My Life Untranslated

The Secret Adventures of an ESL Teacher in NYC

Brainstorming and Re-imagining

Few things are better than a fresh start. To come at something with new eyes, new lessons learned, and a chance to do things differently than before. It’s reinvigorating. And teachers get one every September; a chance to re-imagine everything from how you teach, to how to decorate the room. The opportunities can be endless, if you look at the things you hope to do differently with an open mind. Not many professions offer that.

Tomorrow I return to the school I left in June to set up my classroom and start anew. To psych myself up, I spend weeks visualizing the space and how I want to do it differently, make it more efficient, etc.

Ever year I have a different kind of class, not just different students, and this really demands that I be open to fresh starts (as well as some degree of chaos!). Some years it’s been filled with struggling long-term ELLs while other times it’s been filled with newcomers and students with significant gaps in their school history. This coming year, I am starting with nearly 30 students coming out of the bilingual classes, and it will be a bridge class that combines two grades.

Some of what I plan to do differently incorporates what I found to be good practices from previous years and, especially, my plans stem from learning from my mistakes or weaknesses, and books I am reading.

For one, rather than class rules, we will create class goals. I feel this allows for more positive discussions each day about whether we are meeting our goals and how to do so better, rather than checking who is following the rules.

Next, being an ESL class, there are two central items that determine it’s success: academic language acquisition and strong partner work. Students need time to talk but they need to know what language is useful to discuss in class. (I will soon post more on this for those who are looking for some guidance on how to do it). They also need to work well together so that sharing and re-teaching is beneficial and not random and haphazard with lots of reminders of how to be nice to each other. I feel projects that require partner work can make or break a class. So, I plan to do more daily partner work that incorporates academic language from day one. Set the standards really high and show the students what they are capable of from the get-go. My classes have always been very student-centered, with a lot of time for student talk, and choice, but it has not been as regimented as I’d like it to be so that it is, ideally, possible for prep teachers to be able to rely on that.

And finally, I’m going even more paperless than before. In addition to keeping my conference notes in google docs, I am going to use planbookedu for my schedule and plans (though I am such a furiously-write-ideas-in-the-margins kind of person, so typing will take getting used to for that). Anything to address the paper overload that comes with the profession.

So, while I am trying to delay the loss of summer, and the priceless time I have been allowed to spend with my new daughter, I am psyched. Ready to meet the new challenges. Re-imagining the mini-world I get to create with my students, and preparing myself mentally for what is always a bumpy, messy ride.

Obama Admin Steps in Right Direction but DREAMs Still On Hold

Undocumented students and others now can worry less about deportation. The Obama Administration has announced that they will “suspend deportations” of undocumented youths who pose no threat to national security.

This means that all the students I have taught who didn’t have papers, will be able to go to high school and college with less fear of being “outed”.

The article doesn’t state, however, how the Administration will handle the youths’ parents deportations. That would still leave the children vulnerable to having their families split up, which has happened to three of my students over. Two had fathers and one had an uncle deported. One had been picked up for a traffic violation.

This also does not yet grant the undocumented youths any means to obtain a green card or citizenship. So the many who want to be legal still have no real recourse to adjust their status, effectively placing them in limbo. The DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) is still unfulfilled.

Extraordinary Myth

“To teach each child in my classroom, I have to know each child in my classroom. We teachers need to bring not only our extraordinariness but our flawed and real and ordinary humanity to this job, which involves a complex and ever-changing web of relationships with children who often need more than we can give them.” —
The Myth of the Extraordinary Teacher

What a spot-on article. I just HAD to share.. Although some might see he beginning of her article as “complainy”, I can relate to the way she views her students in such complex, layered ways. Unless teachers are robots and their students are blank slates, crowded classrooms really are a detriment to learning and teaching children as real people who need to be understood to be taught well.

Two Blogs Better Than One?

Just a few short months ago, after my daughter was born, I had started a blog where I could bring together my new adventures as a mom raising a bilingual daughter, and my thoughts and experiences as an ESL teacher eager to help my colleagues who might not have easy access to seeing ESL methods and practices at work.

My daughter is my number one passion, love, and priority, and all my free time goes to her. So I had changed my mind about that blog, and didn’t really see myself blogging or tweeting much at all anymore because, well, my time is no longer mine alone. And between work, a husband in school, and an infant, who has time to write?

Then, a few things started to happen that compelled me to make some changes here to protect my identity and the students I teach (you’ll note some password protected posts now. Regular readers can contact me for it).

Anyway, instead of giving up blogging, I have decided to give new life to it instead by utilizing both blogs in their own way.

So, the new blog will be much more personal and practical, too. I will be offering whatever lessons and modifications I do for public consumption and, hopefully, public improvement :). This blog will remain my go-to spot for my rants, political opinions, and other commentary related to my job.

So, soon, there will be not just one but two of me ;). Any new parent knows how much I wish that were true!

Refuse and Resist, Alabama

Update: ELL Advocacy Group Files A Suit — August 8, 2011

The state whose backward educational policies made Ruby Bridges famous, Alabama has returned to their former infamous approach to schooling. Now, “public schools are required to report the status of each student to the state department of education. When doing this, schools will code each child a “0” or a “1”.

In the spirit of 7-year-old Ruby, who had more of a sense of justice than far too many adults (then and now), parents who are citizens and other people of conscience need to stand with the children now being targeted and resist these measures by refusing to hand over their own child’s birth certificate , and encourage others to do the same. Hopefully there are people already considering such actions.

If you look at these steps the government is taking and think it’s no big deal, you are naive. I’m sorry but this should be seen as just the beginning. My students are scared enough about being separated from their parents and deported. This law will only ratchet up that feeling of terror.

The people of Denmark during WWII did not know where the policy of “just” having Jews wear yellow stars was headed. But they refused anyway. I’m not drawing wild comparisons to Nazis here and I’m not trying to infer that the lawmakers in AL are fascists but, rather, to I’m inviting us to consider the sometimes seemingly insignificant ways certain minority groups get singled out and the potential that lies in the majority to take a stand and lead history in a different direction.

Alabama, it’s your turn to make a choice.

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