Monday, October 4, 2010

I just did a terrible thing.

I punched a hobo.

Okay, that's a lie. I absolutely did not punch a hobo.

I have a new student in my class. Today was only her second day, and she's never been in school before, so she's still getting accustomed to it. The thing is (this sounds awful and I know it) I didn't like her from the beginning. Not because of anything she did. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, the principal brought me into her office and told me that I might be getting a new student. The little girl had taken the entrance test and just barely passed it, so they were interviewing her to see if she could handle the work. I had been told when I got here that sometimes the school lets in students who aren't actually "gifted and talented" just for their tuition money, so I was skeptical from the beginning. But I did as I was told and interviewed Bella.

Bella is perfectly adorable. She's soft-spoken and polite and so darling. She could read everything I put in front of her, but she didn't understand a word of it. I'd ask her a simple question about the book she read, even point to the word that was the answer, and she had no clue what I was saying. She'd just smile at me and say "yes". After the interview, I told the principal that I didn't think her comprehension skills were as high as they needed to be and that perhaps she wasn't a good fit for the school. The principal thanked me and sent me back to class.

A few days later, the principal returned and told me that Bella's mommy had called, crying, and was desperate to get Bella into Gate School. She begged for another interview, and the principal wanted to know if I'd be willing to give her another chance. I like kids, so I agreed.

This time, I brought a math book down. Math is the same no matter what language you learned it in, so I thought maybe I was helping the kid out. I showed her the page my kids had just finished, and she started coloring. Just scribbled all over the page. I tried to teach her how to add by using dots and counting them all up, but all she ever said was "yes". It took nearly half an hour to complete five questions, and I told the principal that as sweet as Bella is, she really can't handle the work. The principal nodded and apologized for wasting my time.

A week later, Bella started in my class.

So from the second I saw her, I was angry. It irritated me that the school had asked for my recommendation then blatantly ignored it, and I realized for the first time how much this place really is a business more than a school. How can you put a little girl who doesn't speak English in a class with kids who read at a third grade level? My kids are flippin smart. They fly through the workbook pages, and their vocabulary is off the charts. Bella is precious, but not "gifted", so I was frustrated by her presence right from the start.

Friday was a mess of a day because we had all kinds of activities that shuffled the kids from class to class, so today was my first real experience trying to teach Bella. I taught the lessons the way I usually do; I'll read the questions and before I'm even finished, the kids are shouting the answers at me. I write the words on the board, and sometimes I draw funny pictures just to amuse myself, but we get through the workbook pages crazy fast. I'd keep an eye on Bella, and mostly she just colored on her workbook. I'd try to get her attention and tell her to write the answers down, but she'd only be one or two words in before I erased what I had written and started on the next sentence. Occasionally, I'd go over to her workbook and point at it and tell her she needed to pay attention, but other than that, I basically ignored her. Near the end of the lesson, I stomped over and pointed at her empty page, prepared to tell her off for not copying anything down, but when she looked up at me, my heart absolutely broke.

It's not her fault she's in this mess. Thanks to her overly dramatic mother, she's stuck in a school where she doesn't speak the language with a teacher who hates her for no reason. Where the hell did I get the idea that just because the kid didn't speak English, she deserved to be treated so terribly? In that moment (and this moment too, actually), I was incredibly disgusted with myself. I knelt down next to her and walked her through the questions, totally ignoring the other kids in the class. I obviously can't give her my undivided attention all day long, and school is going to be very challenging for her, but I absolutely refuse to let myself be angry with a five-year-old who is merely an unfortunate pawn in a pathetically unethical educational system. I'm mad at her mother for forcing this on her, and I'm mad at the administration for only wanting her tuition money, but most of all, I'm mad at myself for letting my frustrations get in the way of loving an innocent little kid. The silver lining is that tomorrow is another day, and tomorrow I can choose to do things differently.

Watch out ladies and gentlemen - it looks like this Korea thing is going to turn me into a better person, and that is not the girl you fell in love with!

1 comment:

  1. KOREA! I know how you feel...teaching is really hard. For reasons you'd never guess. Just love her and do the best you can! Talk to the other teachers and see what they are doing to help her, you can all work together.

    Also this is Florida