T for Teacher ~ Lisa McCallum

A has been in America for two months
B has been in America for eight years
C has been in America for thirty-four years
T wants to teach all of them
T wants desperately to help all of them improve
D wants conversation; her writing is good
E wants help with writing; his speaking skills are good
F needs help with reading; she can speak and write a little
G needs to be able to speak to her boss
and understand him
H wants to be able to speak
to American people and understand them
J asks for typing lessons
K asks for driving lessons
L asks for citizenship classes
T wants to help them all
T explains patiently that the class is for
reading, writing, speaking, and listening
It is a combination, to help everybody
T tells them about websites
where they can learn the things they want
that T doesn’t have time to teach in class
T tries to be kind and helpful and full of information
T feels badly that there is not a class specifically
for E and F and G and H
and J and K and L
but it’s just not possible
T hopes they will still come to class
and forgive her for not gearing it toward
each one individually
T carries on each day and tries her best
T welcomes everyone in the morning
T smiles and asks about their weekends
T makes jokes, but only ones
that she is sure they’ll understand
T is caring yet demanding
T reminds them to get their books from the cabinet
T asks students to call when they are absent,
just like they would call a boss
T says this is good practice for when they get jobs
T wants to teach them to be responsible
but offers paper and pencils on the counter
to those who forgot theirs, like a child might
T teaches topics like food, health, jobs, and community
T hopes her lessons will help her students
as they work, shop, and live in America
They are here to stay, after all
T teaches useful grammar
Some students are attentive
Some students use their phones
for translations or for texting
B and F and J missed yesterday,
so they are confused
C and H and M are lower than the others
so they need more time
A and G and S are higher than the others
so they are bored
T tries harder
The students practice dialogs
M gets a phone call and goes out into the hallway
to take a phone call and returns ten minutes later
T asks her quietly if the phone call was an emergency
M says it was her child’s teacher
T tries to be caring but wonders if there can
really be an emergency call for M every single day
T wants them all to learn so badly
T circulates and checks students’ work
T knows that making a connection with every student
is the most important thing that will keep them in class
T makes small talk as she circulates
T hopes the students feel comfortable speaking with her
T laughs with the students
Everyone checks answers one by one
Everyone’s answers are correct now
T teaches something new
N translates T’s teaching to D and F across the room
T reminds N that not everyone speaks his language
T asks everyone to speak English during class time
T knows that they don’t speak English
after class is over; now is their only chance of the day
T encourages everyone to speak their native languages
at home and teach their children to become bilingual
N mumbles and grumbles to his neighbors
in words that T cannot understand
T feels she does not deserve
that disrespect
T will try harder with N, who is yearning
for attention
O does her writing work quietly
P writes too and then compares her answers with O
Partner-work is helpful
T gives praise to the students
Q and R practice a dialog together
T gives praise and compliments
S and U have a conversation in English
for three minutes
T gives praise and compliments
V has to leave early today
and suddenly so does W
T asks them to please tell her
when they arrive next time
so she knows in advance; it’s only polite
T hopes they aren’t angry with her
T wants them to learn rules for politeness
as well as language
X and Y and Z stay and learn
until class is over
T checks papers
T corrects mistakes
T hopes no one feels bad
but making mistakes is part of
learning a new language
T has learned other languages, so she knows
T circulates and makes sure
to say ‘good’ and ‘correct’ over and over
and over and over
T gives praise and compliments
T thanks everyone for coming today
T tells everyone to have a nice day
T hopes she smiled enough
T hopes she was nice enough
T knows she talked with each student enough
to give them some English practice
before they go home
D leaves, wanting more conversation
E leaves, wanting more help with writing
F leaves, needing more help with reading
G leaves, wondering if she’ll be able
to communicate with her boss tomorrow
H leaves, hoping he’ll be able to talk
with his neighbors
M leaves, wishing T would just let her
talk on the phone for a while every day
without asking her about it
N leaves, wondering why he shouldn’t be allowed
to interrupt class to show off his translation skills
while students from other cultures
wait until he’s done
All the others leave, some satisfied,
some confused, some tired
Maybe they all learned a little or
maybe a few of them learned a lot
T closes the door and breathes
T erases the boards
T sits at her desk
T is exhausted from standing,
walking, talking, explaining,
smiling, checking, and trying to make sure
that everyone in class—not just A, B, and C—improves
just a little every class, just a little
T remembers that C and F and P
were attentive and answered eagerly
T recalls that G and L and S
seemed content to learn the topic of the month
T remembers K and R’s comments
(We got jobs because of what we learned in class!)
and S and Z’s comments
(We know the past tense now because of your class!)
but those comments are few and far between,
only coming a few times a year
T does her job and doesn’t expect praise from the students
T is pleasantly surprised when she receives
a Christmas card or a box of chocolates
T’s job involves praising (‘positive feedback,’
it’s called now), but
T knows, for some students,
whatever she does is not enough
It will never be enough
T hopes she wasn’t too harsh
with M and N and V and W
T hopes she provided enough English practice
for D, E, F, G, and H to feel satisfied enough
to return tomorrow
T wants everyone to be happy
T turns to the next page in her folder
T must plan a lesson for tomorrow
T will try harder
T will try
T will