Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Stand Up... I'll Help You

Last Thursday morning, as I walked my class in to the school, I tripped and fell on the sidewalk.  It was one of those slow-motion knee, to hip, to elbow falls that took forever to finish. I found myself lying on my side, on the walkway, the blue sky above and morning noises all around me. As I lay there, I couldn't help thinking "Oh my God! How many people just saw that?" I wanted to disappear!

As I shook my head in disbelief (I have just FALLEN!) and tried to hoist myself back up, my students all of a sudden surrounded me, like a wall. It was like they were protecting me from the others - the other kids, the parents, the teachers! One of the boys stood in front of me, set his feet firmly apart, and extended his hands to me, saying, "OK miss, venga. Párese... yo la ayudo." (OK miss, come on now. Stand up... I'll help you.) He actually stood firmly enough that I was able to lift myself up with his help. 

The rest of the children were soooo quiet.The girls brushed me off, and the boys scattered to collect my things which had landed all over the place. My books and papers had flown out of my book bag, my yogurt had splattered all over the walkway. No one said a word!

We walked in like we always do, but the boy that had helped me up, kept his hand on my elbow as we took the steps to the 2nd floor and in to our classroom. The kids were all still so quiet. All morning, through math, then word work and writing, they were really quiet. Every now and then they'd ask again if I was OK. 

Later on, as we started reading, they were still somber. I had to snap them out of it!  I said "Hey guys! Remember when I fell this morning? Wasn't that hi-LA-rious? Ha ha ha ha haha ha haha!!!!!!!" I laughed at the visual I conjured up, of my shocked self laying on the sidewalk. And then, like dominoes, a chuckle spread though the room, turning into full-out belly laughs. 

I thought all day about how my kids reacted to the incident, how they remained respectful, and how they showed me their concern. They seemed worried all morning, until I got them to laugh about it!  I'll never forget how protected and loved I felt; my students stood by me and looked after me

It's gratifying to know that in the two months we've been together, my students and I have developed a relationship that allows us to care for each other and laugh together. And I salute their parents for the fine job they've done so far in raising kind children.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Take out your cellphones, please.

Last night, while in bed, I used mobile technology to get a quick answer.

Late Night with Jimmy Fallon was running a repeat of their July 7 show. A band called My Morning Jacket was the last guest. When they started to play Circuital, which I had never heard before, I was captivated by the intriguing way in which the song began. I often get hung up on certain pieces of melody, and I just had to know who these guys were.

Luckily, my Nook Color was at arm's reach. OK, the Nook is supposed to be a reader, and that is how I use it for the most part. However, I wanted to find the name of the song, and I wanted to hear it again, to affirm that I had indeed come across a sound that pleased me. I switched on the browser to my Nook, did a quick Google search, and there they were. A band and a song I had never heard before, and that I would certainly look in to further.

This morning, after reading the article Mobile Tech in Classrooms Boosts English Learners, it occurred to me, the same on-the-spot-let's-find-out could take place in my classroom. If my students were each handed mobile devices at the beginning of the school year - like Nooks, iPads, tablets or netbooks - their worlds would be made larger, and language learning would be enhanced.

Or, what if my students were permitted to use their cellphones in class? This past year, of my 19 fourth-graders, nine of them had their own cellphones. What if I devised activities where my students would be allowed to use their cellphones to access information, submit answers, collaborate and be even more engaged? Until mobile devices are provided to ALL learners, why not let us use what is already in our students' hands?

Monday, June 27, 2011

We Can Do Better

When I first welcomed him to our classroom back in September, "G" warned me, in all his toughness, "there's nothing you can do to make me like school". I was taken aback by his statement, but instantly took it as a challenge. We struggled the first several weeks as we got to know each other. He had to learn to trust me, while I had to figure out what set him off.

I learned quickly that G had two huge issues: divorced parents and what looked to me like dyslexia or dysgraphia. Which of the two? I'm afraid we never got to that. Although G had been referred to I & RS last year, all he got this school year was two marking periods of tutoring! I had him in my lowest reading group, gave him extra time at writing conferences, and tried different tactics for getting him through his literacy difficulties. (Classroom teachers are not necessarily equipped to address the needs of dyslexia and dysgraphia, unfortunately.) I also had to muster up some serious patience, especially at the beginning of the year, during his outbursts which involved shoving furniture, throwing school supplies, and trying to engage me in arguments. His little face would turn red, he would huff and puff, he would cry. He would tense up and pinch or squeeze his arm. ( I later recognized this as his attempt to control himself.)

I knew, of course, he acted out of frustration. He lived with his mother one week, his father the next. G clearly had a preference for his dad's place. I could easily tell on a Monday morning whose week it was, by the angry look on his face. His family situation, coupled with his learning difficulties, made for a very angry little boy.

