One of the things that is driving me crazy right now, at school anyway, is the amount of Portuguese my students are speaking in my English classroom. This is a school-wide problem and agravates me to no end. This is, of course, a sensitive political complaint and one I’ve felt hesitant about putting into writing. But now I’m just tired of it all and need to get it off my chest.
My students, most of whom are Brazilian and who therefore speak Portuguese as their native language, are enrolled in this American school. Our school uses two programs–the Brazilian program, in which all classes are conducted in Portuguese, and the American program, in which all classes are conducted in English. The students I teach are enrolled in both programs, which means they spend half the year in some of their classes speaking English and the other half of the year in some of their classes speaking Portuguese. However, since it is impossible to teach English in Portuguese, I have my 7th graders all year long, speaking English.
Ideally speaking English.
These children, who have such competency in English, who are completely fluent in this language, are driving me up the wall with their dependence on speaking Portuguese. This may sound like a ridiculous complaint on my part; however, when you consider the fact that parents enroll their children in this school primarily because it will give them an English education, and then also considering the frustration of the parents when they realize their children are speaking Portuguese all day long at school in the hallways, with other teachers, with each other….it feels overall entirely frustrating.
Now. I understand that it is much easier to express oneself in one’s native tongue. If it weren’t, I would be writing this blog in Portuguese. But, since I don’t have a mastery of my second language, I can’t express myself fluently. However: My students, whose English skills far surpass my own skills in Portuguese, continue to rely on Portuguese to express themselves. We have a problem.
I am at my wits’ end and today snapped at two students because my repeated warnings to speak in English while they are in English class have gone unheeded. Is that a ridiculous request? Am I being too strict? I don’t think so. In order for my students to improve in their oral and written English skills, they need to be practicing English as much as possible. I cannot control it in the hallways, I cannot control it in the cantina or elsewhere outside of my classroom. But even within the confines of my own classroom, I am getting fed up with their resistance.
Some wouldn’t call it resistance. I believe fully that sometimes my students don’t even realize they’re using Portuguese. But what do I do to make them think and speak to each other in the language they’re trying to learn? Maybe it’s that they think they don’t need to continue learning it if they can speak it well already. I don’t know. They all have miles of improvement to make, but they won’t if they refuse to speak within my classroom. And then, what have I done for them?