Monday, January 2, 2012

I just don't even know who you are anymore

Today is the final day of a blissful 13 day respite. Tomorrow schools open again (maybe I'll score an assignment, maybe not) and my minimester begins. And then I will be going full-speed until May. 

The week before vacation was lovely. Well. The day before vacation was lovely. I was working with a kindergarten class I had been with before. I always lament that as a sub I don't get many chances to see the progress kids make throughout the year. I go to a classroom for the day, get a vague idea of what the kids are like, and then hope that everything works out for them if I don't get to see them again. But if I have a relationship with a school, then I can check in on kids every month or so. And in some ways, I think I appreciate the changes I see more than classroom teachers because to me they are so sudden and dramatic. 

Case in point: the last time I visited this kindergarten class was the beginning of October. There was a little girl whose family speaks primarily Russian (or some similar language), and this was her first time in an entirely English-speaking environment. The little girl speaks English very well, but the last time I saw her she would not speak to adults. You would hear her chatting with her friends during free time (she had no problems socializing with peers), but not a peep to any teachers or school staff. It was curious because she would raise her hand to answer questions and then... not answer them. She was engaged in the lessons, she just wouldn't speak. When I spoke with the teacher, she reported that the girl had met with the counselor and some other people, and the working theory was that the girl was a bit slower to process English and felt nervous about messing it up in front of authority figures. They figured that she would speak when she was ready, and they just went along with it since it didn't seem to impact anything else. The teacher still called on this girl when she raised her hand and would give a few seconds for the girl to answer, but the teacher knew that she would eventually have to move on to another classmate.

When I stepped into the classroom last week, the girl regarded me warily at first; this is typical of kindergarteners who are with an unfamiliar adult. For the first part of the day, it was the same as October: she hugged me, she held my hand, but she didn't speak to me. When I needed to speak to her directly, I knew to ask questions in a way she could answer by nodding or shaking her head. So when I asked, "Are you buying lunch today?" I was surprised that she responded, "No, I brought my lunch." For the record, it is the most difficult thing in the world to not cheer or overreact when a milestone like that happens, but I knew that would freak her out and make her clam up for the rest of the day. So I responded neutrally, and next thing you know the kid is spending the afternoon by my side, chattering away. There were actually a few times when I had to say, "I love talking to you, but I need you to go to centers now, okay?" I don't know when she made this turning point of speaking, but I was so proud of her and desperately wished her teacher were in the building that day so I could talk to her about it. 

I also had a snippet of a conversation with one of the boys involved in a previous incident. A simple, "How are things going?" and he immediately lit up and told me, "Good! I'm getting better grades now." Um, heart bursting with pride. We constantly discuss in my program that whenever a kid shares information with you unprompted, it is a big deal to that kid and should be paid attention to. This kid could have responded, "Good" and then walked away, but he took pride in what he was accomplishing at school. I get the sense (even during my two day stint in his classroom) that this is a kid who doesn't feel like he gets a lot of credit for his improvements. It could be because, even though he is a good kid, he's not one of those super quiet obedient types that teachers automatically peg as trying really hard. So I tried to make a big deal over it, and I'm excited to go see him in the classroom again to see if I notice any changes. (I only had him for gym class that day, and it's hard to notice anything when you spend a solid 30 minutes praying no one gets seriously injured.)

I am eternally grateful that my few days before vacation went so well; I'm hoping it will make it easier to go back tomorrow. (I know I know... there's no way I'm looking forward to waking up early again.) Today is devoted to reading three chapters about alcoholism before my class tomorrow night. Fun stuff, right?

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