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5 thoughts on “Taming”

  1. I’ve been “taming” a group of seven boys this year who have a wide range of learning problems and whose English teacher found unmanageable. We’ve had ups and downs, but the boy who has been the most difficult to handle was the one with the least problems in English. He’s a big, friendly rugby player who apologizes with a sweet smile all fifty-eight times that you tell him to stop talking and gets the best grade in the class on every test I give. I’ve threatened to send him back to the regular class and that seemed to calm him for a while, but I have to be extra vigilant to not let him slip under my radar for a second, which in the long run is just plain tiring. He’s been selected for training with a professional rugby team, so the other boys tend to admire him, whatever he does. Recently they’ve taken to asking me if we couldn’t just watch a film without stopping. (We can spend two weeks or more on just one scene.) Of course I’ve got my cat’s got the cream smile on, because they’re begging me to watch a film in English with English subtitles. And I know that there are some action scenes coming up that don’t require a lot of discussion. So I told them today that they’d have to earn 8 points to do that, and that ten minutes of class time with no interruptions and no French would earn one point. And I gave one of the students the job of keeping time (because I don’t want to hassle with it) and the class secretary would keep track of points earned. So we started discussing the opening scene of a new film and five minutes later Mr. Big Handsome Rugby Star made a crack to his neighbor and I told the boys that we would start over at zero minutes. They glared at him and he apologized and we started over. Of course he once again interrupted to ask me something that had nothing to do with the lesson, completely off topic, but the second time the whole class came down on him and hard. He was so surprised! He actually drew in his head and I almost felt sorry for him. For the rest of the hour he was absolutely perfect. I suspect that his “I could care less” attitude annoys several of the others who are making real efforts to progress and who often find it difficult to remain concentrated because of him and today they had an opportunity to show him how they feel without seeming to be siding with the teacher.

  2. Ben, I love the quotes from The Little Prince. As I read over them again it occurred to me that the “taming” that happened with last year’s Latin 1 class was so gradual, I didn’t even noticed it had happened until it had.

    Like you said, it is a process that we have to be patient with, because we don’t always realize it is happening, but it is, in the subconscious of ourselves and of our students, in the same way that the language is being internalized in the subconscious through CI. We have to just keep trusting that a hidden process is indeed happening. We have to keep watering when we only see earth, trusting that the seed is germinating underneath, trusting that the cells are growing and life is developing.

    The other thing that struck me was that before the taming takes place, I am a nobody to my students and they are nobodies to me. There is no way to force or manipulate the process of making myself a somebody to them, or them to me. It can only happen slowly through time, listening, trust-building and encouragement.

    I see now that a teacher cannot fake that there a relationship at the beginning of the year (when it has yet to develop) with their students, or fake that there are relationships among all the students of the class. Students are smart, they will see right through something that isn’t real. But as we take a real interest in each of our students (largely done through PQA) we begin to develop not only the language, but the relationship too that is forming in the subconscious and in the heart of students and teacher. That relationship will become real in its own time, and with that relationship will come the trust and the potential of even greater gains in the language.

    Thinking about this brought to mind something that happened last year that I could have done better. I realized last year that I made a big mistake with my Latin 1 class when I didn’t really do the circling with balls activity thoroughly for each student. Part of the reason was I got impatient, part that I felt compelled to start the textbook and “do something.” But when I did that I communicated that I wasn’t going to really take the time required to get to know everyone at the beginning of the year, I wasn’t going to really be listening to them in a way. I vowed to myself this year that I wouldn’t make the same mistake again and even though it took something like almost two months, I got through 43 kids with circling with balls. I told the kids why I was doing it and I know now that it was worth it. I can tell that with this class, (even though there have been some real behavioral challenges in Latin 1 this year) that the relationships that took so long to develop last year have been accelerated with Latin 1 this year. I think now it is mainly because I have been listening better, doing a more attentive job taming than I did last year.

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