Thursday, July 14, 2005

Two kids in a big class

Note: This replaced the last entry about Eason and Kevin, which was massively unpopular for valid reasons. I cut a lot of material. If you read the earlier version and like something, tell me, I will add it to a later entry.

Right now, I teach two kids, Eason and Kevin. This sounds like a small class, but in its own way, its huge. The two kids are so vastly different that they should be in different classes. They are both behind the other elementary school kids in terms of English, but whereas Kevin is beginning sentences, Eason is fairly far behind.
They are both sweet kids. They both love me, and I care for them both. They both like to be picked up. Being able to lift them above my shoulders provides me a touching justification for working out. It makes my vanity seem like a labor of love.
Teaching them can be very difficult though. Kevin is beginning increasingly complex sentences, and he is learning spelling. Eason has done nothing but basic phonics his whole life.
Eason has only really heard English as basic phonics. Thus, he randomly, and often inappropriately, launches into the alphabet for no reason. Occasionally he catches up, but most of the time he is working on learning a few words in the sentences Kevin is learning.
The most telling class was the day Kevin was not there. That was especially hard, because I had to really see where Eason really stood. The worst part is that he still needs phonics and alphabet work; yet that is his greatest enemy. He has trouble thinking of words as individual concepts that have to be spelled and written certain ways and in a certain order.
The hardest part is that I see myself in his ‘I’s, and his ‘e’s. We do writing lessons, and his handwriting is terrible. We have to carefully go over strokes, and it gives me terrible flashbacks. I spent hours doing basic writing lessons; I had to write each letter with a certain stroke order. I hated it; I hated it more than any other part of my young education. It made me feel stupid. So I was not coordinated, did that make me dumb?
The schools seemed to feel that it did. I was tested to find out if I was entirely together. Looking back on those days, really cynical thoughts jump to mind. These are either the conscious thoughts of a secretly jaded kid, or like a good wine, a cynicism produced from bitter fruit aged over a decade.
I remember that my writing teacher had a dog with an electric collar that shocked him when he left their yard. I vividly remember sympathizing with the dog when I wrote e after e, carefully lifting my pencil before the line.
I actually had to correct Eason’s lower case ‘e’s. That was the worst part. I was entirely unwilling, or incapable, of doing it like I got it, so I tried to make it fun. Bombs with long fuses were involved. Creating tension over perfect writing, I layered constructed game over constructed game. Timed spelling, life or death writing, it really worked. I was having a good time, and Eason loved it.
But games won’t solve all of his problems. Eason’s biggest problem is the same that I had when I tried to learn French. He does not really understand language. He does not really understand that people can communicate exclusively in English, and in parts of the world, that is all they do, all day long.
For me, being in Mexico fixed that.
That is what is valuable at Jumpstart. Kids are exposed to a barrage of English as the only language. It stops being some kind of cumbersome code, but becomes the only acceptable way to communicate.
My favorite part about Eason is his dad. Eason is kind of pudgy, especially in this land of the toothpick people. His father is a scaled up version of him. They even had identical haircuts. They look like the Eason section of the toy store, where you could get a large Eason or a small Eason.
If I talk about Kevin, I just glow. It might get a little overly extensive if I really describe him. However, simply, Kevin’s work is incredible. His handwriting is better than mine. His cartoons are great, and star yours truly doing such fun activities as riding centipedes, driving buses, or pondering deep thoughts. The latter was to depict the emotion “worried.”

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