Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Wickedly Awesome Field Trip!

Last Wednesday was a long day, but a great one.  You see, I like to take one big field trip every year with my students, usually somewhere in New York City, and this year's trip was the coolest ever. Past trips have included visits to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, a Central Park Scavenger Hunt, and the Museum of Modern Art, but the destination for this year's foray into NYC was none other than the Great White Way.  

You see, it all started when we read The Wizard of Oz last year in class.  Being from other countries, many of my students have never heard of Dorothy or the Wicked Witch of the West or even Munchkins. Those characters and the story are an inherent part of American culture, but to most of my students, well, they just never heard of them.  Their reactions to the story, as you can imagine, are almost always positive.  They're as fascinated as we were as little kids following Dorothy and Toto, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion on their adventure, and their enthusiasm brought to mind an idea for a great field trip.

Wicked, the Untold Story of the Witches of Oz is one of the greatest Broadway shows I've ever seen, and to me, the story is such a unique and interesting take on the characters from L. Frank Baum's story. The play has everything, from comedy to high drama, and of course a great musical score. When the idea was first suggested to me by my friend and colleague Kristen, I immediately began to plan it out in my head, and after a year of difficult and oftentimes stressful planning, the day finally came, and it was awesome!

My plan was to give these kids, about 24 of them, a day they would never forget, and so I weaved some lessons for my beginners and my intermediate and advanced kids read the script beforehand, but really none of them were really prepared for what they saw.  

We began our day in the city with a pre-field trip of sorts, to the world-famous Carmine's.  In all, 28 of us feasted on family style Italian fare for just about two hours before Wicked and during that stretch my kids made me proud.  Sometime during the second course, a woman walked over to our table and asked who was in charge.  

That'd be me, I responded.

I have to tell you...when me and my friends saw all of those teenagers walk in we thought that it was going to be trouble, but these are the most well-behaved teenagers I've ever seen.

And they were!  I hadn't even realized it before, but my students were about as well behaved a group of kids that I've ever seen.  They did do me proud, but not only during the two hours we spent stuffing our faces, but afterwards, as well.  We only had about fifteen minutes to make our way up to 51st St., where the theater was, from 44th, where Carmine's is.  The students followed one another (and us chaperones!) all the way through seven blocks of Broadway and we made it to our seats only moments before showtime.  

The rest of our afternoon was spent engrossed in the incredible story of poor, misunderstood Elphaba, her best friend Glinda, and her sister Nessarose.  Like I said above, this show is so entertaining for anyone who comes to see it, and my kids loved it.  In fact, at the end of Defying Gravity, the finale to the first act, four of my students turned to me to ask, disappointingly, if it was over.  Of course, it wasn't.

After the show, all plied happily onto the bus for a grueling, three-plus hour ride home, and for the most part, the students were well behaved there, too.  I love field trips, and I especially loved this one,  Hopefully, I've given 28 kids a day they won't soon forget and they gave me the kind of warmth I simply love to soak in...watching them experience an awesome, shared memory!

And then, the bus ride, lol...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Reality Check for Educational Policy Makers

These kids are good organs in a sick body.

Yesterday morning, one of the students in my school's GSA, a lovable kid by the name of Zach, sent me a link to the video posted below.  He said that when he saw it, he thought I might be interested in it and I certainly was.  The video appears on a channel called Button Poetry on YouTube, and it speaks to the idiocy that has become or our educational system, specifically how it affects the field of ESL, what I teach.

Students who've been in the country for one year are now expected to perform at grade level on standardized English tests....If the kids don't jump high enough, the school loses money.  Improving a school by picking its pockets is like tuning a guitar by ripping off the strings.

As I watched the video, I couldn't help but become incensed at what the dude in the video was saying. ESL is already hard enough to teach, and because of the nature of my students, the fact that they come from Spanish speaking countries, adds a lil old-fashioned bias into the fray (see the Alien and Sedition Acts).  No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and Common Core are three phrases that give every teacher chills down their spine, but very little is said about how these "college and career readiness" standards affect my kids.  

Their heritage is a banned book.  Learning to read in a new language when you can't even read in your own is like trying to heal a burn victim by drowning them.

In an climate of standardized testing and teacher accountability, the premise that all students are the same is to me just a microcosm of the larger struggle between those of us who see everything as black and white and those of us who see a lot of gray.  I happen to be of the latter, and I may not be right about a lot of things, but I feel pretty damned confident that there is a lot of gray in the world, especially when it comes to student learning.  

We are telling these children who have spent their whole lives in the deep end that they'll learn to how to swim if they just float out a little farther. 

I spend my weekends, unlike many of my colleagues who teach mainstream subjects, doing school work.  My only opportunities for rest and relaxation from work come during the summer months, and even that isn't 100% true.  I wish it would be easier, but alas this is the life I chose, and the students that have passed through my classroom all make it worth it.  I love the time I get to spend with them, but even during that time I worry.  I worry for them, that they'll be able to get through the tough rigors of today's educational system without dropping out and getting lost in a sea of uncertain futures.  

I'm lucky enough to be one of the winners of this game.  I was handed a head start and a rule book in my own tongue, but the winners of a rigged game should not get to write the rules.  On the television, some senator preaches that throwing money at an urban school is like feeding caviar to your dog.  They just won't know how to appreciate it.  After all, if these parents can't take care of their own children, why should we? 

One of my biggest gripes about education is that those who decide what goes on in our classrooms have little knowledge of what goes on in them, so how could they possibly know?  This of course holds true for all children and all teachers in all schools, but socially, the kids in my classroom and the classrooms of every other ESL teacher out there are even more maligned than anyone else.  I could say so much more here, but for the sake of time and space, I'm going to leave you with the video.  I urge you to click play below and think about it...

Welcome to John's ESL World

Yesterday, I was incited to write a piece to go along with a video I had watched.  The video was all about the state of education today and its impact on English Language Learners, or ELL's, the kids I teach.  In writing that post, I'd been reminded that in the spirit of keeping subject matter unique to my blogs, I've been wanting to create another blog within John's World where I can talk about educational topics, from school stories to lessons and general educational topics. This was my opportunity to do so.

So welcome to John's ESL World blog, where I'll be sharing memories, lessons and an occasional rant on the state of our little corner of the teaching world.  Stay tuned...