Teaching English is funny. You do a lesson on something, say occupations. Then you start talking about uniforms and farmers in overalls and realize your students don’t know much about clothing. Which is not much of a surprise, since we wear very little of it in Brazil. Or you realize they don’t know a lot of little words we use to describe things like “top” or “bottom.” Or you ask them to write a quick paragraph description of their parents to practice occupations, and realize they don’t know the difference between “long” and “tall,” and it’s confusing because both are used with “short.”
So then you start changing all your lesson plans, realizing it’s pretty important that kids know how to describe people, because the paranoid person in me leaps to “what if there is stranger danger and they need to provide a description to the police!?” So you’re thinking you’ll do a really quick and easy straightforward lesson about physical descriptions and you try to use a universal figure as an example person to describe, so obviously you choose Harry Potter, only belatedly realizing that some Christians get pretty weird about their kids discussing fictional wizards, but then you end up spending over a week on a mini-unit because somehow kids always end up telling stories about their scars and wanting to know what you call a mole that has hair growing out of it like Grandma or a witch, as if women with hairy moles are either one or the other.
You show pictures of what you think are universal celebrities, picking ones with obvious facial features to highlight the desired vocabulary, and the kids scream and laugh and point at them and have no idea who they are. (Enrique Iglesias for the mole, Arnold Schwarzenn-something for muscles, Bruce Willis for baldness, Queen of England for wrinkles, Snoop Dogg, who I chose because he was wearing braids AND sunglasses AND has moles.)
Or you teach your second graders a unit on animal body parts and where they live (because apparently all reading comprehension exercises in English are about squirrels (which we don’t have in Brazil) or deer and foxes living in dens (another don’t really have)) and you kind of want your kids to be able to succeed in reading. And then you have to look up pictures of all kinds of things like raccoons and porcupines and hedgehogs that a lot of the world is unfamiliar with, and then sit for twenty minutes looking up the word origins for the animals you just googled, like “Chipmunk,” because why is that such a weird word? (It’s derivative of some Native American language) Where did this all come from?
It’s only because it’s our native language that we never think of it. We’re surrounded by it 24/7 for nine or ten years before we can really call ourselves truly fluent, because kids are still making errors in oral proficiency in fourth grade. But it’s just there, so we never think about it. We just absorb it. But it makes my head spin, because kids, being kids, are always asking “why” “Why” “WHY” and there are a lot of things I can’t really explain.
We started doing the Carlton dance and singing “English is craaaaazzzyyy!!!” whenever Miss Weight can’t sufficiently explain something. Then we put it on our ever-expanding poster of weird English sayings.
Here’s a fun example: The group “ough” can be pronounced in eight different ways in English. The following sentence contains all eight:
“A rough-coated, dough-faced ploughman strode through the streets of Scarborough, coughing and hiccoughing thoughtfully.”
Just like read that and…I just…I can’t even…sigh. And my students have a hard time, too. Imagine being surrounded by 200 people all speaking something you can’t? And you’re supposed to learn maths and science and reading and eat all the food on your plate or you can’t play at recess. So sometimes there are days like today, where instead of getting 50 minutes of instruction, there were 20 minutes of hugs and crying and trying to help him communicate what had happened on the playground to make him so upset. I couldn’t understand, and his frustration was tangible. So I let him beat me at “Spot It” and cuddle and cry into my neck, even though he’d be quick to remind you he’s a big boy, almost ready for second grade.
Luckily, I love that crazy stuff. I love reading 20 minutes of information about chipmunks and why they are named chipmunks and spending my lunch finding the cutest video to show my girls. Or looking up what soda and taxis and the word for “pretty” is in different countries and why. Or trying to find an easy way to visualize and hook and explain all the irregular verbs English has. Or making a thousand different posters and handouts in different colors to help explain something (maybe) that doesn’t get lost immediately (maybe). It fires me up.
Most of the time. Some of the time I’m like “oh geez you’re right that escalated quickly and I don’t have a good response so. lets um…lets…hey who wants to look up more pictures of animals with heart shaped birthmarks?”
I’m a professional.
(in an effort to be transparent, it should be noted that I accidentally threw a kid’s pencil case on the roof today. but i am a professional. and got someone to get it down for me. and then blamed the child.)