Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Beauty Within

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” the old adage goes. One of my ESL students took this literally to mean it is only books that we need to look inside and read before making a judgment. He is still learning that a proverb has far deeper meaning behind it. However, another student from the same class understood it perfectly.

Pepe is a bright nine year old youngster with a determined attitude and good heart. In addition, to learning English as a second language, he is challenged by Dyslexia. There are times he works with a partner on reading and writing activities because his literacy skills are equivalent to that of a first grader at this time. Although he has to work twice as hard as many other students, his love and respect for others has never been hindered. He is one of the friendliest and most gregarious students I know. When he first came to our school three years ago, he didn’t speak a word of English. He would enter the classroom joyously greeting everyone with, “Hola!” He learned to speak and understand the language rather quickly and soon changed to, “Good morning!”

As an ESL teacher, I give my fourth grade students a new proverb to reflect upon and then respond to questions about each week. I ask them to make a connection to their own life and explain what it means to them. For Pepe, I meet with him every Thursday morning during my prep and his library time to assist him in reading the questions posted on our class blog. When I asked Pepe to tell about someone he met and later became friends with, he was beautifully honest. He said, “There was this kid Ryan in my class and when I first met him he just looked kind of strange to me.”
“So what happened after you got to know him? What surprised you about him?” I inquired.

“Mmmm, after I got to know him and we became friends, I was surprised how considerate and respectful he was. Today he’s one of my best friends,” Pepe responded.

“What did you learn? What does the proverb teach us?” I read from our class blog on the computer’s screen while trying to contain myself with excitement.

Pepe explained,” You shouldn’t judge someone because of their face or body. You should give them a chance.” Pepe dictated, as I typed his response.

Yahoo! He got it! Even though he is only reading on a first grade level and dyslexic, he understood the principle and knows how to apply it to his life. Given the opportunity to wrestle and respond to a higher level thinking question, Pepe passed with flying colors. Some of my other English language learners didn’t get it right away. They needed multiple examples before understanding the meaning behind it.

What a privilege and confirmation. I feel encouraged even more so now to set aside that extra time for individual students who need the opportunity to show what they know in a different way. This was my first year teaching ESL to fourth graders in quite a few years. It was also the first time I gave students a proverb of the week. Without a doubt, I plan to continue with it next year.

In addition, I look forward to working with Pepe more. The nine year old second language learner from Mexico came with little to envy. He spoke not a word of English and has found it extremely difficult to learn to read. Some kids made fun of him because of his large, round frame. Others have laughed when he stumbled to sound out words and read them aloud.

Me? I have been able to catch glimpses of the great beauty within this boy. I feel honored to be given the opportunity to teach him. He is an amazing boy who no doubt will grow into an even more extraordinary young man. As a teacher, I see him as a living example to the old adage. No, we should definitely not judge a book by its cover or even the first few pages inside. Given the chance, everyone can learn and everyone can make a difference in making our world a lot nicer to live in. Pepe is just one example of that.

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