Force it! It’s OK…

I still can’t get over that this news reporter actually had the huevos to try this joke out, for real, on the man.

I often share a particular joke on my students, the majority of whom are Spanish-speakers.  The past week, in my Summer School class, as we delved into a lesson on words in context, I shared the story yet again.  Delivered in Spanish, in a nutshell, it involves a recent Mexican immigrant who is looking for a place to stay in L.A.  Walking down a residential street, he stumbles across a house with a sign that says “For Sale / No Lease”.  As this is written blog, I can’t phonetically get the words to sound as they would as they would being spoken, but translated, it means:  “Force it, don’t worry!”  And, therefore, the immigrant breaks into the house to spend the night.  He’s later arrested, and has to explain to the police officer the how and why of the sign he read. 

In Spanish, the joke is funny. (Or at least I think so…) But without the context of language, it winds up sounding a bit weird.  It’s context, it’s colloquialism, it’s the very nature of language used in a way to bring about a humorous set of results.  As a teacher, I’m surrounded by it constantly.  In the televised fiasco above, the Aussie broadcaster obviously overestimated the amount of colloquial English the Dalai Lama had in his background, hence the embarrassment above.  In my classroom, there are times each and every day where the amount of context can determine whether or not a student is even understanding whatever the hell it is I’m trying to explain, teach, or whatever…

This has been a consideration at my school site for some time.  As I’ve matured as a teacher, I’ve been even more cognizant than I have ever been regarding context because a common mistake we make while teaching is assuming that loquaciousness will equal background knowledge.  Some kids will talk quite a bit, and even talk over themselves and myself, and, as a result, will miss the crucial link and background they need to understand what’s really being said.  I’m forever shaking my head at how kids will laugh at a sound, but fail to respond to real humorous stuff, simply because they can’t quite understand what they’re really supposed to laugh at.  Not surprisingly, later on, when they’re in a situation where they’ve got to be following the classroom discussion, they’re understandably lost.   

On the other hand, another mistake that gets made is underestimating what the students do know.  I’ve often seen other teachers (and an administrator) fail to give the kids credit for the things they’re expert about.  That’s often where I have to go to reach them, in order to do the usual teacher thing of “going from the familiar to the unfamiliar”.  It’s frustrating to hear, as I have had occasion to observe this past year, that the lower kids won’t get it anyway.  

Well, dammit, then maybe we shouldn’t be claiming that *all* kids can learn when we just admitted that they can’t.  In effect, these kids have learned, they’ve established context, but it’s my job to try to find the key to unlock that.  Amazingly, the look on the Dalai Lama’s face in the video above, is remarkably similar to the look my ELL’s give me when I’ve said something, and they’re trying to polite and look like they’re trying really hard.  The worrisome part comes when they still don’t get it, and yet they’re being singled out for a failure to understand.  Sadly, who is the joke really on? 

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