable mood changes, middle schoolers are also cursed with the habit of mumbling. For almost every group that went up, I held my hand to my ear and asked them to speak more loudly. By the end, they caught on with the fact that “Teacher Charleen” needed them to speak up and to make their presence known. Once I began noticing that even the girls were finally speaking up, I began high fiving them. If I were to high five them, they showed me, I would need to do the fist bump.
We needed to transition to checking our homework, so I gave them 30 seconds to move their desks back to their 6 rows. I began counting down out loud, but the screeching of the blue metal desks against the hard floor drowned my voice out. Once they finished moving their desks, I waited for them in the back to look at me. When I lay out my expectations, it’s the only time I speak Spanish in English class. It’s hard enough to lay out your clearest expectations in English to English speakers, so this is why I use Spanish. I don’t want them to be confused at all in terms of what I need from them to do behaviorally. I praised the students who had their eyes on me already. I’m surprised at how quickly a group of about 30 students was able to turn around and keep their eyes on me. It’s been more of a power struggle to get this sort of compliance from past experiences. I asked them why it would be “bad” for the class to drag chairs around. Instead of saying, I should have just asked them why it wastes time. I didn’t mean for it to be a rhetorical question, but since students here aren’t used to much discussion, it became rhetorical. I wasn’t angry because this was the first time this happened, but I explained to them that we lose our urgent learning time if we are being too loud and if I can’t even hear myself counting down.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I don’t talk to hear the sound of my own voice. When I have something to say, it’s important for the flow of the lesson. Or, in rare cases, it’s to show my appreciation for Nicaraguan yawn-singing. I let the kids know that I would watch for them to instead pick up their desks instead of dragging them so that I can count down efficiently. Behaviorally, this is a compliant group. I’m just trying to cut down on the little distractions that add up and take learning time away.
After class, my co-teacher and I chatted with Ben (I’m changing his name to ensure privacy), a student who was rumored to have dropped out, but he came back to class after several weeks. I hadn’t met him until today, but as soon as he walked in I sensed that he was smart and would need behavioral support. I could tell because he is one of those students who walks into the room without apology and isn’t nervous about making eye contact with adults. He wasn’t defiant at all, but he seemed more easily distracted than others. I gave him quiet redirections throughout the lesson as I saw his eyes wander around the room instead of seeing him focus. When it came time to do the dialog, I was impressed with his pronunciation. He received a perfect score, and this child hadn’t been in class in weeks. After class, I told him that I noticed this, and to imagine how much he could accomplish if he actually came to class. “I just met you today, and it’s clear that you’re very smart, but it seems like you are also a bit lazy, no?” I asked him. He just smiled and nodded. Seriously? Even the “tougher” kids at this school are agreeable and somewhat friendly. I told him that I used to be lazy in middle school, too. Why would I want an A if I could get a B? If teachers, my parents, and friends hadn’t pushed me to demand more of myself, I wouldn’t even be in this country talking to this kid. Just as the Peace Corps is continuing to push me to improve my Spanish fluency, I continue to benefit from people seeing more potential in me. I hope this conversation sparks something inside of him to come to school more often.