My Life Untranslated

The Secret Adventures of an ESL Teacher in NYC

Archive for the category “new teacher”

Good practices turned into torture devices

A teacher at my school recently commented that the good practices of some teachers shouldn’t be used by the administration as tools to manipulate other teachers, or hold it over their heads like “why aren’t you doing this?”

It is also difficult when you are the teacher held up as the example for others to follow. I have a friend who used to teach bilingual ed and now they have her teaching a multilingual first grade. Her supervisor is the same I had last year, and she is always using what I did as a standard to judge my friend, as is the principal.

Aside from the obvious reasons that make this uncomfortable, it’s also total dogmatism. To say that what I did last year ought to be applicable in other circumstances isn’t good practice because it is essentially treating teachers and students as monoliths with no individuality — no individual strengths, or weaknesses requiring a different approach or method.

I’m not saying teachers shouldn’t learn from each other’s successes but that they shouldn’t be used in a way that allows the principal to use such things as whips or chains, or as an excuse from trying to help a teacher who may be having genuine difficulties despite a wealth of talent.

Protected: In defense of a teacher…

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Reinventing the Teacher (Me!)

and reinventing… and reinventing… and…

Whether I feel I have had a successful or disappointing week with my students, every Friday I find myself brainstorming how to change up or revamp the way I do things. Partly this is due to the fact that I feel I’m always learning new things about them, or because they themselves are simply changing, getting better at something or having a hard time, and so I can’t just do things the same. Also, as much as I am attracted to the idea of routines, and know kids need routines, I am, like, biologically programmed against falling into them. I fear ruts and am never truly satisfied with how I do things.

I try to see this as a positive –if exhausting– part of who I am. It guards against any complacency or accepting what I’m doing simply because “it’s how I have been doing it”. Of course, some may say if everything were going well, why would I have to create so much chaos, right?

And it’s not that I haven’t tried to re-do good methods from previous years. I had some really wonderful things that I did last year that I just haven’t been able to recreate this year for some reason. Like, we had an awesome, interactive word wall that my students actually used and I did, too. This year I don’t have a good place to put it, so it’s more awkward to use and the kids don’t reference it in the same way. So this is one of those contradictions I also find myself pushing against and trying to transform because I want them using more Tier 2/academic/juicy vocabulary.

Soooo, what education carts have I been upsetting lately? For one, I created a classroom economy with some of my students with fine officers, bankers, checks, and a “store” as a community builder/behavior incentive. This week I began quizzing them on weekly words using fingerspelling (remember, we are learning my bastardized interpretation of ASL) – where I spell and they write it out on their dry erase boards I want to think of more ideas like that this weekend.

Also, I am going to be thinking up better ways to get them to use ASL (and with it, English) in more authentic ways, as a way to use tiny gaps in time they may have, and keep them on their toes. Teaching with your hands really keeps them focused and quiet; it’s great fun. I also want to find a better visual to represent the schedules I have for readers so they can move between centers and such more independently.

I’m sure there will be more things I will change by Monday, but this is what happens every weekend. Hopefully someday I will find routines that I like so I can just cycle through pre-established game plans, rather than having to come up with totally new things every 7 days!

UFT sues DOE… and I get my 29th student

Will An Appropriate Class Size Ever Be Enforced for Self-Contained ESL Classes?

(I had a new student arrive in my class in November and then leave for another school in December. Then I got another new one, bringing my numbers back to 28, and now #29).

My supervisor called me today and asked how many kids I have and I responded 28. “That many? Well, we have a problem. There is a new student from Nepal and we have to take her and she doesn’t speak any English. Think if there is a student who you could..” I knew she was going to then offer to move one of my more advanced students to another class so I interrupted her, saying, “Just send her over. I’ll teach 29.” Why get rid of a student I rely on to help the others?

So I now have the most of the 4 fourth grades in our building and, I’d guess, of the whole grade but who knows?

Clearly our school needs more teachers trained to teach ELLs. Not only that, but the DOE considers self-contained ESL classes as a general ed class, so no caps exist despite the obvious higher needs of the students. What will happen when I reach 32 students and they get more new immigrants? What fifth grade will they go to?

And the funny-enough-to-cry news is the teachers union has just sued the DOE over funds that were supposed to be used to keep class size down! I’m glad they are suing, but I’m not sure it will accomplish much. I am a cynic when it comes to politics… and so really enjoyed this post on the same topic (it includes a handy chart that shows how, despite enrollment decreasing, class sizes have increased).

And to be honest, I almost felt happy we were getting a new student. My initial thought was that it’d be fun. Can you imagine that?? :) My students cheered too, especially the girls since now they outnumber the boys – 15 girls and 14 boys. I almost can’t fathom being in charge of so many kids at once! It’s crazy when I think about it.

When I told my supervisor I’d take the kid, she told me to polish my halo. Forget the gratitude/pity; how about just pay me more?

I wish I knew…


I have a student, a quiet girl who, when we’d do running records or guided reading, would ask me to rephrase whatever I was saying in Spanish. Although she’s a beginner, like most of the rest of my class, I think more her issue has been confidence in her own comprehension. Well, today I did a running record with her (level J – she came in at level D), and she used the word imagination to explain why a character did something. She didn’t use the words “pretend” or “make believe”, which were in the story –possibly because she doesn’t know they are synonyms — but she used imagination and used it correctly. The Spanish word for imagination is a cognate, but I would guess she hasn’t made that connection. I was excited for her — and she moved to that level! I’d like to see someone try to quantify what happens in my class that allows these kids to grow as much as many of them do!

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