Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Lesson in Listening Closely

A few years ago, I was teaching ENL at a school in the city of Buffalo.  It was my second year teaching, and I had just been bumped up from the primary ages to 8th grade.  That year, I had a group of students that gave me a run for my money every day.  They picked on me, we joked daily, and I absolutely loved them.  They were a great group that really awakened my love for teaching the middle school grades (6-8).

This age group can be tricky to work with.  Hormones flair, cliques start to form, and kids start to really consider who they want to be in life.  Some would consider it a nightmare--I call it paradise (most of the time, at least).

Anyway, in this group, I had a student named Dah.  Dah spoke Karen (Kah-ren). He came from the Karen state in Burma to the US a few years earlier.  

Many Karen people come to the United States because they are fleeing years of persecution and a complicated conflict with the Burmese government.  Sometimes, they make it over the border to Thailand where they spend time in refugee camps before making it to the US.

At the time I had him in my class, Dah was considered an intermediate ESL (English as a Second Language) student (the labels have since changed).  His writing was still choppy, and his speaking was difficult to understand at times.

But boy, was this kid funny.

Always laughing, always ready with a quick comeback, always ready to make you laugh.

He drove me absolutely nuts.  I jokingly threatened at least weekly to throw him out of the window of my classroom.

Partway through the year, report cards were going out.  Many of his teachers had come to me complaining that Dah wasn't finishing his homework.  It was my job, as his ESL teacher, to discuss his work and double check if he needed help.

So, I approached him one day.

"Dah, you really need to start doing your homework.  Your other teachers are worried about your grades because you're not completing assignments."

"Oh Meeess," (my Asian students have an endearing way of pronouncing "miss") "what the fuh...?"

"Excuse me?!  What did you just say to me???"  I was ready to flip on him.  Here I was, checking in on him to help him succeed a little bit more in class and he was about to start swearing at me??  Seriously??  πŸ˜‘😑😑

"I said waterfuh, Miss.  You know, like when the water goes over the rocks?  Niagara Falls?  Waterfuh."  πŸ˜  He smirked at me, knowing that he had successfully set me up.  Checkmate.

He was aware enough of his accent when speaking English, and realized what letters he pronounced and where he lacked.  He had also slyly thrown back my daily lesson of "be sure you're listening closely!"

This was one of the first times (of many) that I would be schooled by my students, and it's still one of my favorites.

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