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Pour Me Out

Monday, October 17, 2011

This semester, I decided to reduce my hours co-teaching English in school, and instead to start an English elective for 1st and 2nd graders on my own.  In two groups of ten or less, we met one hour a week to play games and learn children’s songs.  Like most things I’ve done that I care about, I can think of many ways it could have been better.  “Row, row, row your boat” is a great ESL song, because it has few lyrics, and useful, concrete vocabulary words; my kids learned “row”, “boat”, “gently”, “merrily”, and “dream”.  In contrast, “I’m a little teapot” has great actions (I added more, and I also made ones for “Row, row, your boat”), but the vocabulary is difficult and bizarre.  Along with “teapot”, “short”, “handle”, and “shout”, my students learned  “tip”, “pour”, “spout”, “steam” and my personal favorite (for its irrelevancy), “stout”.

Then again, when I brought a teakettle to teach the vocabulary, a student called out, “Vamos a tomar mate? [Are we going to have mate?]”  So while “I’m a little teapot” may not have taught relevant vocabulary, it did meet my other, implicit goal: to have my students enjoy learning English.  In contrast with a school culture based largely on threats, the eighteen students (almost half of 1st + 2nd graders) I finished with participated because they wanted to.  Many came running in excitement, and when a few said, “No, I don’t want to go, it was boring,” I was able to say, “Okay, it’s your choice, it’s not an obligation”.  They stared in disbelief.  Sure, I coerced a few doubters with, “Well, in two more weeks we are going to sing in front of the whole school, so if you don’t come today, you won’t be in the assembly”, but I never forced.  One of my proudest moments was when I got my students off the playground on a day when afternoon classes had been cancelled.  I simply told them it was time for English and suggested they play for five more minutes.  When time was up, they leaped off the swings and came with me and my whiteboard.

The other sweet part of this project was Edgardo, a senior in my high school elective who wants to be an English teacher and that I invited to help me out with the little ones.  As I had hoped, this experience was good for him and good for the kids. He studied the children’s songs on youtube and eagerly led portions of an English-immersion class, a methodology he has never experienced.  Over the year, his skills have improved to the point that I barely modify my speech when I talk with him.  During the “show”, I spoke in English and he translated me for the audience.  And the little ones got to see that English is fun and cool, and that if you work hard you can be really good by the time you’re in high school.  Of course this is Palena, so Edgardo had both a cousin and a niece among the students.

Our last week, several students were complaining about the class being boring, likely because, in pursuit of mastery, we had been practicing the same songs over and over again.  To even this out, I decided to spend our last class painting cardboard “boats” (used to incentivize a quick run-through, of course).  Though this couldn’t be justified in terms of learning English (though we did talk about colors), it was fun and it made the presentation a lot more special.  Particularly for an extracurricular activity (I have two hours a week in school with these grades), I think this was appropriate.

So in addition to a brief appearance in an all-school assembly, last Wednesday night, parents and siblings crowed a classroom and took pictures of their beloved little cherubs in the “English Show”. Each student had a vocabulary word from one of the songs to “teach”, by pointing to it in the powerpoint, and beckoning by a hand behind their ear for the audience to repeat.  The program (excerpted above) was a big hit, I suspect because it listed every student’s full name.  Though many of these families have a lot of problems, every kid had at least one adult (many two) who showed up.  Many kissed me hello, and every parent and child kissed me goodbye.


My God I love these kids – Antonia, who came early with fresh ribbons in her hair; Hans, with his prek brother in tow, and who asked me if he could go get water with five minutes to go; Facundo, who was beaming, after complaining about being bored; Danila, who froze but ultimately did teach her word, timidly but clearly.

Though dealing with little kids is exhausting and maddening, it also so naturally calls forward my love and affection.  I can’t stay mad for long.  I have seven more weeks of classes to teach, to love, to grow little pairs of wings on these little people who I will not be here to see in full flight.  Pour me out.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. David Russell permalink
    Monday, October 17, 2011 2:37 pm


  2. Monday, October 17, 2011 4:24 pm

    Thanks, Dad! I especially thought of you when weighing the value of spending time on arts & crafts. I know you share my skepticism of the seemingly automatic educational value of “hands-on” activities.

  3. sally johnson permalink
    Wednesday, October 19, 2011 1:18 pm

    Pour you out, indeed! Only seven weeks left? how can that be! It will fly by, which is both perhaps a happy as well as sad thing. Know well that you have made a permanent impression on these youngsters. How very lucky they are to have had you as their teacher in his past year. Perhaps you will see some of them “fly.” Can’t wait to see you once you are back in Ipswich!

  4. Wednesday, October 19, 2011 1:26 pm

    Thanks, Sally! I know, it has gone fast. I am very much looking forward to getting our two families together, too!

  5. Friday, October 21, 2011 4:00 pm

    Sounds like everyone there had fun, well done.

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