Fourth grade time! I started this year with 23 students. Since my school loops grades, they are all the same kids I had last year for third grade. One moved over the summer, and I figured that I was likely to get a new student soon after the year started.
I also have a student teacher this year, a very enthusiastic and talented undergraduate that has been a great fit. After a particularly stressful day last week, her and I were reviewing some of the challenges and issues our students face. And there are a lot of them, from health problems to family troubles to disabilities. They seemed to come to a head that day, so I was doing my best to keep my student teacher from feeling overwhelmed. Trying to look on the bright side, I told her they all provided great learning experiences, and added “At least it’s unlikely we’ll get anything thats a bigger challenge than this!”
The phone rang at that exact moment. “You’re going to get a new student on Monday!” The secretary cheerfully informed me. “And she doesn’t speak any English.” At this moment, I was silently praying that the language she did speak would be one I knew. Although to be fair, unless we had a time traveling student, most of the languages I know would be no help. As it turned out, she did not speak a romance language, nor was she from either ancient Rome or tenth century England.
“She speaks Hebrew.” The secretary said. Well. Ok. I then cheerfully informed my student teacher, who stared at me with wide eyes. “Have you ever had a student who didn’t speak any English?” She asked. “Nope!” I said, with my own enforced cheeriness. “It’ll be a learning experience for both of us!”
I was worried about it all night. What would I do? Would she feel lonely? Left out? What if she was hurt and couldn’t tell me? Even the alphabet is different! How will she learn math? What books will she read? However, I forgot that I had at my disposal 23 people to whom challenges like this seemed minor.
When I told my kids, they immediately suggested that we all learn Hebrew in the next 4 days. Once they realized this was impossible, they came up with their own game plan pretty independently. They decided to learn to say ‘hello’ and ‘my name is’ in Hebrew. That we should play games with simple rules. That we’d need to make her a name tag for her cubby and a popsicle stick for her attendance, and that we should put it in Hebrew and english. That we should label things around the room in both languages. That we should have a buddy with her to help her find things. They pointed out that one of our students was learning Hebrew at temple, and that a boy in the class next door not only spoke Hebrew but had also emigrated from Israel. At the end of our brief meeting, I felt much better. It’s nice to know that there are so few challenges I really face alone.