Ugh! So. Much. Frustration.
So, for those of you that don’t know. Back story: I teach Reading at a charter school for 18-25 year olds that haven’t managed to pass one or more sections of the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) test in ELA, Math, Science and Social Studies that all Texas high schoolers must pass to graduate. If our students manage to pass the test, they get their high school diploma. Cool bean, right? I love that every single student that we help pass, through small group instruction, one on one tutoring and stuff like that, has a whole array of opportunities open up to them that they didn’t have before. We keep tabs on some of them and they’re going to college or technical school and moving on with their lives. So far we’ve helped 130 students go from drop out to graduate. It’s very gratifying.
This bring us to my point. If I were one of these students that had been given this opportunity, I would be working my butt off to take advantage. So, of course, it bothers the heck out of me that these “kids” care so little about their own lives. (Lol! My finger slipped and for a moment “lives” was “livers”.) The biggest problem with have is with students that English is their second language that just don’t have the vocabulary to write a high school level essay. What bothers me about this is what kind of system do we have that allows this to pass?
Most of the people in our area grow up speaking Spanish and by adulthood speak English and Spanish. That, I think, is the problem. In my few years working in the public schools, time and again I have heard teachers:
A) Talking to students in Spanish. (This is a problem because students that don’t hear and process good English won’t learn good English.)
B) Answering a student in English when the student addresses them in Spanish. (They should instead correct them and prompt them to practice their English, helping them form the correct sentence if they need it.)
C) Translating into Spanish instead of using immersion techniques to improve their English. (If students know that it will be translated for them, they make no effort to learn English and why not! I’m sure most of use would rather have it in our native language than go through the effort of learning a new one.)
Now, before anyone gets mad at me, the reason this is a problem isn’t the whole “This is America, they need to learn English if they’re gonna blah blah blah.” No. I think it’s awesome to hear all the different languages spoken in our nation. And yes, learning English does open more opportunities, but you don’t have to be a butt about it.
The problem is that students in Texas are only allowed to test in Spanish until sixth grade and then it’s all in English. How’s that for a disservice? We allow students to get by in school not learning the language (by no fault of their own) and then we throw them into the deep end of the pool with no flotation device. Swim kids! Swim! Why aren’t you swimming? SWIM!
So, that’s where I come into the picture. I work with post high school non-graduates. Most of my kids don’t speak English well if at all. They have a general understanding of spoken English. Their reading is hindered by their lack of vocabulary and by our overuse of figures of speech that mean NOTHING in another language (Think about it. What does “piece of cake” or “time flies” mean if you have no connotation?). Forget about writing. Sometimes you can work out what they’re trying to say if you have experience working with students, but if not, good luck! It’s just a damn shame.
What would you do in their situation?