by Megan Creighton
What I do at Leal Elementary
Every Monday morning for two hours, I sit in on a dual-language kindergarten class and help with lessons in letters and numbers, and go out with the kids to recess for a half hour. Though part of the time I am in the background while the teacher is giving a lesson on the board, I spend a large portion of the time going around to different tables and helping the kids complete their individual work. Usually after a lesson, they have activities in their workbooks, which is typically tracing letters or numbers, and sometimes coloring. In these first weeks of school, the kids have been getting more acquainted with the alphabet, and are writing and counting to the number 7.
After about an hour of practicing numbers, the kids line up to get their coats, use the bathroom and go outside for a snack and recess for about 20-30 minutes. During this time I sometimes play with or talk to the kids, but usually spend this time talking to the teacher about various things—the students, our lives, the weekend, etc. She has been really easy to talk to, and also very open in helping me figure out some options of what I can do to get on a path to teaching after I graduate. After recess, we return to the classroom and start with a lesson on letters, until 11am, when the kids leave for lunch and I leave for the day.
As a sort of stranger to the classroom, the kids seem to be really intrigued by me—some get excited to see me and ask me all sorts of questions, while others just timidly stare. Many have had suspicions of what languages I speak because they have heard both my imperfect Spanish, and my fluent English. I've had to explain that I speak English at home, and Spanish at school, emphasizing the latter to the native English speaking students that are insistent on speaking English with me. The Spanish that I use in the kindergarten classroom is quite a bit different than what I'm used to speaking in college classrooms or with other adults. Instead of long, thought-out sentences, I need to use short and quick commands and colloquial expressions with the kindergarteners. This has been a real wake-up call for me; while I'm fairly confident in my ability to hold a lengthy and coherent conversation with an adult, I struggle with short phrases and commands that are commonly used around little kids. Things as simple as “Tie your shoe!” or “Be nice to each other”, I find difficult to come up with quickly. For this reason (among many others) I'm glad to be working in a school with young children to improve my Spanish in a very different environment than I have been exposed to in the past. Moreover, watching the kids' Spanish improve is inspiring. It is only week 5, but already I can tell that non-native speakers are using Spanish much more freely and confidently. I can't wait to see where they will be in ten more weeks at the end of the semester, and hopefully I will have made a great deal of improvement in my Spanish as well!