Thursday, October 22, 2009


The teacher across the hall was a dither. Her advisee, Darlene, a quiet tenth grader who in the jargon of the Department of Education is an English Language Learner, had received a 50 or (F) in Art. Art?

A couple of weeks ago I had been told to speak with the Art Teacher, she was upset that Darlene had drawn devil horns on a mask she made. And worse she had laughed in her face when she asked her why. None of this added up. I knew Darlene, Darlene's goal always appeared to me to make herself as invisible as possible. But I never got around to asking the art teacher what happened.

But Darlene's advisor was worried and I figured it was time to get to the bottom of this little mess. So I got the Art Teacher, the ELL teacher(who luckily speaks Darlene's language) and Darlene altogether in my little overcrowded room.

And here's a paraphrased version of what happened.

Art Teacher: We did a project on symmetry and the students had to draw the other half of an African mask, that I gave them. (there was more details with discussion about color and measurement, but that was the general gist) And Darlene did a great job. So I gave her an A and told her to mount it on a cardboard and that I would definitely display it at the school show. Then she ruined it by drawing devil horns. And laughed at me.

Me: (I am not King Solomon or even Judge Judy-the best I could do) Darlene do you remember drawing a mask in Art class?

Darlene: Yes

Me: What did you do?

Darlene: I draw a mask,

Me (inspired now) Do you know why you drew the mask?

Darlene: To get a good grade,

Me: But what were you suppose to be learning?

Darlene: To draw a mask.

ok time to go to the translator.

ELL Teacher: (In Darlene's native language) But what was the purpose of drawing the mask?
and I won't belabor the point- but we didn't get any farther in the native language than we did in English even when I carefully drew the letters H B R and Q and asked her to identify the ones with symmetry.

In the native language Darlene continued to describe what must have been her very perplexing experience.

Darlene: I draw the mask and I think the art teacher like it. She give me a paper to paste it on. So I paste it but the glue move around and it make the paper dirty. So I draw ears on the mask to hide the dirt. And I draw very carefully so both ears are the same on both sides.

Art Teacher: So why did you laugh at me?

No verbal response- just smiles and quiet giggles.

And then the ELL teacher explained that, that's what Darlene does when she doesn't understand what she is being asked.
The Art Teacher thought that was strange.

Now, I've sat in conferences, meetings and bars all over the world, smiling and nodding as someone spoke to me at length in a language where I could only catch one out of every eight or ten words. Maybe the Art Teacher has the confidence to
say she doesn't understand, or insist on find someone to translate.

Not me I sit and nod and smile.

Luckily the bell rang, the Art Teacher agreed to change the grade, The ELL teacher encourage Darlene to speak up when she doesn't understand and I shooed everyone out of my little room.
How did I get stuck in the middle of this?

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