It is a mixed bag, this starting a new school year, my twenty-fourth. I feel like I’m still new at teaching, and at the same time I feel like I’ve done it all my life. This is my eighth year teaching middle school, and this year I’m teaching eighth grade ELD again, with a bonus class of seventh graders for a ‘support’ class. This class can be whatever I make it. That is a privilege and a challenge! We’ve already begun the annual CELDT testing (California English Language Development Test), and I hope to finish it as soon as possible. We have 215 English learners this year, and doing the one-on-one verbal tests takes time. But I’ll have help with that.
I’m facing a dilemma this year. We usually have about 100 students in ELD classes, and the rest of our English learners, the more advanced ones, are in mainstream English classes. This usually works pretty well, but I always worry that someone is out there who needs our help. So I pore over grades and what little we have in the way of test scores to see if I can determine if we’re missing anyone who needs our classes. Without knowing them all, I can only guess. This year we have a couple of extra sections of ELD classes. In addition I moved a few students (boys) into my eighth grade ELD classes. Their test scores were low, and their grades so uneven, it seemed like the right thing to do.
But here’s the rub. It seems that I didn’t check enough for discipline interventions. Had I done so, I might have taken into account another aspect of the picture. Perhaps they did poorly and scored so low because they were just messing around. They were wreaking havoc on a new teacher and they were seventh grade boys. And putting them into ELD classes can exacerbate bad behavior because they are with all their friends in there and they think it’s play time. That’s what it feels like at any rate. Most of the students that I moved into my classes are behaving in ways that are inappropriate for class, and they are making it impossible for anyone to learn. So in trying to do the right thing, I’ve created a dilemma for myself.
Today I moved the worst offender back to mainstream English. I thought I’d be able to work with him but he had no interest in interacting at all with me, nor in participating in the classwork. He just wanted to bounce around the classroom and complain. He wouldn’t meet my eyes even when I stood in front of him and asked him to, and he certainly didn’t want to do anything other than play around. It is clear that his grades and test scores were more about his behavior than his need for an ELD class. I hope he does better out there, with a strict male teacher. And I do hope it was the right thing to do, but truthfully, I feel a little guilty about not keeping him in my class. I feel like I should be able to be an effective teacher with every student, no matter what. No matter that I know in my heart that isn’t really true. And by keeping him in there because I thought I should, I was taking away the chance for the other students to learn. One really has to weigh so many things in making these decisions.
I am determined to not only enjoy this, my penultimate year of teaching, but to make it a great year for the students in my classes. I want them to come away feeling like they had a great time and they learned so much, that they are ready to take on the rigor of high school. Isn’t that what we all wish?
I wonder how other ELD programs are set up. Do you have every single EL student in an ELD class? How do you decide who is placed in ELD and who will be fine in mainstream classes? I’d really like to know.