When the Assistant Principal of my school walked into my classroom one month ago and told me the news, I had to bite my lip and fake a nonchalant attitude. Because of my upcoming maternity leave and shrinking ELD class sizes, Mr. Perez would be taking over my ELD 3 class and I would be relieving Mrs. Mueller of her excessively large Sheltered English 9 class by splitting it with her. Now any outsider might read this and think, “what is the big deal?” Well, go back to my previous blogs (Teaching Unmotivated students and Pssst, can I tell you a Secret?) about this Sheltered English 9 class. They used to be my ELD 3 class last year until they moved on to the next level this year. This is the worst class I have ever had in my entire career of teaching! This class made me ponder whether or not I wanted to continue being a teacher. This class oozed disrespect and disruption. I don’t know what it was about this class. Just a bad combination. I have taught ELD for years. Never have I had a combination such as this before. And after all of my hard work last year, I finally wore them down to one word: tolerable. That is the best I could make them. And now Mrs. Mueller has inherited them and has been struggling with them as well. The Assistant Principal and counselors believed that perhaps if the class were smaller, they could be more manageable. And so I would split that class with her and return those students back to her when I leave on maternity leave. A long-term substitute would only be needed for my remaining three English 11 classes.
I didn’t complain. I didn’t give alternative ideas. I simply smiled and said, “OK.” It’s only my second year here. I need a job. I refuse to complain.
But then I went home and prayed.
It was a simple prayer. Something to the effect of, “Oh Lord, save me. Help me get through this class. Calm these students down. Let the class run smoothly. Help me with the curriculum as it will be much more work to put together lessons without using the ELD curriculum. Help me with this emotional and intellectual work load. Lord, I don’t know what you can do, but please help me. Give me patience Lord. Give me energy. I need you.”
Then I returned to work in early January after the cold and rainy holiday and found a roster of my new class resting in my mailbox. On it was a list of ten girls. Girls???? Girls!!!!! They split the class by gender? I have just the girls? I scanned the list. There were ten beautiful names that would soon be written in curly letters with sparkly purple ink on college-ruled paper.
Some were girls I knew. The quiet ones who didn’t speak much because the loud, obnoxious boys demanded so much attention last year. The not so quiet girl, who transferred into my class later in the year because she had worked so hard to learn the language. Another who was a smart, hard worker, but put up a hard demeanor to protect herself from the drama of the Chicano culture–but who I knew, was still a girl. Just like me. Just like all the other girls. And a few I didn’t know, but I knew one thing. They were not the boys in my ELD class whose names vibrated in my eardrums like teeth scraping a styrofoam cup. They wouldn’t throw trash across the room or curse at me or sexually harass the quiet senior girl from Lebanon. They wouldn’t sneak pot to school or come to class reeking of last night’s alcohol and pass out. They wouldn’t practice writing their gang name in fancy tag letters on their binder. Or draw pictures of penises and pot leaves instead of doing work. No, I could handle this. These were girls!
And so we are now halfway through our third week together. We have talked; taken notes; written in journals; laughed; analyzed Taylor Swift’s song called “Fifteen” to study how it communicates a theme about growing up and compared it to a short story we read called “The Moustache” which also gave a message about growing up; we’ve assessed and reflected on our learning of how to combine sentences to create more complex structure. And now we are discussing war and will be comparing themes between two stories about the effects of civil war.
We had a little drama between a couple of girls where the first didn’t want to sit next to the other and work as a team because the other “was taking about [her] behind [her] back.” But I got the girls together and encouraged the other to apologize to the first. We talked about the need to communicate and we all realized that whether we are quiet and innocent or loud and experienced, we each are so similar: girls who just want to be understood and liked.
Already I feel a special bond forming between myself and these girls. Already I see the inhibitions dropping and hands raising. Already I see happening what couldn’t have happened in the education of these girls if they continued to have had to learn in an environment shared by boys who just didn’t care. Yes, the Lord took what looked like a curse and turned it into a joyous blessing. For all of us.
I think I just might cry on my last day with these girls come April when I leave on maternity leave. And that my dear friends, is awesome. 🙂