A Ten Syllable Name and a Little Hope

Near the end of last semester a new offender showed up with a ten-syllable-long name longer than he stood tall. A nondescript face except for the appearance that he just walked away from a swarm of bees–and the bees won, he has a way of mumbling and looking dumb. His act, in addition to his persistent nagging in broken English, has worked so far.

He wanted out of the living units for protection, so he visited his academic adviser every day, sometimes twice, asking for extra classes. She would tell him something, and then he would come back the next day like he didn’t understand. “Miss, I want more classes. I want to be busy,” he would insist. Then he’d ask the same thing of every blue shirt he passed in the hallway. Coming back from brushing his teeth one day another offender punched him as a scapegoat. We could see why he wanted out of the unit. I became impatient of everyone talking, and doing nothing. That was my first mistake.

On account of his age and high school credits we had to put him on the GED track which allows a student two classes per day, six hours unfilled. To help him with writing and to end the nonsense, I added him to my roster during English 10. He couldn’t keep up with the class, so I had him read the newspaper and respond in a variety of ways. After a couple of weeks of his dumb act and poor hygiene, which he waits until noon to complete, I was ready to bang my head on the wall. We were getting nowhere.

Learning details of his crime and the lie he told his fellow-offenders to minimize trouble only made matters worse for me, privately. I loathed his clownish presence in my room, and resented the special treatment he received from staff. With a smile I ushered him out of my room for the last time. That was three weeks ago.

I heard voices in the hallway during semester-prep week and my shoulders tensed. The voices do not often go together, and it meant only one thing, the diva was bullying the GED coordinator. That’s when I heard words like “writing” and “English” and I knew they were soon going to be talking about me. Sure enough this guy’s name popped up on my class roster the next day. Before I figured out who to talk to, his adviser–a.k.a. the diva–appeared in my doorway.

She announced that my least favorite student needed extra help with his writing. With the help of my bilingual TA, surely we could help the poor guy pass his GED by the end of the year when the GED is scheduled to change. By the way, she added, he is taking the class in Spanish.

Should I have laughed? I wish I had, but I was too busy putting out the smoke coming out of my ears. It turns out she didn’t know that he had been in my class for eight weeks spinning my wheels and his. No one had bothered to tell me he was supposed to be practicing in Spanish.

I tried a couple times to get rid of him, but she was determined as a bulldog. There’s nothing like evidence in corrections, so I told him to write a paragraph. He turned in a paragraph, in English. No, no, no. It must be in Spanish, I explained, and told him to write about a place he’d like to visit. This time in Spanish. He came back a few minutes later and my TA painfully translated it for me. My favorite sentence was, “There the cars go up, not down.” My TA paused at that point, shot me a look, and verified his translation. He was correct, and my student thought all was well. We decided not to press the issue, but I’m still curious: everything that goes up, must come down, right?

There I was, my TA waiting for my next move, stifling back his own laughter, and my student looking just as clueless as anything. I finally asked, “So, umm, your grammar is just as bad in Spanish as in English?” His head bobbed, “Oh, yeah, uh-huh.” And I thought writing in Spanish was supposed to make this easier.

I am an ENGLISH teacher. I took three years of Latin. I avoided Spanish classes at all costs because I’m terrified to pronounce a foreign language. My three years of Latin, however, showed me that I can’t teach Spanish grammar, translator or none.

This special student needs grammar instruction, in Spanish, to pass his GED writing exam. When it comes to writing, he knows organization, details, and enough transitions to get by. That’s not his problem.

Armed with my evidence I went to my boss. As much as I despise this student, I will help him, you need to understand that, but what exactly was I supposed to do here? My TA, like all the students I spoke to, is fluent in both languages, but the only grammar he understands, if any at all, is the English grammar gleaned from elementary school in America.

To my genuine surprise, my boss knew nothing about the matter, which meant my co-worker had stepped out of bounds. This is the woman who usually flips her hair and declares that none of the offenders deserve sympathy, and who expects everyone to conform to the ways of her world or watch out. This is the woman who forced a bunch of teachers, except her friend, to fit this one particular child molester into their schedule in order to pass the GED. No one else gets this kind of attention. I don’t understand how he manipulated her, but it worked.

Now she thinks I will not, rather than can not, help her student; she has cornered my TA about his unwillingness as well (which I resent); and we are no longer on speaking terms. Wow. I don’t tell her how to teach science, nor do I correct her horrendous grammar, so I would hope she would extend the same courtesy toward me. Can she not respect my education in language enough to stay out of my subject area? Does my hope wither or grow on such days as these? Do I hope we will speak again, or do I give up on the thought that anyone will be speaking to me by the end of the year? Do I hope this little guy will pass his GED, or do I give up on him? I don’t do that. Out of necessity, he and I have a plan mapped out. Here’s hoping.

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About hey miss

A teacher. A prison guard. I used to think that was like oil and water. Like lightening and metal. Some days it is. Some days it's magic.
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