Monday, March 8, 2010

The New Kid

Sometimes I wish I could welcome my new students like this, sans trembling hand holding a schedule and a lost, scared look with eyes begging to be understood

The New Kid

It has got to be tough to be a new kid in school… it has got to be that much tougher when the only phrase you know is: “I don’t speak English”. I was that kid once, a long, long time ago. I had the standard missing teeth and poor boy haircut and Goodwill clothes. My new student looked much more presentable, but still, all he could say was: “I don’t speak English”.

So I says to him, I says “welcome, my name is Mr. T, what is your name?”

“oh, I don’t speak English”

“I know, it’s ok, that is why we are here, you will learn. So, what is your name? I am Mr. T”

“I don’t speak English”

Thankfully I noticed he had a schedule with his name on it “oh, there we are, nice to meet you, have a seat”.

Clif is the fourth new student in my class; we have been getting a steady flow, room or not, ever since the earthquake in Haiti. The two who came before him spoke at least enough to understand that I wanted them to sit down, one could even tell me her name, how she felt and greeted me when she first came. They are of the fortunate few who not only had the chance to go to some school, but also pick up a bit of English via TV, Music or even a class - Clif was not so fortunate. The first new student this semester could also say about as much as a 10-month old, but she speaks Spanish so I was at least able to get her settled in right away, with Clif I had to rely on, and trust, the other Creole speaking students in my class. Clif does have one advantage when it comes to not being lost outside of class: almost the whole school speaks Creole or French, so come lunch time he should be alright. However come History time, and I mean History in preparation for a REGENTS exam – not “oh you know many things happened a long time ago, lets talk about it at our leisure” History. The curriculum that these kids MUST absorb within maximum a few years is… too much. Native English speaking kids struggle with learning everything for these extensive tests, English Language Learners have 3 times the battle: acculturation, language acquisition and content acquisition. Everyone in New York is in a hurry, so they feel that when new kids come from extremely different cultures they should be in the same hurry and should be able to keep up! And so I teach…

“Clif, this is a notebook… and this a pen. Please repeat, notebook”


“excellent Clif. Pen”


“very good”

“a pilgrimage is often a long journey that devout religious people take in order to pray at a sacred shrine, or tomb”

This is where I earn my money as a mime. I say the words alright, but Clif also gets a mini one act play, including a quasi-burial of me in a tomb”

Later on:

“those are kids from a different school Clif”

“I don’t speak English”

“I know Clif, it’s ok. We are in a school.”


“this is a school” I say wildly gesticulating a bubble and a geometric plane.


“yes Clif! A school… ecole”

thank god I knew a few words in French, and am able to deduce a few more via Spanish translation. “on this floor we have one school, un school, and upstairs deux school”

Smile, “yes, yes”


  1. Oh, this is a classic. I actually laughed out loud.

  2. Hi Mr. O,

    I'm glad you enjoyed it!
    Clif has since been adding many words to his vocabulary everyday... he knows enough now to complain about the amount of work I assign :)