Sunday, May 3, 2009

English only in an English language school?

OK, I need to write, to vent a little, to discuss this issue and get your opinions. You all know I was very upset this morning. I know many of you don't understand why, so let me go deeper into it...

Recently I was in the staff room and a large group was chattering away in another language. I've tried sitting with this lunchtime group before, hoping that when they laughed someone would translate the joke for me, or at the very least, someone would say, "Hi Melanie. Glad to have you here!" or "What's going on in your classroom/life?" That never happened no matter how often I tried, so I gave up. I told myself, oh well, they have to speak English all day; they don't mean to be hurtful or rude. They just need a break. The message I receive: We don't care about you.

Then I had to have a showdown with some of my grade 12 students who simply refused to speak English in my class, loudly telling jokes, laughing, even talking about me in another language. Even after I became angry and insistent, they required numerous reminders of their bad manners and never fully gave up speaking their language, occasionally over my teaching in English. I asked them how they would feel if I just taught in French and only Joe* and Bob* could understand. They just laugh at me some more and continue talking among themselves. The message they are giving me: We don't respect you.

Then this morning, I walk into homeroom where several groups are loudly engaged in conversation in various languages. I say loudly, "Good morning, everyone!" Only one student even makes eye contact, and though I can't hear her for the volume in the room, I can read her lips say, "Good morning, Mrs. Wilson!" Another student gives me a sideways glance and goes back to whatever it is she's doing.

I'm a little miffed, so I think to myself, OK, I'm going to try this again. I go to the bathroom and come back a minute later. More loudly this time, "Good morning, everyone!" I'm shocked. Absolutely no response. "I've said good morning twice now, and everyone completely ignored me," I say. One girl apologetically looks up and acknowledges me with a response. Another looks sideways at me again, this time as if I'm annoying her. Not one single other person deigns to take a second to reply to me. The message they are giving me: You don't matter.

In complaint to Mr. Hawkeswood, I realize that it's because almost everyone was engaged in conversation in their native languages, so deeply that they have no room for anyone else. I wonder if they know how blatantly disrespectful they have been...or do they even care. I think to myself, if I were to consistently ignore them when they asked me a question or said hello in the hallway, I might even lose my job - it's that important that I show people I'm available and that I care.

Is my responsibility in this school simply one-way? Am I supposed to give and give and give and expect nothing in return? Or is education a two-way proposition where both sides give and take equally? I would like to think so, yes, but I cannot help today feeling as if my worth as a teacher is only valid when a student needs or wants something from me. At other times I can be ignored, pushed aside or disregarded.

Now, I have thought a LOT about the issue of bi-lingual eduction, and I believe that we should not only encourage the retention of students' native languages and culture, but also actively help them to maintain it. Does this include allowing them to speak their languages in the classroom if necessary. I always thought it did. Now I'm not so sure. I would never dream of banning native languages in our school, but perhaps the lunchroom and the playground are the correct places for these expressions and it should be English-only in the classroom (unless, of course, you happen to be in a 2nd language classroom).

What do you think?

Criterion A

Criterion A is due today, Monday, May 4th. Criterion B is due Wednesday, May 6th, and criterion C is due Friday, May 8th. No extensions, no exceptions.