Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Sad Goodbye

This afternoon I found out that I am loosing six of my students. I am so bummed!

Last week at out Pupil Personnel meeting my Principal and AP brought up getting four of our fifth grade students into a bilingual class at a nearby school. Two of the students are boys who have been in the school for three years now and speak English pretty well but are very low in both math and reading. While this is expected with students still learning English I talked with their teacher and it seems as if they should be evaluated for special education. One boy can't remember basic sight words such as 'the' or letter sounds. (Just to compare, my two fifth grade newcomers are already reading long preprimer books that have repeated words and structures and they have only been in the country two months). The other two students are my fifth grade newcomers. Although they have been doing well with me learning a lot of language they are in the fifth grade and not gaining any content.

So I looked into a school to send them to and our school made some phone calls to parents and as of tomorrow they no longer go to my school.

First, I am really sad to see my newcomers go. (The family decided to move the two younger brothers of the fifth grade girls so I no longer have a 'newcomer group'). That was my favorite group and I looked forward to seeing them every day. (Several times a day in fact). It is so exciting to teach them new language structures and vocabulary and then see the light bulb go off when they get it. It's even more exciting when the next day they are using the language. I just realized today how much conversation we have now compared to the first days of school. Everyday I know exactly what I have taught them and whether they got it or not. And, they are just great kids. I really loved them.

Second, I'm not sure that the boys need a bilingual class. It is pretty apparent that at least one if not both need special education (or at least an evaluation). If they get special education and bilingual classes at their new school that would be best. I just hope that they aren't at the bottom of the "to-do list" at their new school or that it takes ages for the new school to realize what they need. Already it has taken three years for them to get any consideration. Their teacher told me yesterday that he was so grateful to be having the conversation with me and the school psychologist about them because he has been trying for three years to get them extra help but because they speak Spanish they have been pushed aside because they were perceived to be in need of language acquisition rather than an IEP.

So while I am really sad to see my kids go I hope that it works out for the best. I actually went to the school that they are going to for a PD a few weeks ago and it is a good school. I observed the bilingual class that they are going to be in and the teacher is good (at least the math lesson I saw him do). Hopefully they will be happy there.

Monday, October 16, 2006

My Kids Love Centers

I haven't been able to post lately because I still don't have internet (or cable) in my new apartment. I wanted to post this last week . . .

So I recently started centers with my second graders and one of the centers is the Writing Center. Students can choose what they want to do at the center as long as they are writing. One of the things they can do it write a letter to someone. We were brainstorming who they could write to and one of the girls suggested their old ESL teacher. All of the kids chimed in that they were going to write to her too. Here are some of the letters they wrote.

I miss you so much. Even when you write to me I feel real sad because I want to see you. Ms. G I want to see you in school again because your the only ESl teacher that's funny and The only esL teacher who likes to play with her students.

We want you to come back. I wish I was with you.

I have been learning alot but it's not so much fun to learn aney more please come back

You would think that my feelings would be hurt that "learning isn't fun aney more" or that Ms. G is the only "funny" (fun??)teacher. I have heard from other teachers that Ms. G was really good. I can tell by the things that she left in her room for me and the organization that she must have been. The kids really loved her and I think that is great. Last week I thought to myself that I know the kids do like my class they just haven't gotten to know me for long enough to really love me. The next day one of the students wrote a letter to me telling me that there are so many fun things to do in my class. (They really love centers.) The real proof that they enjoy ESL though was today when I picked up the students all of them were in different "special classes" (gym, library, computers) and all of the kids came running when they saw me at the door. They didn't care at all that they were missing their "fun" classes.

Monday, October 02, 2006

New Apartment!!

I spent all weekend moving. My new roommate and I didn't have much to fill our new place so we went to Target and filled up two carts. The next day we went to Bed, Bath and Beyond and filled up another two carts. We got so much stuff. It a lot easier when two people are splitting the cost of everything.

I abolutely love our new place. After living in a big building last year with many issues, it's nice to live in an apartment that doesn't have a ton of people living in it. The owners (a family) live on the bottom two floors) and we have the top floor. It feels more like a house than an apartment. And the best part, we have a washer and dryer in our kitchen! I am seriously in heaven. I've done about five or six small loads over the course of the weekend. (No big deal. No big project or hassle. Just throw in a load. Put it in the dryer when you're good and ready.) Oh, and we have a dishwasher too. (If only we had a garbage disposal I wouldn't know what else to ask for.)

I'll post pictures just as soon as we get everything looking pretty.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Our First Day of Literacy Centers

Things are finally coming together. This week I've been picking up most of my kids and by next week my program should be in full swing.

And I am sooo ready. This week I did running records on all of my kids to get their reading level. Then I made up guided reading groups and schedules. I'm now putting the final touches on my centers so that I can start guided reading as soon as possible. Resources that I've read say to wait about six weeks before starting guided reading so that students know the procedures for centers, how to rotate, what to do, who to go to for help, etc. While I am doing guided reading the students have to be able to do centers and rotate with minimal direction. I know this is a huge task but I don't have six weeks to wait to start helping my students grow their reading levels (I have 5th graders on a kindergarten level!!). So, I'm going to teach centers procedures and routines as quickly as possible. (Two weeks maybe?) I'm thinking that with only 10-12 kids (not a full class of 30) it should be manageable.

I got started with the process today. I'm so excited to have "opened" my first center. I did it with the second grade group. First we did our morning message which talked about how exciting it was to open our first center--the Drama Center. Then I read aloud The Little Red Hen (for the second time). I involved the students in the story by giving them character puppets (color photo copies from the book) to hold up when I read their characters part. Students chimed in when I read "'Not I,' said the dog." Then next step was to have two students come up to the front and demonstrate what to do when they went to the Drama Center. First they had to decide who would be the Hen and who would be the other three characters. Then, they retold the story using the cut outs. Next, I moved the cut-outs to the Drama Center and let students try it out two at a time. While they were doing that they rest of us stayed in the Library (or the "Reading Center") reading books. (Later, when I officially open the Reading Center, I'll show them all of the stuff they can do there such as using the whisper phones, how to share pillows and chairs, using our "Book Talk" wall, etc.) I also had two students at the writing center drawing a picture about the story and writing something about it. (Again, I didn't show them everything they could do at the center just yet. For now the focus is on learning the Drama Center).

So now all of the students know how to use our first center (we'll have to review procedures of course). I'll open centers one by one until they know the main centers that we'll be using. Finally, we'll practice rotating, working in the centers, and using the management board for a few days before I pull guided reading groups. I'm so excited that I started the first step in this process today. And it went really well. The kids were excited about starting centers and they were well behaved.

(As a side story, I have one kid, Jose, who had been asking me when we would start centers every day this week. After we went through this whole process he asked "Now are we going to do centers?" "We were just doing centers," I told him. "No, I mean centers with the pillows. And we get cookies." Right, I did tell him that when we started Centers we would get to use the pillows--not during Message Time and not today because we were leaning the Drama Center. As for the cookies, it sounds as if the old ESL teacher used to give them cookies on their way out the door. And here I thought he was so thrilled to do centers.)

A few things about the Drama Center . . . Another name for it would be the "Story Retelling Center." That's really what the kids are getting ot of it. They are practicing sequencing the story, remembering the parts, the characters, the beginning/middle/end of the story etc. For my ELLs I think it is great because it gives them the chance to practice oral language skills too. And, another thing I'm so excited about is that my student in the group who is a real newcomer (speaks no English) was able to successfully participate in the center. I paired him with a more advanced student who did the part of the Little Red Hen while he did the other three characters. All he had to do was hold each one up and say "Not I, said the cat," "Not I, said the dog, "Not I, said the mouse." He'd heard those lines so many times during the read aloud (and participated as well) that he was able to be successful in the center.

The next center to open is the "Writing Center." Bernie the Bear (a stuffed animal who lives at the Writing Center) has written the class a letter and invited them to write back. That and other fun activities are in store for them next time.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Check Her Out!

After a crazy fight that ended up with blood yesterday, Ms. G bounced back with a "mad calm" classroom today.

If you haven't already checked out my new favorite teacher blogger, go on over. She also happens to be roommates with one of my best friends in the city. I had been reading her blog for a few months when she posted a picture of the outside of her new apartment and I recognized it as the building my friend lives in. The unmistakable picture of a half boarded up building along with her description of her new roommate was too perfect.

Very random. And a great coincidence.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

When in Rome . . .

Today I picked up my fifth graders for the first time. They are a pretty good group of kids for the most part. Today we just did some get to know you activities. First we played a name game and then we made name tags with pictures of their favorite foods, activites, sports, and school subject. Finally we practiced doing "Round Robin" conversations. It was a little tricky because some groups had to use English and Spanish for the newcomers. Toward the end a couple of kids started getting a little rowdy. The newcomer girls joined in. (They're pretty chatty and silly at times). I finally had a conversation with the boys responsible for instigating (well to the whole class actually) about how they need to be good models for the girls who are new to the school and the country because they are looking to them to see how they should behave and what they should do. I gave them an example from when I lived in Italy. I said that even though I spoke some Italian when I first got there I still had to observe what the Italians were doing to know how to act and what to do in the country which was new to me. For example here it is normal to walk down the street eating a slice of pizza or a sandwich but in Italy it isn't. I noticed that the first time I did it and people looked at me like I was crazy. Then I started paying attention to what others were doing and I realized that Italians don't do that. So in the same way, they need to be models for these girls so they can know what to do and what not to do. Especially since they don't understand English yet. They can't understand me telling everyone to sit down and get started but they can observe their classmates and follow their lead. The class nodded in agreement with what I was saying but just afterwards I had to speak to one of the boys again. That's OK. I plan to keep on this theme of them being models for the other students.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Complete Roster?

Friday I got a memo from the D!vision of Assessment and Accountab!l!ty saying that they would be updating the NYSESL@T test results rosters and to check ATS (the school computer system) on Monday. Today I pulled up the report and saw I gained 7 students. I'm not sure what the problem was but hopefully everything is complete now. We didn't even get the first roster until a week and a half into school. Funny how a department with the word accountability in the title doesn't seem to be very accountable. Are last year's reading and math scores even in yet? And readers of Ms. Frizzle will remember she had to wait more than a year for her science scores.

Anyway . . .

So now I have a total of 39 students. I pick them up in groups of about 8-12. Then I also have the newcomers in a group of 4. Tomorrow I should start seeing some of my groups. I was ready to pick up my fifth graders today and then I had to cover a second grade class. I'm just ready to get started already.

Friday, September 15, 2006

To Speak The Students' Native Language (Or Not)

Last summer during training for TFA many of the Corps Members assigned to teach ESL were concerned that they didn't speak Spanish (or the numerous other languages our students may speak for that matter). They were always asking how crucial it was that they speak the native language of their students. Some of the speakers (second year CMs) would say that it definitely helps but for ESL it is not required. I always spoke up and was adamant about not needing to speak Spanish to teach Spanish speaking students. EVEN newcomers who don't speak a word of English. I had trained the previous summer in a TEFL course that stressed teaching only in the target language (English) and then worked for a year teaching English at a school in Italy where there were big signs on the wall that said NO ITALIAN! Many language schools that I know of prefer if the teachers don't speak the native language of the students. Many of the CMs still remained skeptical.

So far I have worked with my newcomer group three times this week and I am still committed to the idea of not speaking the students' first language. I think that the whole atmosphere of the classroom changes because I have to try to explain things in simple English. For example when the students first come in my room I tell the to take off their backpacks and put them on the floor. I have to say this fairly slowly and demonstrate also. Then we sit on the rug and I tell them how they should sit demonstrating and again using simple language. We quickly begin the lesson and soon a student has to use the bathroom. He says a sentence completely in Spanish but uses the English word 'bathroom' in the sentence. I take this as an opportunity to teach him how to say the phrase "Can I go to the bathroom?" After the lesson is over I tell the students how they are going to walk in line. I say the are going to line up from shortest to tallest. I show this by demonstrating their different heights. Then I use the comparative to talk about who is taller or shorter in the line.

If I spoke Spanish, the environment would have probably been much different. We probably would have come in speaking Spanish. I would give all of my "important directions" that I want to make sure the students understand in Spanish so there is no confusion. Then the lesson would start and we'd switch to English. At best there would be no Spanish during this time. At the end of the lesson we'd probably go back to Spanish to close the lesson and line students up, etc. This is just one scenario but what I'm saying is that when you have no other way to communicate than to speak in the target language you make it work. Some of the ESL teachers I know speak Spanish but don't let their students know that the students can't rely on speaking their native language.

Now, all of the classes that these students are in have a teacher that also speaks Spanish (some as a native language, some as a second). I think that this is really beneficial to the students. When they are in an environment where they are being spoken at all day long in English (that is not tailored to ELLs) it is nice to have the teacher be able to give additional instructions or explanations. The students can also make their needs known this way. As an English teacher though, I think all English is the way to go.

I will say though that it is nice to speak the native language of you students when it comes to communicating with parents. It's so much easier if you don't have to use a translator.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

English Lesson #1

Today I met with my newcomers (i.e. students who just moved to the U.S. and don't speak any English) for the first time. The four students are all brothers/sisters/cousins. The two girls are in the fifth grade and the boys are in first and second.

I picked them up for the 37.5 minutes. We sat in a circle on the rug in my library and I introduced myself saying "Hi. My name is Ms. M." Then I gestured and encouraged one of the girls to introduce herself. We had to say "Hi. My name is" a few times together before she got it. Then the other sister tried. By this time the younger ones had caught on to what we were doing and introduced themselves. (I had previously tried to do this with just the first grader alone and he just looked at me with a scared, confused look on his face.) Next, we practiced going around the circle introducing ourselves and then shaking hands saying "Nice to meet you." It took a couple of times to get that we only shake hands when saying "Nice to meet you" and not "My name is."

Next I showed them a book and said "book." They each repeated the word quite easily. Then, I shrugged my shoulders and turned both of my palms up and asked with a confused look on my face, "What is this?" I answered myself "This is a book." After modeling a few times, I finally was able to ask the students "What is this" and have them respond "This is a book." Then they took turns asking and answering about a pencil and a paper.

And that was the end of our time.

This method of teaching English is what I learned teaching in Italy at a private language school called Inlingua. It works really well for learning English from zero because students start speaking right away. Slowly the vocabulary builds up until they can make sentences on their own.

I was really pleased with how today went. I wasn't exactly sure how it would work out having not only family members together but such a difference in grade level. It actually was a good combination because the older ones catch on more quickly to what we are doing and the little ones can follow their lead. When they are really confused the older ones can give an explanation in Spanish ("No. Don't repeat what she said. Answer the question. 'This is a book.'"). Also, all four of them were so happy to see each other at the end of the day. After spending six and a half hours in a room with strangers and being spoken to in mostly English all day I can imagine that it must have been a relief to see familiar (Spanish speaking) faces. They did get quite a case of the giggles during the last five minutes so I'll have to watch out for that.

I'll be seeing these four together for thirty minutes each morning and then after school for 37.5 minutes. I'll also see them with their grade level groups throughout the day.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Italian Observations

My friend Matteo is visiting from Italy. Friday night he arrived and we went out to eat. As we were looking over the menu our waiter came by and set down two glasses of water.

"What's this??" Matteo asks as if this is the most shocking thing ever.


"With ice???"

I just started laughing and said, "Welcome to America!"

If you've been to Italy before this is probably more amusing as you've probably gotten a dirty look from a waiter after having asked for ice with your water.

* * *

Another comment from Matteo was, "There's so much space here."

"Here? In New York? If you think this is a lot of space you should see Arizona."

* * *

Stay tuned. I'm sure there will be more funny observations from my Italian friend. He's staying with me for a MONTH!

The View From My Apartment

Friday, September 08, 2006

Real ELLs

Thee last two days I started the process of identifying an testing the new students at my school to see if they are eligible for ESL. Luckily the school secretary is very nice and helpful since I rely on her for a lot of reports and paper work. I am surprised to find that there really weren't very many new students and most of them won't be getting ESL. I guess that most of my population will come from students that have been at the school for a while. I do know of at least three students that enrolled that speak no English at all. One in first grade and two in fifth. I really should know what to do with these students since I *am* the ESL teacher but last year all of my students spoke English. I'm thinking to myself so this is what teaching ESL is all about. I'm excited to start working with these students. I'm now trying to recall all of the lessons that I taught to my English 1 students who didn't speak any English when I taught in Italy. We had to speak only in English for instruction and they learned. By the end of the semester they were getting along in English. Of course they only had to worry about speaking conversational English twice a week. These kids have to learn how to speak English and learn in the content areas AND prepapre for the ELA in just one year (that is craziness).

Today I was coming out of my room and a student asked me if I was the new ESL teacher. I said yes and he said "I'm going to be with you." I asked what grade he was in and he said fifth. I asked if he had met the two new girls who don't speak any English. He said they were in his class. I asked if he was helping them and he smiled really big and said yes. Later when the students were being dismissed I saw him again in line with his class. He came up to me and said "these are the girls" as he pointed one finger on each of them. I said hi to them and then whispered in his ear that it was rude to point. He seems like a sweet kid and very eager to help his new classmates. The girls seem in good spirits. I want to talk to their teacher and see how they are doing in class so far. And then I want to hurry up and get this administrative stuff out of the way so I can start seeing my kids!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

New School, New Situation

So far my new school is a dream compared to my old one. Things are so much more organized. For example last Thursday the administration handed out the prep schedule, a rotation for AIS, they introduced a new system for managing the 37.5 minutes, and they have a plan for helping classroom teachers get the e-class done. Seriously? Is this place for real? Then the best part. We were told the supply room would be open that day and to go down and get whatever we needed. This place was unreal. It was fully stocked with composition books, folders, paper, markers, chart paper (even the post-it kind), sentence strips, calendars, butcher paper, staplers, electric pencil sharpeners, dry erase markers . . . and on and on. I couldn't believe it. I didn't have to buy anything! (Well, apart from some indulgence stuff from Barclay's). Also in the supply room were some enormous boxes. I inquired as to what was in them. The supply lady said, "Book shelves. Do you need any?" I said, "Sure." She asked how many I wanted. "Can I have two?" "Sure." In less than five minutes a janitor delivered them to my room. Wow.

Now, I'm sure that there are plenty of problems that will make themselves apparent at a later time but so far, so good. I have heard a few teachers grumble here and there but I just keep thinking that it is nothing compared to my old school.

As for the first two days (I feel like it has been so much longer) they have pretty much been the usual ESL routine. I've been going through cumulative folders, pulling up reports and fixing up my room in between. Tomorrow I will start testing. Friday I have a meeting. Meetings are generally pretty boring but there is good news. The meeting is at a school just one block from my house! Yeah!

Now I have to pour over the new "Student Achievement Toolkit" from TFA because there are "Big Goals" to be written and "Significant Academic Gains" to be achieved.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

We have to go to school tomorrow??

So I did go into my classroom everyday this week. (Sorry to those of you who suggested that I not, but I am still a very new teacher going to a new school and I needed the chance to sort through a retired teacher's things, organize furniture, and just get a sense of the place. I'm sure that when I've been teaching for ten years I won't need to do that anymore. And just in case you were wondering, no I certainly did not do it to kiss up to the administration.) Having said that, I didn't spend nearly as much time in my room as I had hoped to. Monday was the biggest day I arrived around 11:00 and stayed until 5:30. It took me ages to set up the furniture just how I wanted it with centers and the library as the focus of the room, etc. Tuesday I showed up in the afternoon and only stayed about an hour and a half because I had to run to my event at the Heritage House. Today I decided to take care of some last minute things before going into school. I also wanted to take my last opportunity to sleep in on a weekday so I didn't get the early start I had hoped for. I had to go to my old school and load up my stuff and bring it to the new one. I saw my TFA friends there. I thought I would be really sad to leave them but seeing my old room I was just sooooo happy that I don't have to spend another year in there. Seriously. So. Happy. By the time I got to my new school it was 4pm and the principal had already left so the janitor would only let me put my stuff in the auditorium. I really wanted to get a few hours of work in but I guess it will have to wait for tomorrow.

I am very much in denial that school is starting tomorrow. I mean seriously, I have to set my alarm tonight? I have to get up at 6am? I know that I am going to school tomorrow but it doesn't feel like school is starting.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Free Stuff!

I was walking home from the subway tonight and saw a sign that said "Free Books and Games." I grabbed an armful of stuff to take home with me. Look at everything I got. Nice books all in good condition and two colorful shapes games. I can definitely use this stuff in my classroom. I think I am going to go back tomorrow and leave a little note on the door thanking whomever left this stuff on the curb for the donation and letting them know that their books will be put to good use! I'm most excited about Chicka Chicka 123. My kindergarteners loved Chicka Chicka Boom Boom last year.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Getting Ready for the Year

Wednesday I finished my grad school classes for the summer. Yippee! Only 19 days until classes start again.

I still haven't had time to really work on stuff for my classroom. I did spend most of today working on a packet that I am going to present to new TFA teachers going into Region 5. A group of about ten corps members who just completed their first year got together and thought about what they wished they had know or had explained to them about Region 5 expectations. (It really is a crazy region). We came up with the idea of a packet detailing all of the logistics about the classroom environment, portfolios, exit projects, report cards, basically everything we were just expected to know (without being told). Everyone wrote a part of the packet and then another teacher and I synthesized all of the information into one packet. Tuesday evening were having a gathering at the Brownsville Heritage House where we are going to present the information. Also, the director of the Heritage House is going to talk about the history of the community, the people who live there, the cultural heritage, etc. The first time you step into Brownsville you can get a bit of culture shock. The director said she wanted to let all of the new teachers know things about the community beyond what is reported on in the news everyday. That is true. I told her though that honestly, all of these teachers are from all over the country (not from here) so they most likely don't even know anything about Brownsville (good or bad) at this point. The walk from the subway to their school interview is all they know. And as I said, that can be a very new (and shocking) experience for most. So, I think this event will be really great.

Tomorrow I'm presenting another packet that I wrote (all alone this time) on how to be an ESL coordinator. Many of the new ESL teachers are the only ones in their buildings. In NYC there is so much paper work and so many reports involved with ESL that it can be really confusing if you don't have anyone to explain it to you. My administration last year certainly didn't have any clue as to what I was supposed to do. For the entire first week they kept saying they were going to give me a class list only to find out later that I had to check cumulative records and test scores and administer an entrance exam to find out which students were mine. Hopefully by giving them this information up front the new teachers will be able to speed up the whole process and start TEACHING sooner.

After the meeting in the afternoon I'm going to the teacher store. And then, seriously, I am going to start planning everything that I need to do for September and beyond.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Instead of working on my last paper for grad school yesterday, I met my friend Amanda for a late lunch at Bar Toto on Sixth Avenue. Afterall, she's only in town for one day between trips to Austin and Toronto and I still have three days to whip up that ten page paper.

We both drank Campari and Soda--a nice reminder of aperitivo in Italy but certainly not an every day drink for me. She had a mixed bruschetta plate and I had rigatoni with eggplant and smoked mozzarella. The food was great (definitely better than Tutta Pasta we both agreed). We had a long lunch catching up on our summer travels and then said goodbye until she returns on the 28th.

Now I'm still procrastinating on getting started. I have to get this paper out of the way so that I can focus on planning for next year.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Last Weeks of Summer

So it's now the home stretch until school starts. I must admit, I haven't really done much to prepare for the upcoming year. The two workshops that I attended did put some ideas in my head so I kind of know where I want to go but I haven't really had time to think things through and get some real planning done. My excuse is that I've had a lot of grad school work to do. (Online courses are much more labor intensive than the in person classes). I just have two papers left to finish, one due Sunday and the other Wednesday. After that, I'm free to focus on next year.

This year I feel like I am starting all over. Not only am I going to a new school so I don't know entirely what to expect, but I plan on doing things a lot differently than last year. I had such small groups last year that I could get away with minimal planning. A lot of what I did in class was actually working one on one with students. Next year that won't be the case. My main structures for class next year are going to be read alouds, centers, writing workshop, and something I learned at the CLI institute called Message Time Plus. I will put those elements together to form a sort of literacy block. There is still so much to think about and plan though. And, I've never done writer's workshop so I am kind of worried about that.

Next week I hope to sketch out some ideas for routines, organization and planning. The week of the 28th I plan to be in my classroom getting set up the whole week. Then the next week school starts. Seriously, where did the summer go??

Monday, August 14, 2006

We'll Call These The Before Pictures

Two weeks ago I went to my new school to get a better look at my new classroom. I was excited about it when I went for my interview but now I am thrilled. I really lucked out on this room. At the interview I was excited about the rug, the cabinets, the windows and the computers. I didn't even notice that the room had THREE computers (with a printer! Hmm, I wonder if I have internet?), tons of great picture books (in English and Spanish), all kinds of manipulatives, and an air conditioner!! The teacher who left the position retired and left sooo much stuff in the closets and in the filing cabinets. Good stuff. I seriously have everything I can think of in terms of supplies: pencils, paper, index cards, chart paper, slates, felt boards, white boards, you name it. I was in the teacher store last week with another teacher friend and she kept seeing things she wanted for her room and I'd say, "I have that in my classroom!" The best part is, this teacher was super organized so I wont have to spend a lot of time digging through junk. Everything is organized and labeled (just the way I like it). There are a few things I can see that'll need to be thrown out but nothing too out of control.

I can't wait to get in there and organize the furniture and decorate the walls and set up my library. So here are the before pictures . . .

The left side of the room.

The right side of the room. Already I can see there are way too many desks. I don't think I'll have more than twelve students at a time so I'd like to get rid of the ones I don't need and keep only matching ones if possible.

The library. This is going to be my favorite part. I already got some pillows, a comfy chair, and some stuffed animals to make this a cozy space. I can't wait to fix it up.

OK, well that is the sneak preview for now. I'll post the after pictures in a few weeks.

Overheard in Arizona

What a gorgeous day! And the temperature is perfect.

Note: The temperature was 103 degrees.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Goodbye Region 5

Well, it is official. Next year I will be moving to a K-5 school in Williamsburg. I will miss some of the teachers and students at my school. I most definitely WILL NOT regret leaving Region 5.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

I can't believe this

Last night I was riding the R train back to Brooklyn after a night out. I was minding my own business listening to my ipod when the train stopped at Atlantic. A cop came in and asked me to step out side the train. He asked me if I knew why he asked me to get off and I of course said "No." Apparently he noticed that I had a foot on the seat in front of me. (Another cop had asked another passenger in the same car to get off for the same reason.) After taking a few minutes to show us where in the rule pamphlet it says that it is a violation to put your feet on the seat, he proceeded to write me a ticket! For $50!

I didn't even know you could get a ticket on the subway! And to think of all of the 'violations' I see on the subway every day, *I* get a ticket for putting my foot on the seat at 4am when all I really want to do is get home to my bed.

So, do you have any advice for getting out of a ticket like this? Will showing up at the hearing help? What would happen to me (and my out of state license) if I just don't pay?

And seriously, were those cops just BORED last night?

UPDATE: I also wrote to Gothamist with the same post. Click here to see what Gothamist readers had to say.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Interview #2

So it turned out that my interview was for some sort of self-contained class. They didn't actually say until at the end of the interview (when I finally got the chance to ask a question) and I was told that they didn't know what they would have available until later. I mentioned that I had been told something about K, 4, or 5 and the Principal said that it could be one of those but, again, she didn't know.

I didn't like the feel of this interview as much as the first one. There were about five people interviewing me and they took turns asking me questions off of a typed list that they had. All of the questions related to ESL strategies or how I would handle disruptive students etc. They hardly asked me anything about my previous experiences, though I did talk about my teaching last year. Initially they hadn't realized that I just completed my first year teaching (they thought that I was a new corps member still in training).

So, I wish that this situation seemed to be working out. The school is close to my apartment. They have a large ESL population and I would definitely have a self-contained class as they don't have a pull out program. Also, there is the possibility that i could get kindergarten and that is what I really want to teach. I don't know if it is going to work out though. I don't think that I can pass up this other position because what if they don't end up having a position for me? I talked with my program director and he thinks that I should take the position that is certain. (It is a definite improvement from my previous school.) I will probably talk with the placement director and then make a decision very soon.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Interview #1

After going through today's interview I was suprisingly more excited for the position than I thought I was going to be.

The position is for pull-out ESL. I was told that I may occasionally do push-in but probably wouldn't be part of my regular schedule. I would have about 50 kids in grades K-5. The best part is that I would have a HUGE room all to myself! No more sharing with coaches. The room has a carpet, library, huge windows, lots of cabinets, and even computers! I could do so much with that space!

The principal seemed really nice and a lot more knowledgeable about ESL than my previous administration. She seemed happy that I already know the ins and outs of all of the paperwork involved with ESL and reports that have to be written yearly. I get the impression that she would probably be a little more involved in what I am doing than my previous principal but that isn't really hard considering my last principal came in my room a total of two times the entire year.

The neighborhood is sooo much nicer than the one that I am currently in. It suprised me. I am used to my school situated amidst the projects in Brownsville. The school building was nice from the outside but noticeable older than my current school on the inside.

Overall, I think that I would be happy to make the switch if this is the school that I end up at. I would still have the same type of program that I have now but with more kids and less grade levels. I like that because I can focus on planning for fewer grade levels and have more students to work with. I love that I would have my own room. The principal seems to be nice. The commute is probably about the same (only I won't have to switch trains anymore).

The only thing that I didn't like was that the principal wanted to warn me that I may be pulled at times to do coverages. She said she interviewed someone else who said they ONLY wanted to teach ESL and wouldn't do coverages. While I know that this is always a possibility, the way she warned me about it made me feel that it could be excessive. I was told at the beginning of last year to keep a log of all of the times that I was pulled for coverages and to report it to my regional ESL supervisor if it became "excessive." As it turned out I was only asked to do a coverage once and that was before I'd even started pulling my kids. (I swear I was invisible at my school last year!) The principal did say that she didn't believe that one program was more important than another (AIS, Speech, ESL, etc.) so she tries to assign coverages evenly. I guess that was a little reassuring.

I am excited but still curious about tomorrow's interview.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Well, I finally have an update on the changing school situation. I have two interviews scheduled for this week. The first one is tomorrow morning. The school is in South Williamsburg. I'd still be doing pull-out/push-in but I'd have 45-60 students spanning grades K-5 (as opposed to the 13 students spanning grades K-8 that I have now). I think that the school has just about 450 students and it shares a building with a charter school. That's pretty much all I know about the school.

The second school is on Thursday and is a little more exciting. It's only three subway stops away from me (that's a bonus!) in Sunset Park. I was told by the placement director that I would have grades K, 4, and 5. That seemed a bit odd but I just assumed that another ESL teacher had grades 1-3. Then she told me that I would have a self-contained class. I said "Wait. I don't get it. How can those grades be one class?" She said that she didn't understand either but that I would have to ask at the interview. I'm thinking that maybe she misheard and I would have either K or 4/5. Or maybe somehow I would be working with two classes. I'm not sure but I am thrilled at the possibility of getting my own class. Also, I looked on the school's website and they have both self-contained and dual language classes! Very exciting. My placement director told me that the principal "doesn't believe in push-in/pull-out." Yeah! I don't either. On the school report card I also found the "Principal's Statement."
We are committed to providing opportunities for students to meet and exceed academicstandards and for our members to flourish as a community of learners. We will provide a strong comprehensive literacy program in collaboration with Teachers College, where reading and writing workshop takes place daily. We support our English Language Learners in their native language as well as in English through our Dual Language and Self-contained ESL programs. We continue to implement Math investigations (TERC) program in order to develop critical thinking, problem solving and decision making.

Right there that is more aknowledgement to ELLS than in my current school. Of course at this school 38% of the students are ELLs. I am very excited to learn more about this school.

I'm lucky too because I will have my pick of both schools (assumming I get both jobs). Most TFAers don't have that option.

My program director called my principal today and told her that I would not be returning next year. So, now it is official. It's just a matter of where I end up.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Which one of these dresses doesn't belong?

Yes that'd be the white one that's just barely there and looks like it went through a shredder. (I'll just say she flashed her underwear more than a few times that night.) And what you don't see in the picture are the red stiletto shoes with ribbons tied around her ankles that she couldn't walk in and had to ditch as soon as she got inside.

Apart from this unfortunate costume, most of the girls looked lovely in their ball gowns. The boys for the most part looked like pimps (literally, of course). Canes and top hats were popular accessories. And then there was the one guy who was straight out of Miami Vice with his peach linen trousers and peach shirt unbuttoned with white t-shirt underneath, gold chain, shades and all.

The kids had a blast at the dance. And, they were actually really good for the entire evening. We had no problems at all. Even the dancing didn't get too out of control.

It was funny because the kids were so excited to be dressed up and to see all of their friends that they didn't even notice that there was no music for the first hour of the dance (the DJ's van broke down). There was also a really nice buffet that the kids didn't touch all night until the last half hour when a few of them grabbed a piece of cake or a chicken strip.

Overall it was a very good night. Even the teachers enjoyed themselves.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Return to the Blogosphere

After a long hiatus, Hipteacher is back.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Dual Language. How Cool!

Today I went to my Region's First Annual Dual Language Conference and Showcase. It was actually one of the more enjoyable ESL functions that I've attended this year. Probably because it wasn't a useless PD but actually, for the most part, was different schools in the Region presenting their Dual Language Programs, how they started, their successes and challenges, etc. (We did of course have to first sit through about an hour of our Regional staff giving self-congratulatory speeches about how great and talented they are--oh, and how great the teachers are for working for our kids.)

For those who aren't familiar, a Dual Language Program is a class that has half native English speakers and half native Spanish speakers (or Chinese or Arabic, or whatever). Instruction is 50% in English and 50% in the other language. The goal of the program is for all students to become proficient in both languages--so the program is just as much for the native English speakers as it is for the ELLs. (This differs from a regular bilingual class where the all of the students are learning English and although instruction is in both languages, the native language is eventually phased out. The goal of a traditional program is for students to become proficient in English only.) Kids generally enter the DL program in Kindergarten and stick with it all through their schooling.

I love this program so much! I am so for kids growing up bilingual. (Hopefully when I have kids they'll grow up bilingual because I'll speak to them in English and their father will speak to them in [insert language here]. I've already thought about the method I would use and everything. Then in school they would learn a third language. B ut since I'm not even dating someone who speaks a another language right now, let alone thinking about having kids, I guess this is jumping ahead just a tad bit. My second choice would be a dual language program though.) And not only do the native English speakers acquire a second language but the kids learning English retain their native language and they feel like it is valued and appreciated. How cool is that?

So, hearing about all of these programs made me so jealous. I would love to teach in a DL program. All of the teachers were young and energetic. They were full of innovative ideas and you could see their dedication to their kids and the DL program. The other thing that was evident was that these programs were in schools that had supportive administrations and generally favorable school environments. (One teacher sitting next to me asked what the kids at my school were like. I asked what she meant and she said "Well, our school shares a building with another school and their kids are always running wildly up and down the halls and it makes it harder for us to teach our kids that they can't do that." I said, "Yep. That sounds like my school.") I loved one small school that was completely DL and had a strong focus on the arts. They believe that kids learn language best through the content areas and the arts is a way for kids to express themselves as individuals. Because no two students produce the same work, they have reason to engage in communication about their art. (Honestly, I think that the only thing that my school believes in making sure everything looks good so that we don't get in trouble when the region comes.)

I feel like I could be really interested in working in a Dual Language school for a few years and then moving on to a new school to help start up a new DL program. Maybe if I am lucky my new placement could be the start of that. (I still haven't heard any news of my changing schools yet.)

Monday, June 12, 2006

End of the Year Activities

Last week during our first half day we had a little faculty meeting in which our principal lectured us about instruction continuing all the way up until June 28th. Funny because since then I've witnessed quite a bit of administration sanctioned activity that doesn't involve instruction at all. Here's a sampling:

*daily, unscheduled assemblies
*field trips (one of which involved taking Kindergarteners to the mall to walk around)
*Two periods of graduation practice daily for grades K, 5, and 8.
*rehearsal for the "Early Childhood Celebration"

Seriously, these last two weeks are a joke.

I'm trying to get all of my end of year assessments done so that I can report back to TFA on whether or not I made "significant academic gains" with my students. (I didn't by the way. The best I did is a bit over a year--not the 1.5 to two years we are supposed to make.) Also for the rest of the year I have a "Dual Language Conference" to attend, Eighth grade graduation, yearbook signing party, and a field trip--all of which will be taking days away from actual instruction.

Summer is so close I can almost feel it. (And yet at the same time I almost can't believe that in two weeks I will be FREE!)

It's almost yearbook time

Yearbooks should be arriving on Wednesday. We would have gotten them sooner but we learned today that they had been mistakenly shipped to a school in Newark when we got a call from their yearbook advisor today. Interesting that that could happen considering our school address was on every piece of paper that was sent into the publishing company. Luckily our AP didn't flip out. She must have been having a good day today.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Kids Art Day 2006/Brooklyn-Queens Day

Being that it is my first year teaching, I never got to experience the joy of having a random day off for Brooklyn-Queens Day. Today with out the kids though was pretty good anyways. Actually, I was really lucky. I got to go on a parent/kid field trip for Kids Art Day at the Rotunda Gallery in Downtown Brooklyn. The trip was the culminating event after a series of Saturday workshops that were put on by a grant from Parents as Art Partners. I wasn't a part of the workshops but I volunteered to go on the trip to be the photographer.

The gallery was very nice and they work done by the kids was great. The piece done by the kids and parents at my school is called "Drawing Family Ties." It is a mural of people and family in our neighborhood. They did a really nice job on the project and both the kids and parents were thrilled to see their work in a real gallery. The exhibit will be up until the 17th but today was officially Kids Art Day so they had stations set up where kids could make books with different kinds of paper, stamps, markers, etc., and they also had a DJ spinning records. The space was a little small (our group had 37 people alone) but the kids didn't seem to mind.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Nearing the End

I can't believe that it is already June and my first year of teaching is almost over. Even though there are less than four weeks left of school, the year is pretty much over for me (and it has been for a few weeks now). When I say over, I mean that I'm really not going to be working with my kids and pushing them towards their goals for the end of the year.

Last month I spent two weeks administering the NYS*ESLAT tests to all of my kids. Then, last week (my first full week with them in ages), one of the coaches that I share a room with essentially kicked me out of our room so that she could administer some test of her own to students in danger of failing. Now today, June 1st, marks the first day of NYS*ESLAT scoring in my region. That should keep me busy for the next week. When I finally get back to school there'll only be about two and a half weeks left. I'll pick up my kids as much as possible but with graduation practices, field days, half days, and all of the other end of the year activities going on, I know that I won't actually be seeing them much. That's too bad because I really wanted to use the last weeks of school to bump each up my students up a level in reading. (Not to mention that scoring the tests is soooo boring. I can't believe I have a whole week of it!)

* * *

So far I don't have many plans for summer break. I did sign up for a *paid* five day ESL workshop from the 17th to the 21st of July. Then the following week I will be in Philly for a four day workshop held by the Children's Literacy Initiative. They reserved ten paid spots for TFA teachers and I got one of them! I'm really excited because I feel like that is one area that I could really improve on.

Apart from the PDs I'm sure I will head to Arizona for a few weeks and then possibly visit a friend in Santa Barbara.

I can already see it . . . Two months is not going to be enough time at all!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Eight More Weeks

It's the final stretch before grad school is over for the semester. I can't wait. I just have two papers to finish before Saturday. I can't really complain because they aren't super hard and they are both less than 10 pages, but still . . . I just finished half of one today. If I can keep up with this schedule for the rest of the week I'll be done Thursday so that I can relax Friday and not have to stay up all night getting everything done.

* * *

The yearbook proofs came back Friday. It looks great. I'm so happy with the way that it turned out (especially considering that we pulled it together so quickly). We started proofing the pages on Friday. We basically just looked for glaring errors before we gave it to the AP (from hell) to look at. Of course on her page (yes, the whole page dedicated to her) there was a big mistake. For some reason the plant put a yellow star border around three of the four sides of her page (the backgroud is parchment paper and the stars were not supposed to be there). We put a post-it on the page saying that it would be corrected. Well, she gave the book back to us today with a post-it saying that she really likes the stars and please keep them there. What? Each administrator has her own page and she wants to be the ONLY one with stars around her page? Also it very much clashes with the background AND there are only three of four sides of the border printed. Clearly that was an error. And she wants us to keep it there? I refuse. It's so ugly and so wrong. My co-advisor thinks maybe we have to keep it there since that is what she wants. Oh, no. One way or another that border is coming off. (We just keep thinking to ourselves that OF COURSE it had to work out this way. Couldn't they have accidentally put the border on the other AP's page? Or a really ugly one that she wouldn't have wanted??) Seriously though, this is so ridiculous!

Oh, and she also said not to show the yearbook to anyone--including the Principal.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The weekend is over already?

I had such a good weekend that I don't want it to end. I didn't do any school work and I actually felt like I had a real life.

Friday night happy hour with the other TFAers at my school (and a few additions) turned into a late night ending with Indian food at 2am. Saturday I went with my friend Monica to the Cherry Blossom Festival at the Botanical Gardens in Brooklyn. It was gorgeous and such a relaxing day. We hadn't seen each other in ages (she teaches in the Bronx and lives in Harlem, so . . .). We had tons to catch up on. Then Saturday night I went out to dinner and a movie with a new friend. Sunday morning was brunch with a couple of friends. Then I did some shopping before I met up with my best friend for coffee before she had to go to rehearsal. When I got home I decided to do a little spring organizing and so I packed up all of my heavy winter sweaters (I left a few of the light spring ones out) and hung up all of my spring clothes.



Next weekend won't be quite so fun because I have grad school all day Saturday but it's my friend's birthday too so we're planning something fun for Saturday night.

(I can't wait for summer!)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Wide Open Spaces

I enjoyed my spring break way too much. It was so hard to go back on Monday. (Only nine weeks left!) I spent the whole break in Arizona with my family shopping, laying by the pool, and going to the lake (and I have a nice tan to show for it). I got back Thursday night and went out with some friends. It was nice to see my family and relax by the pool but Arizona is not for me. I need more excitement and stimulation. I'm already looking forward to the weekend.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Catching up on some blogs

I was reading this post and it sounded so familiar. I think it is so sad that this really is a typical class period in so many middle schools in the city.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Sprink Break is here!

I am off to Arizona to visit my family tomorrow. I am so excited.

I don't plan on doing any work over break. Yeah!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Many things to consider

So there are some complications with switching my license area now. It's starting to get a little complicated (or "delicate" as my program director says).

Last week when talking to my PD about switching I brought up the idea of switching schools (so that I can have an ESL self contained class instead of pull-out) rather than switching my license area. He said that that wouldn't be an option because TFA really tries to not switch people out of their schools. I told him that before I make a decision about switching my license area then, I wanted to see if this was going to be possible as far as my school goes. I was pretty sure that my principal would be OK letting me switch since I think she likes me, but what if there aren't any openings available in my school next year? Then I would have switched my license area and there would be no place for me at my school so I'd have to switch anyways (and in that case I'd rather switch schools and keep my license area as ESL). Are you still following this?

So today my PD came to my school to talk to my principal and as it turns out she doesn't think there will be any openings next year. Apparently a lot of people want early childhood and we have a lot of teachers who have been around for a while who most likely aren't going anywhere.

So now I am left with the options of not changing anything and just staying where I am, switching to early childhood and switching schools or keeping ESL and switching schools. The "delicate" part comes in if I decide to switch schools and keep ESL because how do we explain to my principal why I am leaving but keeping ESL.

As much as I don't like my school switching next year would be a huge deal. Especially with changing license area it will be like having a first year all over agin. Also, I really like the other TFA people that I work with at my school and it would be really hard to leave them.

I'm still leaning towards switching though.

* * *
In other news . . .

The yearbook is done! Yippee!

Last week totally kicked my but but we got the book done and I finished my papers for grad school. (I feel like such a weight has been lifted.)

Even our crazy AP complimented us on it. She was really excited. (And she won't even know how good it is until she sees it printed in full color. She asked us how we were going to be able to top it next year.

* * *

I didn't get the job in Italy this summer :( Don't know what I am going to do now.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Is this week over yet?

I've been absent, I know.

I'll be back next week when I don't have a yearbook due and a month's worth of grad work to catch up on.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Great School

On Wednesday I went to observe a school in Brooklyn set up by TFA. The school is in Sunset Park (oh so close to my apartment). The visit was really eye opening.

The reason that I chose to look at this school (versus the others on the "City wide school visit" list) was because it has a strong bilingual and ESL program. The school is located in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood and according to the principal, 60% of the kids are ELL (English Language Learner) though basically all of them are because they come from Spanish speaking households. It was so weird to see a school that has so much focus on ESL (they have pull-out, self contained, bilingual and dual language) coming from my school where ESL is only noticed when the principal gets an email telling me I have a meeting to attend or the AP sees that I have interim assessments to give my students.

One of the major things that I observed at the school was the supportive administration. The teacher who gave us a tour of the school (also a first year TFA corps member) could not stop gushing about how wonderful her principal and AP are. I met them both and they were very friendly and positive. The principal talked about getting the teachers together as a team to make the school successful.

I got to the school a bit before 8:30. I noticed that all of the kids were already in the classrooms working quietly (unheard of at my school). I was a bit confused as I thought I was early so I was wondering how they got in the building so quickly. As I found out, they actually arrived at 8:00 for the 37.5 minutes. It was amazing to see the school actually using the extra time to benefit the students. In every room they were actually working. Just peeking in the windows I saw guided reading, students working in groups at desks, manipulatives, etc. At my school everyone is so tired by the end of the day (not really an excuse, but . . .) that the after school time is just a time filler. If it takes 20 minutes to walk half the kids downstairs and the other half up, all the better. But this post is not about my school . . .

Seeing this school made me want to teach on a school like this that has a large ELL population (and of course a great administration). There are so many opportunities to have a self contained class. I really love ESL kids, too. I love the idea of speaking more than one language. I think it is so important and to be valued.

(Ideally next year I could get a position teaching a self contained lower elementary ESL class. That would be the best of both worlds. TFA is not all about switching schools before the two years though so I highly doubt that that is even a small possibility).

The other thing that I noticed (and this may be silly) is how QUIET the school was. Not only were there not any loud outbursts coming from classrooms, but there were NO kids in the halls. I don't think I even saw a kid go to the restroom with a pass. (This as compared to my school where it is common to see a pack of 4-5 boys sprinting back and forth through the halls). What I did see in the halls were a lot of small groups working with reading intervention teachers. Yes, ideally they should be working in rooms at tables but this was amazing because one, it was quiet enough for them to be able to do this and two, because they actually have quality work going on with kids being pulled out of class.

Overall, I think seeing the school made me regretful about what my school could be if only . . . I also really wish that I had had more time to talk with the pull out teachers individually so I could get a sense of their set up, what they teach the kids, best practices for pull out, etc. Maybe I can schedule a specific time to speak with them later.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Leaving ESL

No, not me. One of my students.

At one of my ESL meetings earlier in the year, I learned that there is a second way to get out of ESL (the first of course, is passing the NYSESLAT). If a student has an IEP, the team/committee (I don't know exactly what they are called) can decide that the student does not need ESL and by simply checking a box on the IEP can take the student out of ESL. They didn't say what circumstances would warrant taking a student out of ESL who hadn't passed the test (that wasn't the topic of the meeting) but I immediately thought of a student who I thought should be "X-coded" out of ESL.

This student, E, essentially speaks English as her first language. She got into ESL in the typical way. When she registered for kindergarten her parents marked on her home language survey a certain number of boxes that indicated that she spoke or understood a language other than English (in her case Haitian Creole) and that it was the dominant language in the household. That survey allowed her to be tested for ESL and her low score is what got her in to ESL. I only met her this year so I don't know how much Haitian Creole she at one point knew, but as of meeting her this year she barely understood the concept that people speak other languages. I later learned that she no longer lives with her biological parents and so is not even exposed to another language let alone is she able to speak one.

So, why can't she get out of ESL? She just can't pass the NYSESLAT. It's not a hard test but students who are low level can have trouble passing it even if there is no language barrier. E is a very good student. She tries her best, does neat work and likes to participate but something is not there. She has trouble answering a question orally or written in a clear sentence. She often can't follow directions the first time. These are all things that the speech teacher is working on with her.

E comes to see me for ESL eight periods a week. She also goes to the speech teacher several times a week (and I can't remember if she gets pulled for AIS as well). Basically, she is missing a lot of class. While she does benefit from individual attention, I began thinking that her coming to ESL may actually be detrimental to her. Getting pulled in so many directions she was missing a lot of ELA but also math and science and that didn't really seem fair to her. Especially, since she doesn't need language help, which is what ESL is for: English language learners.

So, last Friday E's speech teacher came to me and said that her IEP was overdue and she had to rush to get it done that day and needed my input. I told her that I had been waiting for the meeting because I had wanted to recommend that she no longer receive ESL services. I said that I was worried that she was missing too much class and didn't really need ESL considering she already receives speech. You should have seen the look of relief on her face when I said that. Apparently that was exactly what she had wanted to talk to me about. She was even more relieved when she learned that the process was as simple as checking a box on the IEP.

And that was it. As of Friday, E is no longer one of my students. In a way I am happy because that is what I wanted for her but I am also a little sad too. I did have certain goals that I was trying to work on with her and now I will never know if she would have been able to achieve them. I talked to her on Monday and asked her if she knew that she wasn't coming to ESL any more. She said that her teacher told her but when I asked her if she knew why she said she didn't. I explained that we (her teachers) wanted what was best for her and we were afraid that she was missing too much class so she would continue to work with the speech teacher but not me. She stood there without saying anything. I asked her if she was sad and she said no. I asked, "Is this what you wanted?" She smiled and said yes.

I have a few other students that I would like to do the same thing for but E is the only one with an IEP so the rest will have to test out on their own.

Now I am down to 13 ESL students. I started out with 16. In January two (brothers) moved. I now have two kindergarteners, one third grader, two fourth graders, three fifth graders, one seventh grader and four eighth graders. My two kindergarteners are the only students that I would actually consider true ELLs.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What Should I Do?

The job that I have now (as an ESL pull-out teacher) is nothing like I envisioned when I joined TFA. I had imagined myself teaching a class of my own kids in my own classroom. There would be 25 seven year olds sitting on a rug as I read them a read aloud first period. They would be with me all day (except for lunch and prep periods) and I would get to know my students really well.

Before institute I did several classroom observations. I saw a lot of Kindergarten through second grade classes and decided that that was the age that I really wanted to teach.

All summer during TFA training we learned about how to differentiate by making small groups, how to make smooth transitions from the rug to desks, to think about classroom organization in terms of efficiency and fun ways to engage all students such as "turn and talk" to your partner. I imagined myself doing all of these things even though I knew that I had been assigned to ESL and would be doing either push-in or pull-out.

I got to my school in September and found out that I wouldn't have my own class or my own room. In fact, I had to share a room with two coaches who had their office on the other side. (Did I ever mention how nerve racking it was teaching my very first lessons as a first year teacher knowing that there were two veteran teachers sitting on the other side of the room listening to every word that I said?)

I only had 15 students but since they were spread across nine grade levels that meant I saw them in groups of 2-5. I also found out that none of my students were actually English Language Learners. I mean, technically they were since they hadn't passed the NYSESLAT, but practically, all of them were born in Brooklyn and had been in ESL since Kindergarten. Not only was I not teaching in front of a class of students as I had imagined but I wasn't even teaching ESL as I had imagined (to groups of kids actually needing to learn English).

I watched one of my fellow first year TFAers with her class of students and she was doing an amazing job with them. She had turned their behavior around and was doing things in her classroom that I had imagined myself doing all summer. I though to myself I could have a class like that If only I had the opportunity. I wanted that challenge. That is what I signed up to do.

In November I asked my Program Director at TFA if I would be able to change my license area from ESL to early childhood. He met with people from TFA who decided that it could be possible if my grad school would be ok with me making the change mid-way through the year.

It had been so long since I had heard from anyone that I had pretty much started to accept the idea that I would not get to teach my own Kindergarten class next year (my first choice). Then today I got a voice mail from my PD saying that they had decided that I can switch if I want.

So now I have a dilemma. Why is it a dilemma if this is what I have been wanting all along you're wondering? Well for one, because I do like ESL. I like the idea of ESL just not my situation. I would love to have a self contained class of ESL kids from countries around the world. (Teaching in the neighborhood that I do this is not an option). I also think that ESL is an interesting topic. There is a lot to talk about in terms of policy, a lot of people have strong opinions about it and for most (if not all) school districts it remains something that is not known how to do well. Then there is the issue of getting my masters. On paper it makes so much more sense for me to have a masters in ESL (having studied languages, taught English in Italy with a TEFL certificate, wanting to eventually teach abroad again, etc.). And this may be totally wrong of me to think, but doesn't a masters in K-12 ESL just sound better than Early Childhood?

But maybe that doesn't matter at all. So what if it looks good on paper. I really want to have the chance to have my own class. And I don't know that having one masters over the other will be better for teaching abroad.

More things to consider: Next year my ESL situation could get even worse. I might not even have my own room or I could be forced to teach at two schools because I don't have enough students. If I do switch I will have to take an extra class at grad school because I missed it being in the ESL group this year and I will have to pay for it out of pocket.

I know a lot of people will say that I have it so good teaching small groups in a pull-out setting. I have a ton of flexibility, administration doesn't bother me, I don't have to do bulletin boards or worry about crazy classroom management issues. Honestly though, I am not even considering these things in my decision. I know that next year will be harder if I switch but it is what I expected all along.

Any advice?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Books, Books, Books

This Saturday I had the chance to attend the Project Cicero book drive. Look at all of the books I got! 153 to be exact. I think that this about doubles what I previously had in my library. I'm really excited about showing them to the kids. I got some really good read aloud books, some early readers, chapter books, a few non-fiction books (including a couple that will work with our solar system unit that we are working on) and a handful of holiday themed books. Also thrown into the mix were two books that I won't be using: a book in German and a book of bible stories. Now I just have to level some of these and then find homes for them on the few shelves that I have for our library.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

My classroom organization explained (in detail)

Here's another view of my classroom. Yes, this it the whole thing! The other half of the room is occupied by the math and literacy coaches at my school. (If you've been reading my blog for a while you've heard all about them.) The space is tight, but cozy.

Keep reading if you want to hear all about the organization of my room (I'm all about organization). If not, now would be a good time to stop reading.

My Desk!

Posters my fifth graders made while reading Any Small Goodness.

Word families that I am working on with the kindergarteners.


The left side of the bookcase is part of the library. The right side organizes classroom supplies. On the top there are three tupperware boxes each containing markers, scissors, crayons and glue. On the bottom is a basket where kids can store independent reading books they are currently using. There are also folders and books that my eighth graders are using for the unit we just started.

Reading Strategies

Back Wall

This is the "Writing" bulletin board which has recently become the "Science" bulletin board. On the table I have files to organize student work and portfolios, pencil baskets, and a basket of composition books color coded by class.

Kindergarten Word Wall

I actually like that this is right down by the ground because it is on a five year old level. I have them go to it and point out/read words all of the time. I only wish that there was more room to spread the words out a little.

White Board

I bought special paper to turn my chalkboard into a white board. I like writing with colored markers better than chalk. In the center of the board is a circle that is supposed to tell the kids when they have to be quiet, when they can be louder, etc. It's my fault I wasn't very good at keeping up with it so it kind of failed. I still think it has potential though so I keep it up there.

You'll notice a small desk to the left of the board. I use that to keep my lesson plans, worksheets, etc. for the day and it doubles as the listening center on other days.


My library is leveled according to Fountas and Pinnell (which most teachers at my school don't do, actually). Since I teach K-8 I have books ranging from A-Z. Of course that means I don't have a huge selection. All of the books that I do have I either got from other teachers who could spare a few or I scrounged some up in the basement. I guess the ESL teach last year didn't have a library?

Word Wall

According to my region it should be "interactive" so if you can see, the sentence strips are sitting in clear pockets (I made them by cutting up and taping together transparencies). On the back of each word there are definitions and example sentences that the kids can refer to. A few times they have actually done this, but most of the words up there they actually don't need to reference that often. It's actually kinds of a challenge for me to have a word wall since I teach K-8 so they all need very different words.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Vacation's over

I am so not ready to go back to school tomorrow! I'm sure once the week gets going it'll be fine, but for now I just can't imagine that tomorrow I have to get up early and go to school.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Vacation Reading

If you are even mildly interested in the Middle East, I recommend checking out this blog by journalist Michael J. Totten. It's a mix of political commentary and travel writing. Easy to read and very insightful.

If you are slightly obsessed with Lebanon as I am, you'll want to start reading from the September 2005 Archives when MJT moves to Beirut.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

We found her!

In case you haven't checked the comments over at the Education Wonks Mz. Smlph is alive and well.
I'm here, I'm here! I didn't know I was so sorely missed! The long story short is that my coworkers found my blog, along with the blogs of my two roommates who work in the same school. I received a nasty comment saying that I was racist, immature, and poorly raised. The anonymous commenter, who is not as anonymous as she thinks she is, was upset because I had criticized some of my colleagues (without naming them) and a nearby university (without naming it).

Anyway, I freaked out and had a couple sleepless nights, but things are kind of blowing over now. Even the superintendent knows about my blog, and I'm in no danger of being fired. I took the site COMPLETELY down (after saving everything as a text file), but when I have time, I'll definitely be setting up a new blog home.

Thanks again for your concern. It really means a lot to know you've missed me. You can always reach me by e-mail.
Mz. Smlph

Good to hear. I'll be waiting for her new blog to appear.

Came across this today . . .

Does anyone read this teacher blog? Is it a joke?

My interview

I found out at my interview that they are actually considering me for a senior staff position instead of a resident adviser position. There are two senior staff positions that work as assistants to the director of the Florence program: the Resident Director and the Activities Director. They said that the RAs are usually college Juniors or Seniors and that with my experience and knowledge of Italian and Florence I would be suited for a senior staff position. I was excited to hear that.

They asked a lot of questions about what challenges I thought I would face being responsible for high school students on a five week study abroad. In my application I had said that homesickness would probably be something that students would face and that I would be able to help them with that. In the interview she said that in her experience directing the program in Spain she didn't find that to be a problem at all. What she really wanted to know was how I was going to handle these students who are probably abroad for the first time and in a country where there is no enforced drinking age. (The program has a zero tolerance policy for alcohol). She also wanted to know if I would be able to be firm about rules and possibly have to do unpleasant things like send kids home from the program who broke them. She said we all want to be loved but that isn't the best thing (I immediately thought Machiavelli). I responded with several anecdotes from teaching. Classroom Management 101.

I would leave for the program immediately after school ends in June. My flights, room and board would be covered. The only thing they said about salary was that it depended on the position and experience. I am still wondering if they pay based on a your-lucky-to-be-working-in-Italy-and-therefore-we-don't-pay-that-much attitude or more based on the responsibility of managing five RAs and 50 HS students. I didn't ask because the truth is I will probably accept the job either way so it doesn't really matter.

At the end of the interview they said that they had several people to interview for senior staff positions and would let me know by the end of March. That seems like soooo long. I was so hoping that they would immediately say "You're perfect. You have the job!" (Does that happen often?) And, if they don't choose me for senior staff would they still select me for the original position that I applied?

Now I am nervous. I so want to go. It is going to be really hard to wait over a month to know what I will be doing this summer.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Interview Tomorrow

Tomorrow morining is my interview for the summer resident adviser position in Florence. I'm not even nervous about the interview, I'm just excited to talk about living and studying in Italy.

This isn't the first time that I've thought about working for a study abroad company. When I was an exchange student in Florence and my year was coming to an end, I tried to come up with some schemes to stay in Italy. One of my ideas was to work for a study abroad company. It seemed like the perfect job because it would be a real job in a foreign country (as opposed to working illegally in the leather market, waiting tables or teaching—all things that I have done). At the time I wasn’t able to find any opening that would allow me to stay in Italy and work after my exchange ended.

Since then I’ve become distracted by a lot of other things but I still think about the idea of working for a study abroad company. Living in Florence and being the director of the program would be an ideal job for me. I’ve looked at a lot of bios for people working for various companies and it seems like most of them have studied abroad, speak at least one other language fluently, and have several experiences working abroad. A lot have also studied international education and have either a masters or a PhD.

I think I’m definitely on my way to having a lot of those qualifications having studied abroad, been an exchange student, I have a BA in Italian and speak fairly fluently, I taught English in Italy for a year and have spent a couple of summers working in Greece. I’m working on my Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language. I would also love to study International Education or International Relations or something like that. (I’ve seriously thought about going to the School for International Training). I’m not 100% sure that this is my ultimate career goal; there are still so many things that I would consider doing. I’m definitely keeping it as an option though. This summer I may have the chance to take another step in this direction.

So, not only am I excited about the chance to go back to Italy for the summer but I really think that this could be a stepping stone to becoming a director if that is what I choose to do. I would also have a chance to see how the organization works and if it is really something that I want to do.

Wish me luck tomorrow.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

A possible career choice

Another one of my schemes for staying in Italy when I was an exchange student was to work for a study abroad company. It seemed like the perfect job because it would be a real job in a foreign country (as opposed to working illegally in the leather market, waiting tables or teaching—all things that I have done). At the time I wasn’t able to find any opening that would allow me to stay in Italy and work after my exchange ended.

Since then I’ve become distracted by a lot of other things but I still think about the idea of working for a study abroad company. Living in Florence and being the director of the program would be an ideal job for me. I’ve looked at a lot of bios for people working for various companies and it seems like most of them have studied abroad, speak at least one other language fluently, and have several experiences working abroad. A lot have also studied international education and have either a masters or a PhD.

I think I’m definitely on my way to having a lot of those qualifications having studied abroad, been an exchange student, I have a BA in Italian and speak fairly fluently, I taught English in Italy for a year and have spent a couple of summers working in Greece. I’m currently working on my Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language. I would also love to study International Education or International Relations or something like that. (I’ve seriously thought about going to the School for International Training). I’m not 100% sure that this is my ultimate career goal; there are still so many things that I would consider doing. I’m definitely keeping it as an option though.

This summer I may have the chance to take another step in this direction. I applied for a job as a resident adviser for a high school level study abroad program in Florence (where I lived for two years). Not only am I excited about the chance to go back to Italy for the summer but I really think that this could be a stepping stone to becoming a director if that is what I choose to do. I’ would also have a chance to see how the organization works and if it is really something that I want to do.

I was called for an interview this Wednesday so I’m really excited to see how it turns out.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Woo Hoo! It's Friday!

And the start of break!

The sunny day makes it so much better too, don't you think?

It's funny a lot of kids at school today didn't even realize that there was no school on Monday. They're not nearly as excited as the teachers to have a whole ten days off! After school was insane today though. For some reason the last day before break warrants canceling all after school programs, so at 2:50 today the halls erupted into pure chaos. The kids who are usually picked up by their after school program leaders were running wild!

I walked out right at 3:00 and caught a bus and both trains right after one another and got home in record time.

I don't really have any specific plans for the break. An old friend from high school is coming into town tomorrow so that should be fun. We haven't seen each other in a few years but thanks to myspace it doesn't feel like nearly that long. I have my interview on Wednesday and that is about it. I do have a lot of work to do for grad school and of course there's always stuff to be done for school, but I promise to take some time for myself this week.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Summer Job?

About three weeks ago I was browsing one of the TFA web sites and saw a posting for a summer job opportunity as a resident adviser to a study abroad program in Florence, Italy. This is totally the perfect job for me this summer. I lived in Florence for two years and try to get back every chance I get. When I signed up for TFA I'd pretty much resigned myself to not traveling for the next two years (due to lots of bills to pay off, small teacher salary, and needing to save any possible extra money for big travels after the two years). So this could be the perfect answer. I could get paid to spend the summer in Florence!

I'm already fantasizing about seeing old friends, going to my favorite restaurants, hitting up the beach on weekends . . .

Well, they called me for an interview yesterday! I'm keeping my fingers crossed because I'm already getting excited at the possibility of being in Italy in four and a half months.