I am a former classroom teacher. I taught various grade levels and worked with youth from all over the globe. All of my students were special in their own way. Although my role was the teacher, I often found my students left just as many lessons with me daily. My students exposed me to culture, social interaction and taught me about the power of relationships. They were my own personal windows to the world. I am forever grateful to them, as they entrusted me as their first formal educator in the states.
In the early 2000’s, I taught English as a Second Language at the middle school level. The students in my classroom came from all around the world. We had over ten different languages at once mingling in the background. English levels were scattered across the board, from novice to highly attained. In addition, education backgrounds and skills ranged from no exposure to any classroom to formally taught eighth grade students. When young people immigrate to America, they bring their home cultures, languages, education backgrounds (or lack thereof) as well as former societal expectations.
It is a learning process for everyone.
In regard to the social side of language, BICS (basic interpersonal communication skills) are typically acquired anywhere from six months to two years. Academically, new ESL students can take five to seven years to acquire cognitive academic language proficiency or (CALPS).
Teaching young students with different levels of English while they assimilate can provide its own set of challenges and beauty at the same time.
Effective ESL teachers must pay close attention as English levels grow, academically and socially. However, they must devote a great deal of awareness toward social and emotional development of ESL students. Due to a lack of assimilation, culture shock and absence of English fluency, an extra eye of concern and empathy are required in an ESL classroom.
Middle school is challenging in its own way for all students. It is a time of rapid physical, social and emotional changes. Young students are figuring out who they are while discovering new interests; they typically feel a desperate need to fit in with their peers. As parents will find, middle school kids often do things outside of their character or beliefs, solely to be accepted by their friends.
But not all students. Not Eva.
In the middle of the school year, Eva arrived to my classroom. Eva had a few English lessons in her home country and was highly educated. She caught on quickly-academically and socially. I remember one special trait about her as I observed her interaction with other students. Eva had a remarkable ability to easily flow away from pre-teen drama. She did not roam outside of her character to fit in. She was always herself. She helped her classmates as needed, asked questions and spoke her mind in a respectful manner.
Eva never gave into peer pressure. In fact, she was so confident and relaxed in her responses that I was simply in awe of her mental strength. As kids tend to do, they pressured Eva quite often. And she never broke.
When Eva didn’t want to go somewhere or do something, she provided no excuses or white lies. There was no pause in her response.
She simply said, “No thanks, I’ll pass.”
This phrase never left me. At such a young age surrounded by the aura of a great need to fit in, Eva chose to pass over many situations. Her response demonstrated courage, confidence as well as a sense of ownership, privacy and respect.
Saying no or passing on an activity is typically contrary behavior for middle school students. Unfortunately, it is also this way for many adults who simply cannot say no.
That year, I learned how to say no without feeling guilty. I learned how to turn down events I didn’t want to attend. I understood that every ‘no’ didn’t always require an explanation. I learned how to pass on activities quietly, without fear or judgment. For me, this behavior still takes time and practice.
At this age, as teachers, we speak about peer pressure quite often with our students. We hope these messages will somehow leave some little mark on rapidly growing pre-teen brains. However, it is up to us, the adults, who need to model this behavior in front of our kids. We must be able to say when no when life becomes too much, without guilt and excuses.
We can learn a great deal from kids if we take the time to listen rather than hear them. I encourage you to pay more attention to those lessons, and pass on ones that aren’t necessary.
I hope the next time you feel pressured to say yes to something you would rather not do, please think of Eva. Give yourself the right to pass respectfully, with confidence, respect and the privacy you deserve.