A New Low in English Teaching

The girls at Shishur Sevay study in “Bengali medium” which means all of their instruction and printed books are in Bengali, except for English.  One of our girls is switching to English medium learning, and is being homeschooled.  Therefore we must have at least one good English teacher. as she now has to catch up with English reading in all subjects.  Simultaneously I have been working with all the teachers on verbs and tense.  I’ve discovered the girls are confused about tense in English AND Bengali, and that they also lack an understanding of the formal and polite verb forms of Bengali.  So grammar and parts of speech are on our minds, and hopefully theirs at least some of the time.  Two years ago I tried but the Bengali teacher walked out instead of teaching tense and verb forms.  I believe this is about lower expectations by teachers because of the backgrounds of our girls.

Last week I let a teacher go because I discovered she did not know tense  in English, and didn’t really know parts of speech.  She mixed up nouns, adjectives, and verbs.   Today another English teacher, one with years of experience, was teaching how to write a letter.  She and the student spent most of the afternoon working on the letter.  At the end of the day I asked for the final product.  I was really shocked!  Please look and see if you can figure out the mistakes.  If you do, you win a teaching job at Shishur Sevay.  Remember this letter is the end result of three previous drafts.  The red marks indicate the teacher’s corrections.  The language style was provided by the teacher.  (the rule seems to be never to make the student struggle.) 

Find The Mistakes!

I asked the teacher to meet with me.  She could only say that she made mistakes.   I told her I could not have her teach my children if this is her standard.  No, this is not the first “mistake.”  I know exactly what is going on. 

1. She wants the girl to like her, and boasts that she is favored.  I have warned her over and over that this is a trap.

2. She has adjusted her expectations because the student is an orphan, and so this may have seemed “good enough.”

3. She did not expect me to look at the work.   In spite of my work load, I remain quite vigilant in all areas.  It’s how I keep standards from dropping.  Everyone knows my pattern but no one thinks they will be caught.

The pincode in the letter  is wrong (32 should be 38), but I had ignored it.  I learned later that there had been an argument over the pincode.   Gibi, Mrs. Jasvinder Kaur) who is our Vice President, and co-founder with me lives about ten houses away.  She monitors many of the classes.  But the teacher refused to believe her that the code was 38, and insisted that the student was right.  Again, this is an experienced teacher drawing an excellent salary from Shishur Sevay.  We don’t try to “save money” on teachers.   Last week this teacher had another girl in tears about her speech defect, made fun of her, said the others would laugh at her.  I spoke to her about it.  I’m sad about the speech defect because four years ago she was assessed by two experts who said she was fine and would outgrow it, but instead it is worse, especially when she is tense. 

The girls sometimes get very angry with me because I want work corrected until it is perfect.  It’s doable in an assignment like this.  We have had temper tantrums over having to redo work, but eventually it gets done and then the girls always feel good about having something perfect.  Remember, they are always fighting their sense of inadequacy.  It’s a really good feeling to get something right.  It takes work.  I want them to have this experience, the rush of getting it right. 

This evening the girls all went over the “letter” and had fun finding mistakes.    I’m consistent at least — I don’t accept from teachers what I don’t accept from the girls.  These are important lessons for the girls about standards, work behavior, expectations, and getting things right.

Finally, to my blog readers,

Thank King you

I remain

yours faithfully

Dr. Michelle Harrison

ShiShur Sevay school

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lindsey
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 19:55:37

    Michelle– do you want someone to act as a real pen pal for the girls? If they want to work on letters together you can scan them to me, and I will correct mistakes and also write back to them!

    With due respect, it would be great fun for me, and hopefully them as well.
    Let me know
    Thank King you 😉


  2. Dr. Michelle Harrison
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 22:20:04

    Hi Lindsey, Thank King you for the offer. I’m stretched so thin right now I couldn’t organize it, supervise it, scan, etc. I’m trying to keep work to bare minimum (which does include the blog) and not make any more commitments. Better idea is for you to come and teach,. OK?


  3. Patrick Lee
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 11:36:39

    Dear Dr Harrison,
    If the subject of English teaching were not so serious I would ask you; who is this person “King” to whom you keep saying “thank King”?
    The best way to learn good English is to read the novels by Jane Austen and also get a friend to read aloud whatever you have written.
    Try it! Yours sincerely, Patrick Lee


  4. Joyce Godwin Grubbs
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 16:43:59

    No advice from me: only the reinforcement of saying that reading your blog here reminds me of Jerry (Dr. Jerry Galloway) and his letters about his mission work in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). He too subscribed to having them excel and feeling “the rush” (your words not his, but the sentiments match). I love that they know you are firm in your love for them and your hope for their futures. God bless you my friend: you are not making the mistake of treating them like a less capable person because they are poor and challenged. YOu are recognizing and addressing them as the “students with potential” that they are. You and Jerry have more in common than just your time together in South Carolina.


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September 2011
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