I normally have pretty good control and management in my classroom, which is normally a calm and quiet (ish) learning environment. But, last Friday in my class I suddenly realized I had temporarily lost control. One student was sitting at my computer, looking something up on my computer. A student was chasing another around the classroom. Another was at the supply table, collecting colored pencils for a drawing. One left for the bathroom while another was getting water. Two were writing and drawing all over my white board. My newest student was sitting quietly, observing everything around her. Having come from a remote town in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I could only imagine what she was thinking about American schools.
My students found it really hard to focus that day, though eventually they settled down. I remembered the days when I had 5 classes of 25-30 kids, some of whom wanted to be learning Spanish, and other who were there because their parents made them or their friends were there.There were a lot of great things about teaching Spanish, but classroom management was not one, and motivating students who were not interested wasn't great either.
One of the things I love about teaching ELL is how motivated my students are. My student from the DRC is still a mystery to me in many ways. However, she has "ganas", the desire to learn English and to do well in school. She barely speaks English, yet she has already passed 2 social studies quizzes with 100s.
My student from Central America who is working with a bilingual tutor 4 days a week, 3 hours a day, cried last week because he was learning so much, it made him happy. Coming from an environment where going to school could be a dangerous venture, and where teachers might or might not show up on any given day, he's experiencing what might be the most consistent schooling he's had. He is having to learn everything all at once: how to be a student, how to read, write and do basic math in Spanish AND in English, and adapt to a new school. In one short month, he has made incredible progress but he still has far to go. He does not get discouraged; at least he doesn't appear to. He is slowly coming out of his shell shock,and his favorite class is drama, in which he has one line in a play, and his teacher raves about him. His tutor, though faced with huge gaps, is doing amazing work with him.
Learning all day in another language is exhausting. Existing in another culture is draining. So, if my students sometimes have an off day, it's okay. They make up for it every other day.