“So…how are you?”
“And how are you?”
“How are you?”
“Me too! How are you?”
I’m making my way around the class, doing my daily “how are you?” warmup routine. By now, most of the students have gotten used to being randomly called on during this part of the lesson. Yet there’s always that one student in every class who just freezes up. I’ll give them all the encouragement I can muster, and even the students nearby will join in. Yet with eyes cast down and a face struggling to remain stern. They effectively block out my entire existence.
I pretend like it never happened, give the kid a thumbs up and continue on with the lesson. Everyone has a bad day sometimes. And some students are just too shy to speak. After a while most shy students open up with a little coaxing. The ones having a bad day, I cheer up with a little comic relief. Even then, there’s always that one kid who is almost reaction-less. These little rebels, as I like to call them, will go to great lengths to not speak English. Some will respond with a “konnichiwa” when I say hello, or a “genki” when I ask “How are you?” They know full and well what I’m saying, they just refuse to communicate in English, if they even decide to speak at all.
Last week I got a little frustrated by it. It’s been three months now in the classroom. Why was this still going on? I didn’t take my frustrations out on the students; I’m not supposed to discipline them. And I don’t think more discipline would have changed anything either. Still, I want to help them. These students are going to be in for a rude awakening when they enter junior high. English four days a week. Not just listening and speaking; reading and writing as well. It only gets more intense in high school. I wanted to somehow explain the importance of learning English is for their school careers. I have students in junior high now worrying about getting accepted to both a good and affordable school (a top public school). They wish they took things a little more seriously early on. I thought about it for some time and then let it go (no over thinking right?)
One night I was taking a hot shower. Induced into a trance-like state by the steam within the walls, my mind began to drift. Waaay back. Back before the large lecture halls, before the Prep blazer and Dickies, and long nights studying Latin (*cough cough* Myspacing). It was my middle school Masterman days. I was a shy kid yearning for attention in the form of acceptance. Most of the attention I would get was usually in the form of teasing. I sounded “white” (whatever that means) and came from a neighborhood that didn’t have a high black population at the time. I hated getting negative attention for things I could not control. Because of this, I ended up doing some really goofy things out of that desire for acceptance. I’d rather be laughed at for something I could control, rather than my voice or place of residence. I look back and laugh at it now, but at the time I really felt alienated.
In English class one day in seventh grade, our teacher announced that we all would do poetry recitations. Good grades would be awarded to the students who truly expressed the poem they recited. I got excited; I was going to put on the best, funniest, most entertaining performance of the class. That evening I looked through all my books of poetry, searching for the one that I could make my own. I came across “The Pirate” by Shel Silverstein. It had just the right amount of wackiness for me to come in and bring it alive with my own weird personality. I got to working on my pirate accent.
On the days leading up to presentation day my confidence wavered slightly. Then the day came: how the hell was I gonna do this?? Fortunately, the teacher didn’t call on me. The next day though, I heard my name. A lump the size of a cue ball grew in my throat. I just couldn’t do it. I made some excuse and kept making excuses each day afterwards.
By now all the students had pretty much did their poems…and my teacher had contacted my parents. After getting yelled at by my mom, the teacher agreed to let me do my poem in front of just her, instead of the entire class. My mom dragged me into school one morning, pirate suit and all, to make sure I did it too. Even in front of just two people, the stage fright was still there. To this day I still don’t know why I was so scared to recite a simple poem. I managed to mumble the piece in a monotone voice and received a (barely) passing grade.
I never had huge fears of presenting much before or after that time. But for some reason that was the one time I could not do it. So maybe these little rebels aren’t shy when they don’t respond. Maybe they don’t even know why they don’t want to participate. Could just be having one of those pirate poem days.