Today my students and I had a tough decision to make. Faced with the reality that our celebration picnic, which my students have been looking forward to for weeks, might not be attended by the majority of their families; we decided to call it off. Many of their parents hold down multiple jobs, which require them to often work on weekends. Over half of my dwarves were left with no transportation to get them there or no family members to support them in their accomplishments. While they have my support and that of our Teaching Tolkien readers, the whole purpose of the event was to have their family and friends acknowledge the phenomenal feat they have completed this year and celebrate what extraordinary children they truly are. After a long class discussion, we collectively agreed that it would be best to not host the picnic if we would have very few guests and the entire Traveling Party could not be present.
The real lesson my students learned today is that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Determined to make the best out of our circumstances, we came up with a contingency plan, which would still allow us to celebrate our completion of Lord of the Rings. Though we would have loved to have shared our achievement with others, a celebration is still in order, even if it is just enjoyed within the confines of our classroom. So here is the plan B that my students and I have come up with. We have decided to have our celebration at the end of next week during the school day. We still plan to have fun, food, and speeches, despite the accommodations we have had to make. Although their parents could not attend our out-of-school picnic, most of them do find the time to cook and all of the children felt they could commit to bringing in some sort of dish from their country, which could be shared with their fellow dwarves.
The students were really excited about sharing their speeches with our readers, so we will take some time over the next week to record their remarks, which we can post on the blog for your enjoyment. This will allow you to celebrate with us, as you have been there every step of the way and your unwavering support has consistently given my students the motivation to press on. Being part of the greater Tolkien community of fans has allowed my students to feel a kinship with all of you, which I hope will continue long after they have left my classroom. The support of our fans from all around the world has literally meant the world to me and my students.
I spent a rather restless night last night wrestling with the decision that I knew we would be faced with today. Concerned over the disappointment my students might feel, I was so impressed with the maturity with which they accepted it. They understood the situation we were faced with and worked together to come up with an alternative solution. What was more disappointing to me was the fact that their parents may not be acknowledging their children’s accomplishments. The Lord of the Rings would be difficult for most young children to read, much less students that are not fully proficient in English.
Having spent over a decade as an ESL teacher, today’s situation should not have been a surprise to me. The student population I serve often experiences achievement gaps compared to their American counterparts due to their respective cultures’ views on education. Many of my students come from countries in which teachers do not encourage parents to become involved in their child’s education. In some cultures, teachers are revered and even esteemed higher than the parents, in terms of valued input they can offer to a child. When these immigrants come to America, many of them do not realize that our culture encourages parent involvement through volunteer organizations such as the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association). In their defense, the language barrier often keeps these parents from participating in their child’s school life or assisting them with their homework, feeling they have nothing to contribute. Be that as it may, the end result is that their children are solely responsible for completing assignments, preparing for tests, and motivating themselves to progress from grade level to grade level. That is why my role, as an ESL teacher, is critical to my students’ success. Understanding that their parents are often in “survival mode”, just trying to put food on the table and adjust to living in a new country, precipitates the need for me to often act as parent and teacher for my students. To ensure that these children have every opportunity that their native English-speaking peers enjoy means sometimes going the extra mile. The little things, like a weekend trip to the movies or an afternoon at the theater or a picnic, may mean the difference between failure and success for these students.
Our change of plans also caused us to make an adjustment to our reading schedule. Having to avoid conflicts with their grade level end-of-the-year parties, we opted to push ourselves to finish the book in the next seven days. This means that we have to cover even more ground with the book for each of those seven days. Oin came up with the idea that if everyone in the class worked with a “reading buddy”, we could each read a chapter and then come together at the end of class and summarize the major events for one another. Thanks to his ingenuity, we were able to go from Minas Tirith yesterday to The Battle of the Pelennor Fields in just one class period. Proud of his contribution to the class today, Oin related our teamwork to that of all the repressed inhabitants of Middle-Earth who unite together to fight against a common foe. He said, “now this is what we should have been doing all along!”
While I think my students have benefited from reading individually, with partners, and having me read to them; I am pleased that they have been able to progressively move closer to achieving our goal despite so many unforeseen circumstances. Although the “best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”, my students have refused to be sidetracked and are determined to make it to Mount Doom.