Treat ’em with respect

One little guy was slumped over today, not meeting my eyes, looking as though he was going to sleep.

I walked past him, touched his shoulder gently, and then told the kids to stand up and walk around, because I had been talking entirely too much and they needed a break. (I said that.) He had trouble getting up, saying that his legs were asleep. It turned out that he hadn’t slept last night, and the way he slumped meant that the chair cut into his legs. I had him switch out chairs, and something turned him on. All of a sudden he started volunteering, being enthusiastic, and acting very pleased with the class.

In another class, a shy girl was not meeting my eyes at all yesterday and I couldn’t tell whether she was understanding or not. I took the kids’ name cards and “assigned” her to a front-row seat. Then I made sure to look at her a lot, to share a smile with her when someone was being silly, and to slow down until she looked more comfortable. At the end of class, she came up quietly to me to tell me that this is her favorite class. Hurrah! I was so worried that I was going to lose her, and I’m so glad that she is feeling comfortable.

Part of my new wisdom is due to Carol Gaab’s reminder that kids feel lost in the first days of school. I went carefully through her questionnaire today with one group, and I will make sure to do so with every group. The first group responded very well; I hadn’t really expected them to be interested or to want to listen to me tell them about myself at that length for some reason.

Another part of the new wisdom is from the example set by my distance ed class teachers. I have been almost cracking at the seams with too many things coming at me lately. I had to write them and say that, while I was going to get the projects in on time, the homework had no chance. I explained a bit, but didn’t feel as though I should really go into my personal life. But then they had a seminar on why teachers should share their personal life to at least some extent, and how teachers need to be flexible, and when they responded to me, it was with such respect and genuine care that I got to feel what that was like. There was no blame, no harsh words, and no ultimatums, just kindness toward me and supportive language and true flexibility to help get me through. I don’t know when I’ve been in a teaching environment that so strongly “walks the talk” the way my U of Iowa grant leaders do. They offer a powerful example of fine teaching.

I am so lucky to have the materials coming at me at the same time that I get to feel what it’s like to have true support as a student. I hope that I will be able to return the favor to my kids. So far, it feels as though by channelling my mentors, I am somehow reaching the kids. What a wonderful world.


6 responses to “Treat ’em with respect

  1. Thank you for the link to Carol’s article. This is so important! Are you doing the questionnaires in Russian or English? I always get stumped with this stuff because we are trying to establish the norm of the class being in TL but then to do some of these activities to their fullest potential there is no way to do it in TL.

    I’m having a similar dilemma (about TL) in terms of the rules and syllabus and all that housekeeping stuff. Today I discussed this with Skip and a few others up in Maine. I am still waffling. In Breckenridge, Annick Chen said that she explains the basics of language acquisition to her high school students so that they understand the underlying reasons for the rules. I have done this in different ways over the last 1.25 years of my infancy in CI teaching. I don’t know how to do it concisely or effectively.


    • Year 11 and I’m still mixing this up too. As a student, I like learning. I want a purpose for coming to class. I sprinkle a little bit in each day. The first day is about proficiency levels and expectations, but I have them doing something with it instead of me reading it to them. Day 2 we are using the language, playing games, and learning cognates (big bang for the buck). I teach them the classroom procedures as needed (if you were absent yesterday, this is where you get your missing work or if you need to go to the bathroom, here’s the pass with the directions and how to say “can I go to the bathroom” in Spanish). I have specific instructions on my blog if you are interested.


  2. Great stuff, Kara! And Jen, I did the questionnaire in English. We are not going to be doing much English at all, but I do want kids to know who I am. Like Kara, I will funnel it in over several days, maybe even weeks.


  3. So…Kara’s site is already listed on the right sidebar!! Go there and pick her brain. Thank you so much for connecting your name with the site!


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