I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but for many of my classes I can pinpoint the exact moment that things took a turn for the better. For some of them, it was right of the bat. The little ones, for example, aren’t hard to please. They like me because they just like everything.
The older ones though can be a different story.
With one of my older classes it was after they got a new transfer student about 2 months into the semester. During their final activity he asked me what my name was and proceeded to start asking me in broken English about every aspect of my life. Suddenly kids who had never once been interested in what I said were crowding around and they were actually listening to me talk about myself.
We sat around like that chatting, or trying to chat, even though they were supposed to be doing some other project I had for them. But in those moments I almost never care that they aren’t doing the work. They were engaged with me, they were asking questions, and actually listening.
Since that day, thanks in large part to that particular student, their class has been fun. The entire class rallied around his being “in love” with me. They all cheered from him when he came back from his first speaking test. It’s not easy, they still don’t do their work well, and they’re noisy, but we have fun.
With one of my little girls classes it was the time I had to teach with out my co-teacher. I came in and told them I’d be alone today so they should help me by being extra good. And they absolutely rose to the occasion. Since then they have been my favorite class to teach.
So many classes have moments like this. Something random that breaks the spell for just a moment.
And recently one such moment involved a French fry.
Let me give you a little bit of background first.
This class that I’m going to talk about is one of my better “difficult classes.” They’re hard to control, loud, and don’t like to do anything in the textbook. But this particular class has a lot of genuinely sweet and funny kids so I’ve always seen a lot of potential in them. But I never knew exactly how to break past the invisible barrier that kept us from really having fun together.
But the other day, because our cafeteria is being remodeled, I was eating takeout food at my desk when two students from that class walked into the office. They were there to get something from another teacher but after talking to him for a bit they noticed the food on my desk. One of them is pretty high level so he apparently felt confidant walking over and saying to me, with a smile and puppy dog eyes, “I want to eat a potato.”
The other teachers in the office and I laughed and I asked him, “How can you ask for that politely?” He tried a bunch of different times, but eventually with some prodding, arrived at, “Can I please have a French fry?”
Whenever my older boys, who I struggle with more than anyone else in the school, try to go out of their way to engage and talk with me I almost always indulge them. So I gave him the French fry and sent him along back to class.
But a few minutes later he and another boy appeared in the office again, got something else from that same teacher and then very slyly approached my desk. The second boy kind of pointed at the French fries and gave me a pleading look. I told him he had to ask for it correctly. He tried a few times but wasn’t getting it, so I told the original kid to teach him how to ask.
Which he did, perfectly. And so I gave him a French fry and that was that.
But Thursday, a few days after that, was the first time I’d had their class since that incident.
And when I walked in the one high level student immediately said his perfunctory, “Hello teacher, how are you, I’m fine thanks, and you?” Which was without hesitation followed up with, “teacher can I have a French fry?”
I started teasing him a bit about why on earth would I bring French fries to class, but told him that I did have some Goldfish snacks for them if they could answer my questions. The class erupted with cheers at the production of my little bag of Goldfish. The French fry student gave me his usual, “okay, okay” with bright expectant eyes and looked up at the screen for what to do next.
And that was the moment. Something about the lightheartedness of him asking for food and me teasing him made everyone else comfortable and suddenly the whole class was in on it. When it came time for the activity they were more engaged than I have ever seen them, and were trying so hard to do it correctly in hopes of getting some Goldfish crackers.
I don’t know what it was exactly that made the class so great. It could have been the lesson, it was ones of my better ones. It could have been the snacks but I’ve tried that with them before with less success. I think it had a lot more to do with everyone subconsciously realizing that they can have fun and joke with me even with limited English.
After class a bunch of them came up to me begging for more crackers even though I kept saying no. “Teacher you’re so beautiful, teacher I love you, teacher I’m so hungry, teacher I have no home so sad please give me crackers.” It was funny, in the most basic way possible. I think that dynamic works because they don’t need very much English to beg for snacks. But of course eventually I caved and gave them the bag with instructions to “Share the rest, okay?”
The chorus of, “okay!” and “thank you!” was enough to satisfy me. But then as I was walking back to the office a heard the rumbling of footsteps before I saw a group of them suddenly appear around me saying , “he didn’t share!” “he ate everything!” “no I didn’t! I shared, really!”
They were pretty much all still eating the crackers at that point, so I knew it wasn’t true. But the fact that some of my boys, who would never go out of their way to talk to me before, wanted to speak a little bit of English just to throw their friend under the bus, is a success in my book.
My role at this school is often a little confusing. It’s unclear to what extent I can be a “real teacher” like the others and at what point the language barrier is just too real. But one thing I am very certain of are these moments. The moments like this when the kids trail behind me into the office after class because they don’t want the joke to end. Or the girl who always comes early before her class to carry my books and tell me about her week.
Those moments are what can transform an entire class. If you can get a few students, sometimes even one is enough, on board with you the rest will usually follow.
So sometimes, if you give a kid a French fry you’ll befriend an entire class.
Thanks for reading!