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Who's Steeering this Bike, Anyway? Kimberly Johnson, a recent graduate of the University of North Dakota, is a first-year English teacher at Valley Middle School in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

This was a good week! I survived my first round of parent-student-teacher conferences with no major problems or controversy, although the experience left me exhausted -- mostly because I had to choose my words very carefully. The teacher who writes a Teachers' Dictionary of Euphemisms will become very rich! How many nice ways are there to say "Your child is failing my class?"

Overall, though, most of the parents I met were supportive of their children and cared about their children's progress in school.

We didn't have classes last Thursday and Friday because of a teachers convention. I had planned to attend the Thursday middle school session, but my to-do list was too long to allow me to leave the list, even for one more day. The parent conferences had caused make-up and late work to pile up on my desk, and it took me four hours on Thursday just to correct it all. I also had to finalize my lesson plans for the rest of October and determine how to teach the upcoming writing unit.

Finally, I'm beginning to feel a little more caught up with my schoolwork, but now I need one more day off -- to catch up on my sleep!

On Tuesday, I was asked the "big question" for the first time this year. One of my first-period students wanted to know why they have to study English when they already know how to speak, write, and read it. I can't explain my reaction when I hear that question, except to say that I feel possessed by something. I imagine that my eyes glaze over, and then I just let go.

First, I pointed to the hand-written advertisement for yearbooks hanging in the hallway, which said, "Get them while there hot!" Of course, then there were other reasons -- 15 minutes' worth, in fact. I could have gone on for the entire 47 minutes of class, except that I had verb tenses to teach. I don't think my students ever have seen me so passionate about anything; they worked really hard for the rest of the period, once I stepped down from my soapbox!

Last week, Laurie said teachers are on bike rides, steering all the way. I think the students are steering the bike too, though; they control much of what happens to them in school. It slowly has dawned on me that a big part of my job is to help my students realize that they are in control. It's a lot like the parent who pretends to continue to hold onto the back of the bike when a child first begins to ride alone. At first, the child believes the bike is staying up because the parent is holding it; then the parent convinces the child that he or she can ride independently. I am the parent whose hand is ready to catch the child if the bike falls, but the child is the one controlling the bike.

I hope my speech on the reasons for studying English will help my students realize that they are controlling their own bicycles. They now know why I am teaching them English; I hope they also know why they need to take responsibility for learning English, not just knowing it.

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Article by Kimberly Johnson
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