Andre was four when war started in his country. He was playing outside one day when someone began shooting at him. If his aunt had not rushed out and dragged him inside, he might have been killed. When life became too dangerous Andre’s father took the family away from the house to hide in the forest; the next day their house was burned and their neighbors murdered. They left with only what they could carry, walking in deep snow. Andre’s feet froze to his boots, and he could not take them off for two days. The family of five walked over the mountains in winter, hiding from soldiers, to reach a safe place. Finally, someone hid them, but Andre’s father had to pay the homeowner not to turn them in. They made their way into another country, where his father worked illegally, saving money to get a visa. Eventually they made their way into the United States, with nothing more than his father’s life savings stitched into the pocket of his coat. The family settled in the mountains that reminded his father of home.
After three years of moving, the family settled in a medium-sized city, and Andre arrived at school with a very scattered and disrupted school history. He could read little in any language. His records showed that he had made very little progress since his arrival in the West and that he was getting Fs in everything. Each year he missed between 25 and 30 days of school.
The first day Andre came to class he wore clothes that were a sign of gang membership. When he was introduced to Mrs. Rodriguez, his teacher, he called her “Sir.” As the weeks went by he did not assimilate into his classes; he continually came up with excuses to leave class-he needed to go to his locker, to the bathroom, and so on—in order to not be in the classroom to work.
In January, Andre was not in class for a week. Other students told Mrs. Rodriguez that Andre had to go to court for stealing. He had broken into a family’s home and stolen their TV. He was not jailed because he was under 18, but he threatened to get a gun and shoot another student because he had been caught. Two days after that, Andre ran away from home, quit school, and went to Chicago.
Several weeks later he returned. He seemed happy to be back at school, but behavior-wise, it was like starting all over again. In the beginning Mrs. Rodriguez had paired Andre with Franco, whose English was quite good, but after the burglary incident, the other students did not want to work with him. He bragged in class about his confrontations with the law, and they saw him as a liability and not as a peer.
Yoshi has professional parents—you learn that his mother is here on an exchange program as visiting professor at the local college; Dad stayed behind in Japan. Yoshi wanted to stay in Japan with Dad, and thus is resentful of being here. He is rude and disrespectful to his mother. In class, he is sullen and unresponsive. He refuses to participate, won’t join groups, and sits by himself with his chin resting on his fists. He will do work alone, but no amount of coaxing or coercion will get him to be a participant in a group. So far, he has managed to make life miserable for everyone, talking loudly in class, crawling under tables while the teacher is trying to lead a lesson, ignoring all instructions as if he doesn’t understand (although it’s clear from other interactions that he really does), and refusing to respond to anyone in anything but Japanese. He wants to go back home. Because he has a “transient mentality,” he doesn’t try to make friends or learn English. What’s the point if he’s going to leave soon? He’s been here for four months and has not demonstrated any progress in English.
Reflections and Activities — Andre and Yoshi
- What are the language learning variables (for example, personality, attitude and motivation, previous educational background) that are functioning for each of these boys?
- How would you integrate Andre and Yoshi into the classroom and quell their poor behavior? What would be your plan for improving the situation? What steps could you take?
- What factors are prevalent in each of these boys’ situations? How does knowing about each one’s background help you to understand their behavior?
- Is there more you need to know so you can develop a clear plan to deal with their classroom misbehavior? What more do you need to know to work successfully with each of these boys.
- What could you do to ease the transition for each boy? How far do your responsibilities extend?
- Record your short- and long-term goals for both students, considering both academic and behavioral goals.
- Since classroom behavior is a big issue for both students, how will you deal with their misbehavior? Write a contract for each student, which details the behaviors they should exhibit and what behaviors will not be accepted. What ideas do you have to encourage them to “buy into” the contract?
- What tools do you have in place for classroom management? How can you adapt your classroom for newcomers? What adjustments could you make for students such as Andre and Yoshi?
- Do you have a list of classroom expectations available for all students? Would it be understandable for a newcomer coming from a country with very different classroom expectations?