I make the rounds, conferring with J, who wants to be a WWE wrestler, then P, who has aspirations of becoming the guy who wears the Chuckee Cheese suit, and R, who wants to play for the NBA. Finally, I kneel down next to L, who barely looks up when I kneel down next to him.
L is an English Language Learner. And he has a visual memory problem, which makes reading, writing, and spelling really, really tough.
I look over his shoulder. Almost every word, even words me and my are spelled wrong. And even though he's in fourth grade, L is still reversing his b's and d's, which makes it even tougher to read his writing.
I take a deep breath. Try not to think about the tests. Listen for Don Graves' voice in my ear. "Always respond to the content first. Let the writer know that you hear what he has to say.
I read L's first paragraph with all the expression I can muster.
Wot du u wont to di wen you grow wp? I wud lake to be a titur becos its fon to lon. Onodor risin I wont to di a titer is we could majc jocs with prodloms. Onodor rison I wont to di a ticr is to play gaims in math and odr things. I like when kids rid cuaiet.
I want to dia tichr dicos I could si kids lafing dat maics my japy.
Translation: What do you want to be when you grow up? I would like to be a teacher because it's fun to learn. Another reason I want to be a teacher is we could make jokes with problems. Another reason I want to be a teacher it to play games in math and other things. I like when kids read quiet (ly).
I want to be a teacher because I could see kids laughing. That makes me happy.I look up from the writing. L is watching intently. "So you want to be a teacher?"
L smiles shyly.
"And you are going to tell jokes and make kids laugh?" L nods. "Kids will love that. People love to laugh. "
L smiles a little more broadly and I keep reading. L wants to be a teacher because he wants to make learning fun for kids. He likes when they learn something new. He likes to watch them when they play outside.
L goes on to clarify a little. He wants to be a teacher "when he is tall, not when he is small, because he doesn't know that much about teachers right now." He thinks that if he became a teacher when he was small, kids wouldn't listen to him. And they "always talk when they are working and never respect the others all around them."
I compliment L on his thinking. Tell him that I know he will be a great teacher. Make him promise that he will come back and teach with us at our school. He grins and nods happily.
And then I have to teach something. L already has an introduction and a conclusion. He organizes his writing. He uses paragraphs. I don't even know where to begin to tackle the spelling. And so I teach a really simply trick about b and d. I draw a picture of a bat and ball. I show L how he can say, "First the bat and then the ball." Then we talk about how when a dog comes around the corner, you see the head first, then the tail. I show him how to make a d by saying, "First the dog's head and then the dog's tail." And L goes back through his writing and finds every single backward b and d and corrects it. We also talk about the difference between the e sound in English, made by an e and the e sound in Spanish, made by a letter i. L fixes everyone of those too.
I don't touch L's last line, because it's already absolutely perfect.
"I wont to di a ticr dicos it's the dest jod in the wruld."
I agree, L, I totally agree. It really is the best job in the world. Mostly because of kids like you.