Saturday, April 9, 2011

Crazy Hair Day & New Students

Monday, 4th April 2011

This week was our school's Spirit Week, and each day had a crazy theme. Monday was Crazy Hair Day, so most of the teachers and students did their hair in a crazy way. My hair is short and straight, so I just made about 6 pigtails, the top one stood up straight and bounced around. I definitely looked crazy.

This being an international school with many students from embassies, and embassies not following a school-year calendar when they bring in new staff, we can get new students at any time of the year. Including in April. So last Friday, a Korean man with almost no English walked into the principal's office and said something akin to, "Me, children, 2, no English, Monday," which meant--"I have two children who speak no English and will start school here on Monday."

So on Friday afternoon I was informed that starting Monday, I would have two new students in my Intensive English class.

My aide hypothesized that they can't possibly have worse English than my lowest group, three 6-year old's who all arrived at the school within the past few months, with extremely limited English at the time. Except now they are all reading (very simple books, but still) and can speak in complete sentences. How fast these children progress!

So, Monday morning, I arrived at 8 am with incredibly wacky hair, and promptly met the mother and father and two children, none of whom spoke English as well as I speak Russian (which is to say, rather poorly if at all!)

The boys are 6 and 8 years old, with names that are impossibly difficult to pronounce--for me, at least. I think Korean is the hardest language for me, pronunciation-wise.

The boys recognize most of the letters of the alphabet and can count in sequence to 20, but that's it. Ask them, "What is your name?" and if they are paying attention, they'll repeat back, "Whatisyourname."

I have them during the first 2 periods--for English class--as well as after Math, during the Cultural Studies/Science time.

During Math class on Monday, we had a fire drill, and although the weather is nicer, it's still a bit cold. These boys must certainly think we are crazy! Everyone with funky hair and then everyone forced to go outside in the cold during the day, standing in line outside for 5 minutes, for no apparent reason.

At lunch, I tried to get a sweet 7-year old Korean girl to talk to one of the boys, but she was way too shy. So I found the high school teacher who is Korean-American, and he helped the boy figure out lunch.

He told me, that once the boys were seated and eating, and they thought he had gone away, one boy said to the other, "What are we doing in this place?" Poor kids.

Luckily, most of the other students are nice to them, as most of the students know exactly what it feels like to be in a strange place where they don't know the language. The 6-year old's tend to laugh at and mimic Korean, but they also get along with their new classmate, since 6-year old's tend to be silly, and silliness needs no language. We're trying to explain to K--a Russian boy in the 8-year-old class who arrived with no English and who spent the first month being utterly lost--that he needs to go out of his way to help his new classmate. It took a week, but he's finally learned to look for this boy, grab his hand, and show him the way.

And the boys are progressing. Sometimes I want to pull my hair out--I realized that I've never worked with students whom I have absolutely no method of communicating with; usually I or someone nearby speaks their language. (The Korean-American teacher is in another building and I never see him, except for sometimes at lunch.) But they now know a few core vocabulary words (still confuse "folder" with "bathroom"!) and can answer the questions "What is your name?" "Where are you from?" and "How old are you?"

I know that by the end of the year they'll be doing nicely, and perhaps by then they'll understand just why everyone was acting so strange their first week. (Crazy Hair Day on Monday, Twin Day on Tuesday, Pajama Day on Wednesday, Beach Day on Thursday, and Alien Day on Friday.)

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