End of the Year Lament

31 Dec

It makes for an entertaining day seeing 8th graders and Kindergarteners and almost everything in between in the course of seven hours. However, it also makes for a confusing, frustrating, and exhausting day. I see that I have not posted since October. I also have not looked at Twitter since October. Over the summer break I became so energized by communicating with other teachers all over the world (especially ELL teachers) because I have so little time for that in “real life”. Being the only ELL teacher at two schools gets lonely. I read blogs, followed tweets, clicked links that led to even more links until I became lost in this unseen world of teachers communicating about how to better serve kids. It was great. Then school started back. Although I promised myself I would make the time to keep up the conversation – I broke that promise.

I’m not big on making resolutions, but since all I’m accomplishing in this post is complaining – I might as well add something positive. I’m going to pick myself back up, put myself back together, and start the new year off ready to make things happen.

Walking on.

Experiencing fall in Kindergarten

20 Oct



These are a few of my Kindergarten ELLs observing the changing colors of fall, the pine cones, the weather, and what happens when the clouds move in front of the sun. I love to witness their awe of everything in nature – one of the major perks of my job. The occupational hazard was the armfuls of pine cones and leaves they just had to bring back into the classroom. Now I’m looking for crafts to use up our full “bucket of fall”.

We are human

13 Oct

I will not say that my first year teaching was a roller coaster. Not only is that cliche (is it cliche to say something is cliche?), but it would be a lie. My first year teaching was a nonstop train to crazy town. I could look in the mirror at night and count the new hairs that had turned grey.
I don’t think I will ever forget that first year crew of students that I had. They were a total mess, so they all fit right in our class of misfits. One middle school student had never set foot in a classroom. A couple had just crossed the desert alone to find distant relatives that might give them shelter. One had just met her mom for the first time at age 12. Another spent his first week loudly sobbing as we all tried in our own ways to give him some comfort.

There are a few things I need to write down so I can be sure to never forget them. The twelve year old girl – model student – always clinging to every word that I said trying to soak up anything and everything. I wanted to be more like her. I wanted to go back in time and be that kind of student when I was her age. I want to be more like her now. I had not had time to get to know her fully when I found her spiral notebook she left on top of the printer one day – a letter to her grandmother written in Spanish. I am admitting my evil doing here because what she wrote touched me so much. I had no idea. She left her grandmother in Honduras to come to the United States and live with her mother. She had never even met her mother. Her mother lived here her whole life with the girl’s sisters. This girl, this amazing 12 year old girl that inspired me to be a better learner, was the one that was sent away. In her letter she described how she missed her grandmother’s hugs and warmth and how her mother didn’t give her that. I learned that day that some students don’t need my knowledge as much as they need my love.

Teenage boys, or girls for that matter, are not the easiest human beings to love. One might think that teaching them would make that fact more salient, but I have found it’s the opposite. I have a horrible memory – seriously my mind is a blank before age 18 and beyond – but I know that I will never forget this simple request from a 15 year old boy. “Ms. – will you say to me ‘good job’?” I had just finished praising another student for his or her great work that day. I don’t remember if this boy participated in class that day at all, but I do remember that his request was so sincere that regardless of what he did he deserved to hear those two words. It might be the first time he would hear them. Let me remind you – 15 year old boys do not typically go around requesting to hear “good job” from adults. I learned that day that sometimes a couple of simple, kind words can do more than hours of lesson preparation (and that teenage boys are not all bad).

I could go on, but basically, what I want to say, is that my most important lessons were learned from my students. That should probably go without saying but they aren’t the ones that I send a large sum of money to each month. I’m thankful for my education. Knowledge is so important. Human connection is more important. Always. Every. Time.

First graders don’t play with pronunciation

23 Sep

I recently added four new students to my roles – a family of Italian immigrants. Two first grade identical twin boys, one seventh grade boy, and one eighth grade girl. I have never had Italian speakers in my class before. At the middle school, the Spanish speakers are so interested in learning Italian that I have a hard time getting them to care to about English. At the elementary school, the first graders have debates about how certain words are pronounced – none of those words being in English.

Italian student – “School – scuola”

Spanish student “No, school is escuela!”

Italian student – “No, sc – wa -la”

Spanish student “No, e-scway-la!”

Teacher “Students – you speak different languages – they are both right!”

I have already learned my lesson about trying to speak Italian. “Grazi!” I proudly exclaim to my first graders.

“No no no no! G-ra-zi-ay!” little Nilo corrects me with obvious exasperation at my complete ineptitude with his language.

Now I realize that word does end in an e. Grazie it is.
I love the fact that the boys break the words I mispronounce down into their smallest phonemes to help me recognize the error of my ways. It reminds me that sometimes my students can teach me how to teach them.

