Last week my little bilingual class got a special treat, a fifth grade newcomer from Mexico! I was told two days ahead of time by the office that a new student would be arriving and I proceeded to mentally rehearse my Spanish and verbally prepare my students. Before all that, I was sitting at my desk when the students walked in on the morning I found out, creating name tags for my newcomer's desk and locker. I was greeted to a chorus of, "We have a new student? Who is it? Is it is boy or a girl?"
When I informed my darlings of his gender there were mixed reactions, some thrilled, some disappointed (mostly the girls who wanted another friend to gossip with), but one very entertained 5th grade girl giggled and exclaimed, "It sounds like we're having a BABY...It's a boy! CONGRATULATIONS!" For the rest of the day whenever we talked about the new students we made plans for our "new baby" discussing how we could take take of him, what we could do to support his language skills and how we could make his transition comfortable. My students shared great ideas, often from their own experiences about how their English acquisition.
My students have great hearts and the best of intentions. When the new baby showed up, they treated him wonderfully. What they didn't account for, was how much would change when he would get there. As much as I talked to them about him and tried to prepare them, two days wasn't enough. I spent the past two months building a classroom community built on trust, structure and continuity. Now we're using two languages, accommodating for another person, and they're getting a lot less individual attention.
On the first day with the "new baby" as soon as he went to the bathroom my classroom erupted. It was like my students had been waiting to jam every single ounce of English conversation and normalcy they could think of into the 2 minutes they had of freedom before he came back and they had to be on their "best behavior" again. My theory is that is comes from spending so much time creating classroom community. My class is comfortable and safe together. Change has come to their little tight knit community and they don't know what to do with it. I made sure to explain to them that they needed to wait to have those conversations when EVERYONE that was a part of their class was present. They'll accept that in time as they've accepted each other...but babies, like all new family members take time to get used to. The thing that impresses me the most is that while they have to grow into each other, they also decided to love him and care for him before they even knew him...just as if they were actually parents caring for a new baby. Maybe there really is something about being bilingual in a new and scary place that binds you unlike anything else...or maybe its just the magic of the unyielding acceptance of a child.