Transitional Bilingual ESL

Having started  a new position in a Middle School fairly recently, I found the routine — waking up at 6:15 am, showering , getting the boys ready for school, and driving to work around 15 minutes away — to be quite taxing, both physically and mentally. As a bilingual teaching aide, I wouldn’t say that my work profile is one where there is pressure, or the burden of being accountable to anyone and everyone. But, since I have been primarily hired to assist two boys –brothers– who have very limited knowledge of English, with all their schoolwork, I wouldn’t say that it’s a walk in the park, either.

For one, I need to go to the boys’ classes with them. And everyday, I alternate between sixth grade and eighth grade classes, as one brother started in the sixth grade this Fall, and the other, in eighth. Now this entails more than just  a little walking. I don’t believe in using step counting wristbands or apps, but I am sure that I must be trotting up more than six or seven thousand steps during school hours. I tried doing it in heels, and boy, was it a pain (pun intended)! I was massaging my aching feet for a full hour once I got home. So, through dint of sheer agony, I have learned to dress comfortably for work, and to always wear sensible shoes. Fashion and stilettos be damned.

Furthermore, I have taught myself to regulate my food intake. No intermittent snacking , no matter how peckish one might be feeling. For, we have precisely two minutes transition time between periods, and if your stomach is growling, you just have to ignore it and keep going until lunch. And, I am well on my way to the Kegel’s Hall of Fame for Women. I can now constrict my, ahem,  *****al muscles rather well, and hold it in for at least an hour after the urge to go first enters my head.

Meditation is a skill I have yet to learn, but I know how to stay focused and on-task for an entire forty-minute school period. And, I am now well-versed in Hammurabi’s Code. In fact, I am even fascinated with the Babylonians. They were pretty cool people, what with inventing the Cuneiform script and all.

Also, with each passing day, I find myself becoming more adept at solving  word problems using tape diagrams, double number lines, and tables. In India, they never really taught us Math concepts by utilizing visual methods like tables and number lines. It is actually quite an effective way to learn about fractions, ratios, and per cents.

In science class, I am helping my charges learn about force and velocity, mass, and potential energy. I am learning about the connection between magnetic fields and potential energy. I think I am lucky to be getting exposed to concepts beyond the usual kinetic energy, potential energy, and velocity.

Last but not least, I even accompany my sixth grader to his fifth period Art class. You may be wondering as to why a student would need bilingual support in a sixth grade art class. In fact,  I need to translate quite a bit for him, making sure he understands the art teacher’s instructions. A couple of times I was in the bathroom right at the beginning of class (I hadn’t mastered my Kegel’s by then),  and my student, unable to catch most of what the teacher was saying,  ended up drawing the wrong thing the wrong way and had to start over.  Needless to mention, the art teacher was not pleased. So, now I make sure that I am never late to Art, and translate the teacher’s expectations to my student in detail.

In this account, I have not included what I do with my eighth grader during his Health class, or how I help the boys complete their language arts assignments. But I am sure that you, the reader has been able to get a pretty good sense of what I do in my capacity as a Bilingual Aide.

It is physically tiring, and I need at least an hour of downtime once I get back home at around 3:15. Sometimes, I also feel depleted of mental energy, especially if, despite my best efforts at doing so, my students don’t seem to be motivated to accomplish over and above the bare minimum required for them to stay afloat. In these moments, I remind myself that this isn’t easy for them, either. Moving halfway across the earth, having to negotiate a new world in an unfamiliar language can be nothing but overwhelming. And, if we, them and I, keep working at it, we will get there.

 

 

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