Ms. Allen's Classroom

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 10 2012

“Ms. Uhhh, Ms. Uhhh…What Time It Is” and Other Language Barriers

We all have a dialect or accent.  Being from Maine and spending a lot of time in the Boston area, I am used to being told I have an accent (I don’t).  Mainers (Mainahs) don’t say their Rs.  Southerners have a drawl.  Bostonians and New Yorkers have totally separate accents (although I think they sound the same).  It’s normal.  But…holy moly…New Orleans is a whole other beast.  I can’t explain the different dialect.  It is, at times, very endearing and always interesting.  But, when you are an English teacher trying to teach 7th and 8th graders how to be professionals it starts to become a problem.

I knew my students and I would speak differently.  To be politically incorrect…they are black and I am white.  I grew up in the north and they are growing up in the south.   But, I will still never forget the time I heard a student say “What time is it?”  I stopped and looked at the student and asked them to correct their speech.  “What time it is?” the student replied, puzzled.  I ignored him.  “Ughhhh….what time it is ma’am?”  said the student.  I laughed.  I wasn’t looking for manners (for once) I was looking for grammar.  “It’s WHAT TIME IS IT?”  I informed the student.

In the following days and weeks in the beginning of the year I learned many new phrases: “Who that is?”  “What that be?”  “Where that is?”  *Shudder*  Grammar and correct speaking has become my one battle that I have chosen.  I have given up on getting my kids to stop cursing.  I have given up on getting them to walk into my classroom silent.  But I’ll be darned…my kids will gain mastery on saying “What time is it Ms. Allen?”  That’s another thing…it’s NOVEMBER and my students still say “Ms. Uhhh…um…”  But anyway, back to the issue at hand.  My students need to learn how to speak correctly (at least when they are in school).  The reason for this is simple:  if students can speak correctly it will be easier to help them write correctly.  Furthermore, when students speak correctly they are taken more seriously in their jobs.  It’s hard to get 8th graders to think that far ahead…but it’s true!

My students did push back (c’mon they are 13 year olds OF COURSE they did!).  They accused me of changing the way they speak because they are black.  This was a tough one to explain.  I had to somehow make them realize that I was not upset with the way they spoke because they were black, but rather because there’s a certain way to speak at school and they need to realize that there’s a time and a place for everything.  Needless to say, I still get the comments like “Man, you think we talk stupid.” or “Ms. A you tryin ta change us.”  But…I also occasionally hear students correcting other students “She isn’t going to answer you unless you say what time IS IT!”  The grammar war in my classroom is far from over and I still lose often.  However, I win moments of certain battles.

Vocabulary I Have Learned From My Kids:

1. You be blowin me- (yes, I know what you are thinking) Translation: You are annoying me or yelling at me too much

2. He ribbin’- Translation: He is annoying me.

3. Yo, I just dicked you- Translation: I just intercepted the football (or any object being thrown…trash, food, basketball, notebook, novel, marker….) from you

4. You about to get snuck- Translation: I am about to hit you because I am mad

5. cold drink = my diet coke

6. cuttin up = misbehaving in school

Vocabulary My Students Have Learned From Me:

1. please

2. excuse me

3. chilly

4. blizzard

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Greater New Orleans
Middle School

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