When I do get a word right, they come up and pat me on the back. “Gooood job!” they say in a mocking tone. So far they have learned with ease the following words/phrases:

Good job, water, bus, look at me, sit down, be quiet -

Which makes me realize I really need to reevaluate the language I use. Is that how I sound?!

Lighten up. No is looking anyway.

9 Sep

I have an hour long commute. Each way. I won’t lie and act like I don’t wish it away, but I have found some good listening to make me feel the time is not wasted. (The waste of gas, however, make me cringe.) The saving grace of my commute this year has been Open Yale courses. In particular, PSYC 110 . Although I have taken an introduction to psychology course before, it most definitely was not at Yale so I figured I’d give it a try. On the way home yesterday, Professor Paul Bloom  was discussing some research into how we typically overestimate how much other people notice us (our appearance and behavior). In one study, people were sent out wearing t-shirts with Hitler on them and then asked how many people noticed their shirt. The Hitler t-shirt wearers thought that two people noticed for every one person that actually did notice. In other words, the researchers asked everyone who had come in contact with the Hitler t-shirt wearer if they noticed the person’s shirt. If the wearer had guessed that 30 people noticed their shirt, only 15 people said they had noticed it. (How could someone not notice a person is wearing Hitler on their shirt?!)

I happen to find this relieving although I could see how someone might find this disturbing. (Why do we go to so much trouble when half the people don’t notice or care?) Perhaps because I’m sort an introvert though, I think this research is rather freeing. I have always known I spend way too much time concerned with what people think of me or whether I somehow offended someone. Now I have some odd research to help me reason with myself that my worries are senseless. I guess that person didn’t like my new hair color? No, they probably just didn’t notice. If they wouldn’t notice Hitler, why would they notice your hair? Is that student having a bad day because I was too hard on them about their grades? Doubt it. Their grades might be so low because they are the master at tuning me out anyway. So what if I just gave a presentation with my fly down in front of a hundred of my co-workers that I must face every day? Even if I believe that every single person noticed, probably only 50 actually did. (Although the difference between 50 and 100 doesn’t seem significant in this situation.) Regardless, the message remains. We are not all that we think we are. People are thinking about themselves, not you. So lighten up, have fun, take risks, embarrass yourself.

I mean, if half of all people can be oblivious to the fact that someone is proudly wearing Hitler on the front of their shirt, my bad jokes, bad  haircuts, and frequent professional stumbles must be much less noticeable than I think.

People regret what they didn’t do, not what they did. I learned that in my Yale course. Can I get an honorary degree now?

An unexpected consequence of ELLs using Edmodo

2 Sep

I have been gradually introducing web 2.0 tools to my ELLs throughout this first month using our smart board, but due to time and technology constraints I had not gotten the students in front of actual computers yet. I figured our media center visit last Friday would be a good time to encourage them to use our Edmodo. I must admit, I bribed them with an extra credit point on our test to actually post something on Edmodo or our Wallwisher (via Edmodo). Bribes aside though, I was pleasantly surprised to see them all actively engaged. While many of them were more interested in changing their profile pictures I watched as one of the higher level ELLs read the lower ELLs posts as they appeared and corrected their mistakes. At first I told him to just worry about his own English acquisition, but then I turned around to see him standing over one of the newer boys explaining a grammar mistake that he continually makes. I’ve never seen that in my class before. Even when I encourage peer editing, they will barely skim the surface before announcing they are done. Only time will tell if hearing this explanation from his peer will work better than hearing it from me, but I’m willing to bet that it will. Also, the Edmodo quiz option is quite useful as it breaks down the percent of correct/incorrect answers by question for your entire class in easy to view pie charts. It is a quick and easy way to tell if there is a certain concept the majority of students still do not understand without spending any time grading AT ALL. In addition, the students can go check their answers as soon as they are done and see the correct answer.

In the (Conditional/Subjunctive) Mood for Justin Bieber

23 Aug

While giving my ELLs a quick lesson on how to use the conditional and subjunctive mood, I overheard one of the girls softly singing, “If I were your boyfriend, I’d never let you go.” I got all excited, like I do in class when students “get” something, and continued in my tradition of embarrassing myself and making my students feel sorry for me. I sang in class. I didn’t know it at the time (honest:), but after gaining access to YouTube I realized that I had lapsed into Bieber fever. I also realized that Bieber uses the colloquial style. How lucky! Not only do I get to play Justin Bieber during precious class time to reinforce the subjunctive mood, I get to use it to transition into discussing the difference between social and academic language. I used to think I had to stick to the likes of Dylan, Waits, and Leonard Cohen to maintain my reputation of being dour and hip, but today I spent the entire day humming Justin Bieber. And I’ve never felt more hip.

Here is the anchor chart we made while discussing when it is okay to talk and write like Justin Bieber and when it is decidedly not.

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