Green Class got a new student a few weeks ago, a little gal by the name of Gemma.
As far as I can tell, our school will let you join a class at basically any point of the year. In theory there should be an appropriate class for every new student's English level, but it doesn't always work out in practice -- especially with beginners. A new girl joined one of my afternoon classes last week and has sat there utterly bewildered every day since. I took her aside and did my best to catch her up, but I mean, she's missed two months. Kind of a lot to cover.
Anyway, I was worried about Gemma at first, because three year olds are nutjobs. I had no idea how she'd react to J and Robinson, how they'd react to her, how long it would take her to learn the class routines, etc.
But there was no need to worry, because Gemma rocks. Not afraid of me at all, made instant friends with the boys, even knew a bunch of English already.
The only difference with her around is that I've had to retire most of the routines that involve me picking up the kids. With little kids, if one of them gets picked up and carried around, then all of them have to, and one time is never enough. When it was only Robinson and J that pace was manageable. With a third student, it gets hard. Especially when that third student is Gemma. Girl weighs more than an air conditioner.
The evolution of Robinson
On March 14th I wrote the following:
"Robinson…was a handful at first but has gotten much easier to handle…He knows 0 english but is good about repeating the things I ask him to say, and seems to retain at least some of it."
This information is woefully out of date. Let it be known that over the past seven weeks Robinson turned into a genius, an angel, my favorite student in the whole school.
Robinson is the total package. He comes to school excited to learn. He does everything I ask. He makes connections that are beyond even what I'm teaching. He draws adorable pictures of the two of us hanging out. I love, love, love Robinson.
Robinson also love, love, loves me, and that helps. He has this extremely adorable and hilarious move where, if J and Gemma do something wrong and I'm about to discipline them, he'll come flying in from the corner and say, "Robinson noooooo!" -- just in case I wasn't paying attention and might blame him too by mistake. One day I took a star away because he was running in the room after I'd told him not to -- a misdemeanor, sure, but I'd never taken stars away and wanted to see how it worked as a deterrent. Well, holy shit -- it worked. I could have murdered J and traumatized him less.
Robinson has been absent a lot lately due to a mysterious illness, and every day he's not there feels like a day wasted. Robinson brings out the best in us. His willingness to learn makes me feel more like a teacher, which in turn makes me less tolerant of J and Gemma's bull. For their part, they seem to sense that learning is taking place somewhere in the room, which makes them more open than usual to the possibility of paying attention. But when he's gone we all just kind of phone it in. Robinson legitimizes the operation, and we need him back. Get well soon, buddy.
The pains of being Grace
Grace, after nine weeks, remains terrified of me. But it's not that simple.
During my first week, the very sight of a foreigner made Grace shit herself (often literally). We've made a lot of progress since then. Now, as long as there is a Korean woman in the room with her, everything's cool. She'll come to class, sit down, play, color, whatever. I can even tickle her. As long as the KW sticks around, anything goes.
Once they leave, or try to leave -- pandemonium. It's really weird. Grace seems to enjoy herself in class, even seems to like ME most of the time. She smiles when I say hello, laughs at my goofy routines, lights up when I give her stars. There is absolutely nothing wrong until she's left alone.
I met with the Green Class parents a few weeks ago. Not sure how much she knew about the situation, I asked Haylin what I was supposed to tell Grace's mom. "Oh, she knows," she said. "She doesn't care."*
*The number one priority at school is pleasing mothers, which means that appearances are very important. As long as everything APPEARS fine, the mothers don't complain. And if the mothers don't complain, then -- as far as the school is concerned -- everything IS fine.
Most of the time "looking like a good school" and "being a good school" are the same thing, but not always. I would not have put it past the administration to pretend things with Grace were fine to ensure they could continue pumping her parents for tuition. In fact, if this were possible to do, I'm sure they'd be doing it.
Good example of what I'm talking about: they hung up pictures of all the teachers in the lobby, with a brief description of our teaching experience listed underneath. Here's mine:
Things that are true on this piece of paper:
1. I'm an American.
2. I graduated from Fordham.
3. That is my face.
The rest is horseshit.
So it looks like Grace is in for the long haul. I think that's the right move. But that's easy for me to say -- I never really have to deal with her. The people that have to watch her during the day ran out of patience a long time ago.
Last week, the Korean woman who was pulling Grace duty somehow convinced her to walk inside the room and close the door behind her. She did so reluctantly, and with tears streaming down her face, but she did it. As soon as the door closed she started shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. She stared at the woman through the window in the door, begging for an end to the ordeal. It was very affecting. You looked at her and your heart just tore in half. Such bravery!
Then the Korean woman finally relented, and when she opened the door she shot Grace a look of pure HATRED. Nine weeks with a crying child will do that to you.