As the year progressed, G did get better academically and socially. He did very well in math. He contributed very thoughtfully to classroom discussions. And although his independent reading ability was well below grade level, he developed a desire to read. I often found him engrossed in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, which took him way longer than his peers, but held his attention. He eventually overcame some of his distaste for school. His classmates often teased, "See?!! You DO like school!" He learned to curb his emotional outbursts and he practiced self-calming techniques.

I know we should have done more. As much as I advocated for G, my school was not able (or willing?) to address his needs more appropriately. Some forms were filled out, a few questionnaires completed, and ONE meeting held to discuss his case. By the end of the year, his case was left... open? hanging? in limbo?

G left for summer vacation a week earlier than his classmates, while I was still grading benchmark tests. He said "Bye Miss!" as he took off at the end of his last day, and that was that. My eyes later filled up at his response to a persuasive writing prompt, where he was to explain why our school is the best in town:

Also the techors here cold relle chang a person. Like me befor I cam to this school. I hated being in school. However, the techors changed me. I still don't like school but now I can't sae I hate going and being in school. Also the techers are alway fair about stfo.

This is the "stuff" that makes me want to do better.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

School's out for summer

On this last day of school I wanted to say so many things to my students. But there were cumulative folders to fill out, books to put away, papers to file, a final assembly to attend, summer paperwork to distribute, and letters to send home. Sorry kids - your teacher didn't have a chance to share some last thoughts.

Five minutes before the bell rang, I said "OK guys. Last time I'm going to say it. Let's line up for dismissal." And all of a sudden I felt a little lump in my throat. I looked away to hide a tear that welled up, and started down the hall, downstairs, to the gym, where I delivered my kids every day for the past year, so they could catch their buses to various parts around town.

I grabbed the first child's hand, I'm not sure why, and walked with her like that until we got to the gym. She looked at our hands and raised them, saying "This is something I'm going to remember."  And with that, I hugged my 4th grade buddies, whispering a few special words to each, and sent them on their way. 

¡Adelante mis niños! 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Trying to get back

Three months have passed since I've updated my blog. I've wanted to come back here, several times, but my mind was overloaded with extra work and responsibilities. I couldn't find my way back in the way of a coherent "What I've been up to" post. But now, things have calmed down a bit, and my husband encouraged me to at least write a paragraph to get started (or restarted).

The problem is, the paragraph I want to write will take me forever. I'll scrutinize my words too much. I won't just write. I'll dwell on how it sounds, if it flows, if it makes sense. I'll either reveal too much or too little. This paragraph will about the writing I want to do, the kind I wish would just flow, as it does for others. This paragraph will be telling. It'll be empty, but it'll say a lot. It'll hint at things and be quite clear. It'll be a pointless little paragraph, but it'll make a point at the same time.

I need to write more.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Una visión

Every now and then, I'm absent from school to participate in professional development, workshops, training, or conferences.  Recently, I've signed on to work with my state's DOE on a special curriculum writing project.  Specifically, we're writing exemplar ESL units that match up language objectives with content objectives. It's both interesting and intense.

What I appreciate most about this experience is the way in which it makes me take a closer, harder look at the way I teach my ELLs. I'm finding that I'm on target most of the time, especially in the way I structure my lessons - providing plenty of scaffolding at the beginning, having a "big idea" in mind throughout, and relinquishing control gradually as my students take on more responsibility for their own learning.  At the same time, I recognize a few blind spots in my instruction, and I realize why they occur. The demands and goals of the general curriculum can often obscure the specific language needs of my ELLs.

I've been teaching for almost 21 years now, and while my eyesight has begun to fade ever so slightly, my vision for Bilingual Education has become clearer. I hope that, in spite of the negativity around me, I'll not lose sight of what matters. Good teaching, respect for kids and the way they learn, and
ánimo will endure in my classroom.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Weather Conditions

Her face struck me, in a sad way, in an "awww" kind of way - 
downcast brown eyes forced me to see I had been thinking only of myself.
I was relieved at the thought of a snow day, even giddy -
many of us, overworked and unappreciated get to feeling that way
this time of year.
But not her, nor her little friends.
Several of them were downright disappointed at the possibility of NOT having school.
What kind of kid doesn't LOVE a snow day?
That would be the kind that sits in my room
looking at me expectantly for the next big thing...
prime numbers, possessives, paragraphs,
Niña, I think to myself, I need this day. 
Maestra, she says with her eyes, I need you more.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Books I Should Have Read...

... will be part of my 2nd Annual Personal Reading Challenge. As I did last year, I will read 52 books by the end of 2011.  As part of this goal, I've signed up for the Books I Should Have Read in School but Didn't ChallengeI've committed to the "Literature Professor" Level, and will read 12 selections to meet this challenge. I'll read 12 selections I missed in high school and college.

This past week, a good friend of mine mentioned she was starting El amor en los tiempos del cólera.  I own the translation - Love in the Time of Cholera -  and will therefore start my reading resolutions with Gabriel García Márquez.  I should have read more of his work while in college. Now I get to have "book talks" with a friend and work toward my goals!