Saturday, January 26, 2013

Half Teacher, Half Super Hero

Most of us are required to wear an ID badge at school. I wear mine on a lanyard, to which I've attached a large white button with black lettering, stating: “HALF TEACHER, HALF SUPERHERO”.  I’ve felt that way for a long time, but this past year I believe it even more. I wear these words as a mantra, a shield, and a shout out to all my fellow educators. Who else but a teacher can know what it’s really like?

We pay our respects to the children and educators lost in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14. While the grim news affected our entire country, it touched teachers in a most profound way. Who would ever imagine that the joyful place called school would one day invoke the saddest of tears? And, are we even surprised that teachers would step forward to protect those in their charge?

I’m even more determined to make it known, that ours is the most humbling of professions. The huge expectation placed on our students as indicated in the new standards, and the incessant testing that robs us of teaching time, wears at us. Teachers are more burdened than ever with district mandates, tight schedules, and the urgent need to reach every student. A typical school day with its ups and downs– bad behavior, laughter, the discovery of a weeks-old muffin in a desk (and an accidental science lesson!), multiplication facts that make you shake your head, great discussions, no homework and MIA parents, and the collective “Nooooo!!!!” when the bell rings and it’s time to go home – is tiring, overwhelming, heart-breaking, and inspiring.

I often tell myself “I’m done!” with this exhausting work, it’s just too much sometimes. And yet, I fall in love with it again day after day. Right before we broke for the holidays, my newest student - who has only been here a few months – laughed at a joke I told in class. His eyes lit up and he guffawed! Another student, who refused to speak since September, began to bloom during guided reading, as she shared the story of her arrival to the U.S. – a connection she made after reading When Jessie Came Across the Sea. Moments like these mean a lot to a teacher, especially a teacher of ELLs.

It’s been too easy to criticize teachers lately. But when it gets really tough, and when it counts the most, we stand firm. And so, in the New Year, I recommit to being the best teacher I can be. I’ll teach my kids with energy and enthusiasm. I’ll prepare engaging lessons. I’ll keep myself informed. I’ll have high expectations of my students, but I’ll also be sensitive to their needs. I’ll watch over them.

I’m half teacher, half superhero.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Babbles and Confidence

It's the start of spring and that awesome time of year when my students begin to "blossom". I feel relieved this month; my students are finally showing progress. At the same time, I'm finding that I've left some holes in my teaching OR that my students have not fully grasped a skill OR that they "forgot" OR... all of the above.

My students, English Language Learners, have varying levels of English proficiency. The typical reading or math lesson takes us double (and triple) time; I need to pre-teach vocabulary, develop prior knowledge, and spend lots of time clarifying text. I can't get through any kind of lesson without stopping often to make sure my kids are "getting it". We're often weeks behind the other classes.

So this week, during a mini-lesson on alliteration, and after we looked at (and played with) several examples from authentic text and lots of tongue-twisters and trabalenguas in Spanish, I stopped to review the difference between sounds and letters. I wrote "Cassy catches coffee quickly in a cardboard cup" on the board, and asked the class -

"What do you notice about this sentence?" No reaction. (OK, I'll ask it in a different way.)

"CCCassy cccatches cccoffee qqqquickly in a cccardboard cccup. Do you hear anything interesting?"

Blank stares. (That's OK, I'll do "wait time".) Five seconds, ten... fif-

"I know!" one of my buddies calls out. "They all have the same letters!"

"And those letters are...?" I prompt.

Crickets chirp. Five seconds, ten...

Someone's raising her hand - YES! "Tell me charming lady! What do you see? What do you hear?"

"The alphabet!" with a huge smile on her face.

"The alphabet. Yes, the alphabet." (Well, no, that's not what I was asking, but I'll go with it, see if it gets us where we need to go.) "The alphabet has two kinds of letters, and those letters have different kinds of sounds. Can anyone tell me what kinds of letters are in the alphabet?"

Sssshhhhhh. (Geez kids, now you're quiet?)

A hand shoots up. "Yes sir! What kinds of letters are in the alphabet?"

"Upper ones and lower ones!"

"Well... " (I don't want to discourage him, but - )

"Small ones and big ones!" he tries again.

Oh no. Really? (My face is probably changing now. I. MUST. REMAIN. CALM.)

One of my "top" reading group kids raises his hand. Aww. I bet he was waiting to give his classmates a chance. "Babbles," he says.

"Babbles?" I ask. "Babbles?" I repeat. I don't get it.

Another hand waves. I call on him, silently hoping the fire drill will go off.

"And confidence. Babbles and confidence."

Yep. Babbles and confidence.