Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Be the Example

During my last C.A.R.E. meeting I asked my students to generate a list of problems that they have faced this year. As they are frequently shy about discussing their issues aloud, I gave each of them a notecard and told them that they would remain anonymous as I read each situation aloud and asked students to brainstorm possible solutions. This is part of my goal that I've set up for my class to take the initiative when faced with adversity instead of always telling a teacher right away or choosing a poor action that only makes the situation worse.

One of my students wrote about how other students are loud and running in the lunchroom. To be honest, I'm wasn't sure my students could brainstorm any solution for tackling a third of the school with one blow. As usual, they surprised me. One of my students talked about doing what YOU KNOW IS RIGHT regardless of what everyone else is doing. I told them that this means setting an example for others to follow (especially when they notice the positive reinforcement you will surely receive for your actions).

Now I realize that asking students to be individuals in a crowd is a giant task. Even as adults we seldom find the strength to stand alone, even when we know the majority is wrong (or have a strong inkling about it). So then we talked about surrounding yourselves with other positive examples, so that you could present a united front.

Our theory was tested just a few hours later when we were walking to lunch. The class in front of us was having a terrible time following the rules and being respectful. They kept having to "pull over" in the hallway to receive admonition and redirection. My class was patient, stopping each time and waiting for them to get their acts together. Finally, when they were directed to go around the other class, I (and more importantly THEY) could hear the other teacher explaining to her students that they looked nothing like my class and that my class was the one they should model themselves after. I noticed a few of my students straighten up and stand a little taller so I whispered to them in Spanish, "This is EXACTLY what it looks like to be the example, and you did it together!"

In truth, there is not always going to be someone there to call you out and give you a pat on the back for showing up and being who you need to be, but I can guarantee you that there will always be someone around who is noticing.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Being a split level teacher is not without its complications. One of these involves my inability to be in multiple places at the same time. As such, when my 4th graders go on a field trip, I am left to entrust them to another bilingual teacher while I'm teaching my remaining 5th graders. It's hard enough to create unity among the ranks without splitting the class up and drawing attention to an "us vs. them" situation.

In order to aid myself in reminding the students of their bond (regardless of time and space) I devised a plan early on that was attached to my students' system of rewards. First, I should probably state that my students do not get scheduled weekly rewards or free time (like in many of my colleagues' classes) because I don't want them to feel like they deserve something without putting in the work to get it. Instead, I have a behavior management system where one student that I choose (and they don't know about) represents the whole class. Because of this, the students are constantly accountable for their own actions as well as the actions for their peers. After working together for as long as it takes, they earn a classroom celebration (or lose points and don't get to celebrate as the case may be.)

Now, when my students have to be split up, they understand that the 4th graders who leave will be responsible for representing the 5th graders (monitored by the other bilingual teacher) and that the 5th graders are responsible for representing their 4th grade counterparts. This has (as is one of my primary goals)created quite a sense of community.

The problem is when it comes to knowing how well you've prepared your students to handle life when you're not there to guide them. It is such a gamble to send them out in the world trusting that their sense of allegiance to the greater good is worth their continual positive behavior. Today, when my students returned from their trip, they were grinning from ear to ear. This, of course, just made me nervous. When I went to talk to the teacher who took them on their trip, he told me that everything went perfectly fine and that my students did a great job. It's wonderful to know that, as a group, we must be doing something right!

Monday, January 25, 2010 Students

I worked in a resource position for two years before changing districts and job descriptions. I am now a split level teacher for my own full classroom of bilingual gems. The difference between resource and and classroom teacher is stark. I knew for a fact that in my old district I was not as effective as I could have been. It has been proven to me tenfold as I watch my students grow and develop and I am there 100% of the time to track this progress and ensure continuity.

This year my school adopted the C.A.R.E. program which is an anti-bullying program. To be perfectly honest, I feel like "bullying" is an antiquated word and, while the concepts apply, the actual program is frankly...lame. The amazingly awesome thing is that it opens up the opportunity for a guaranteed half hour of "family" discussion time every week. This time has made a vast difference when building a classroom community and the ways that my students interact with each other is at times awe inspiring.

For example, when I was having trouble with my girls being cliquey and self interested, we had a classroom meeting that focused on inclusion. The next day my girl students came to me thrilled with themselves because they had decided to do a "secret Santa" that included every single girl in my class and had already drawn names during the lunch hour.

At the New Year I taught the students the meaning of the term "New Years Resolution." I then asked them each to make their own for the second half of the school year. They shared these resolutions with the rest of the class and are accountable to their classmates for keeping these resolutions.

The other wonderful byproduct of the C.A.R.E. program is that it has given the students a school-wide vocabulary and common understanding to draw from. I can't explain how important it is for students to feel like they are a part of something that is bigger than themselves and this program has given them a vehicle for that very sentiment.

Whether it be this anti-bullying program or another school-wide initiative to affect positive change...I am grateful for it's existence and would promote a similar situation in any school that is lacking a united direction.

My Story

All educators have been taught the value of background information. It is the job of a bilingual educator, especially, to recognize that the background information that their students have received during their lifetime may be drastically different than the background knowledge necessary to understand the curriculum of the United States. It is with this mind frame that I feel compelled to providers readers with my humble beginnings and background as a teacher. Through that, people may begin to see this blog as I see it, as a tool to continue to grow as a person and educator, and hopefully to help others grow through describing my experiences (both successes and failures) to date.

It can truly be said that educators do not set about on their paths for money and glory. I was called to teach after a series of events shaped my life. From the very beginning I was a natural teacher (though some of my nearest and dearest may just call me bossy). As a child I would set up a small standing chalkboard, gather books and coloring materials, and line up two seats (sometimes three if my older brother was REALLY bored) and force my younger siblings to endure hours of "school" well before their time. Through this they learned the pattern of expectations involved in a schooling situation and may well have been better prepared to enter into a classroom years later. One day (later in life) my mom found a cassette tape with two voices on it, one being that of my younger brother trying to read a story aloud, the second being mine, guiding and encouraging him along. To know that some of his later successes may be aided by my persistence is a rather heady accomplishment.

In high school I was asked by a friend to go on a mission trip to build houses in Mexico with him and his youth group. I went on the trip knowing no one but my friend and having no carpentry skills to speak of. More importantly, I went to a country where I didn't even speak the language (having studied 4 years of French at that point.) What I found was a language and culture so rich and beautiful that I immediately fell in love with it. In my first year of college I enrolled in a basic Spanish class and never looked back. Since then I have studied and traveled to Mexico on as many occasions as my wallet has allowed and am hoping to branch out to all Spanish-speaking countries that my students represent.

Also around high school time, my mother graduated with her masters and became a bilingual teacher. As often as I could, I would go with her to help in her classroom. Sadly, what I realized is that, with our growing and changing climate in the US, bilingual education was not only completely necessary, but it had been neglected as a priority for too long. While bilingualism is considered an asset in almost every job in the world, there is a tendency for school systems to ask newcomers to neglect this essential attribute, and I began to realize on which side of the "English Only" debate I stood. After one year in college I switched majors AND schools in order to attend a teaching college with a major in Elementary Bilingual Education.

Throughout my schooling, I was offered internship experiences in varying grade levels and schools of varying socioeconomic status. I have worked in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grades at one point or another over the past 5 years. I have seen many aspects of teaching and have learned SO much from the educators that I have met on my travels. It is with this background and because of the support that I have received that I feel it is time to share my story with others who are pursuing or wish to pursue a similar fate.