Thursday, April 23, 2009

Idioms and Duke Ellington

This morning, I almost didn't make it to the English class where I volunteer as a reader. Through a series of miscommunications, I confused someone I was to interview for an article, and we had to reschedule our meeting for today. I felt bad about missing class because the teacher was counting on me to spend one-on-one time with a particular student, so I rescheduled again and freed myself up to volunteer. I'm glad I did.

The current teacher of the class is great with the students, and they tend to look at her as a mother. She doesn't coddle them in their learning, but she defends them practically to the death whenever there is conflict. Today, the teacher had a substitute, someone the students don't really know but someone with some interesting approaches.

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, so the woman brought in a children's book about Duke Ellington, and we read a brief biography about him. We split up for a while, and I sat in another room with a very shy woman—I'll call her Rachel. This is Rachel's first year in the class, and she is extremely quiet and nearly whispers her answers, so afraid of being heard making a mistake. We have been working with Rosetta Stone, and she's slowly making progress.

After her lesson, we cut up magazines and made collages featuring the words she learned—swimming, reading, writing, cooking, children, adults... Then we went back into the main room where the substitute teacher had set up something perfect for a spring day. Duke Ellington was swinging on the CD players, and the students were working on small posters. Each poster had a sentence with an idiom written at the bottom, and the students illustrated the phrase any way they chose.

One student, working with the sentence, "He was in the doghouse because he forgot their anniversary," drew a little man in a doghouse. He was sad with tears streaming down his face, and his wife, twice his size, was standing nearby with a very angry scowl on her face. Another student drew a woman with "blah blah blah" written in a speech bubble and another woman with a life-sized salt shaker to illusrate the sentence, "I have to take everything she says with a grain of salt." Rachel's poster said, "The audience was all ears," and she drew a group of stick people with giant ears to illustrate it.

It was delightful to learn about our language and our culture by exploring our idioms, which we usually don't stop to think about, and to listen to Duke Ellington while everyone drew and giggled and colored. So, here's to fulfilling our responsibilities and being happy in the moment. It's the cat's meow. It's top shelf. It cuts the mustard. It's the apple of my eye. It hits the nail on the head.

No comments: