on puppets and apologizing

frogs can be cute or creepy depending on your point of view

frogs can be cute or creepy depending on your point of view

I just had a post included on The Special Needs Issue of the iTDi Blog.  If you’ve visited my blog before or read some of my earlier posts, you probably know that I work in a school with a pretty unusual student population.  Most of the students (about 80%) suffer from School Refusal Syndrome.  It’s not the same as truancy.  My students didn’t skip out on school.  In fact, if you ask them most of them will tell you that they really really wanted to be in school.  There were just other factors, usually emotional or family related, which made getting out of bed and to school everyday a bit more than they could pull off.  My iTDi blog post introduced 6 things  my students have taught me about how to help create a safe and nurturing classroom environment.  It’s not a very long blog post, so if you have time, I would be very happy if you gave it a read.  It will also help make this short post make a bit more sense, as it is suddenly going to start with:

7. Get ready to apologize, often and sincerely: My students rarely argue and never full on fight.  I can’t even remember the last time I saw a spat in class.  Which I used to think was pretty odd as I was hearing an awful lot of apologies throughout the day.  It took me a while to realize that it was because of the apologies that I was blessed with a peaceful classroom.  You see, my students do get in funks.  They can be short tempered.  They can willfully ignore each other.  But instead of getting angry, they usually just say, “sorry.”  I’ve asked one of my students about this and she said she says sorry because that’s how she feels.  She’s sorry because she didn’t do a very good job of noticing her friend’s mood.  And you know what, I think this is a pretty good place to start off from when talking with someone who is in pain.  If, after a second thought, a student who I had dismissed as being unmotivated or lazy or tired or any one of a hundred negative labels, seems like they might be in some kind of pain, then I start off by saying, “I’m sorry.”  Sorry that it took a moment longer than it should have to notice.  Sorry that I might not have the time we need to talk right now.   Sorry that as an important member of our learning community, you aren’t in the best shape to learn today.  Lots of meaning to be found in one short, “I’m sorry.”

8. Have puppets in the room and have no rules about those puppets in the room: OK, this is less about reflection than it is about sheer luck.  I was running a special seminar on how to teach young learners of English (as in 3 to 5 year olds).  I had about seven hand puppets lined up on a bookshelf.  My high school students were practicing a role play and one of the shyer girls picked up a hand puppet (one of the frogs at the top of this post actually).  She raised the pitch of her voice and started saying her lines while acting her part out with the hand puppet.  Since that day, students have used the hand puppets during drama class, role playing home stay situations, or even during free talk time.  Sometimes when students use a puppet, they are hamming it up and everyone laughs.  But sometimes they are using a puppet because they just can’t find their voice without it.  At these moments, my students don’t laugh.  I have not made any rules about the puppets.  They are in the room to be used as the students see fit.  And “as the students see fit” is often the very same thing as “as the students need.”

Anyway, that’s #7 and #8.  Numbers 1 through 8 are on the iTDi blog.  There are also five other posts by some of the most thoughtful teachers working in ELT.  I hope you will find the time to read them all.  They are a big part of the reason why I’m proud to be a part of iTDi.

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5 thoughts on “on puppets and apologizing

  1. Kevin – an emotionally inspiring post here and on the iTDi blog. I actually did not realise that you taught 'special' students per se. I guess I've not paid enough attention. The more, however, I do read your posts, the more it is evident to me that you care so much for them and their success. Sometimes I feel hardened over the course of 26 weeks I teach my students, for various reasons-largely frustration though. I can learn from you.

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  2. Lovely, Kevin! I've really enjoyed reading about your students today – about their relationships with and understanding of each other and of the safe and supportive environment they find themselves in. It really is heartwarming. Thanks for the posts.Carol

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  3. Hi Tyson,Thanks for the comment. I've been a bit swamped with studying for my dip TESOL and haven't had much time to blog, so I'm feeling pretty grateful right now to have had a reason to carve out some time to watch and think about what my students do in class. The truth is, I often forget that my students are facing higher hurdles than their peers. Perhaps that's one of the under-recognized benefits of taking time to reflect on what's going on in class. It allows teachers a chance to recognize what are students are doing, for themselves, to make the best of their current learning situation. I'm also feeling lucky to see my students almost daily and to have the chance to interact with them out of class. I'm not so sure what I do and how I do it would go down so well in a more academic, univerity type setting. I'm a huge fan of your blog and always inspired by the time and effort you put into creating a learning environment for your students. In my case, along with all the downsides to students missing huge chunks of schooling, there is the benefit that most of my students do not have any concerete ideas of what a class must be. That gives me more leeway to play with how I structure my lessons. I would imagine that when you institute a new teaching method such as reading circles in your class, there might be some resistance and, at least at the begining, a pretty slow learning curve. I don't want to sound like I have any answers. But I do want to say that I'm learning from you with each and every blog post. Thanks for supporting my blog. Kevin

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  4. Hi Carol,Thanks for the feedback. I'm glad to be able to share what goes on in my classroom and doubly glad that the warmth my students have for each other made it into the posts. Sometimes I get frustrated that my students aren't a bit more competative, a bit more severe with each other. But these blog posts has helped me recast what goes on in my class in a more positive light.Kevin

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  5. Yes, a very slow learning curve indeed (sometimes it feels flatlined), but here and there, one or another student will show signs of breaking through the superficial into some evidence of deeper thought. It's those times I live for when putting in effort in activity generation. Thank you for your kind words. It's very nice to hear. 🙂

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