Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Decade In Review (or How I Got To Where I Am Today)

Looking back on the last decade I can see that I organize my years on travel. I can always remember what happened to me in a particular year by remembering where I traveled. Italy has obviously been a huge part of my life and I probably wouldn't be teaching English in Brooklyn with out it.


-I start off the year, and the decade, by studying abroad in Italy. I'd already been to Italy twice but could not wait to finally LIVE there. I finish the spring semester studying abroad and decide to stay in Italy for the summer and perhaps the fall semester.

-I spend the summer traveling with friends around Europe and working in the leather market in Florence. By August I realize that staying in Italy to study for the fall semester isn't going to work out so I quickly book a ticket home and am back at Arizona State within a week.

-I continue taking classes for my architecture major during the fall semester (minus the studio classes since I am behind from studying abroad) but all I really want to do is go back to Italy.

-November. I suddenly have a realization that if I change my major to Italian I'll have an excuse to go back and study in Italy. Don't know what I'll do with a degree in Italian but that doesn't matter.

-I go the the International Programs Office and tell them I want to do an exchange in Italy and just my luck, they tell me the director is in Florence that very day working out an agreement with the University of Florence!


-Spring semester at college.

-I'm off to Europe to visit some friends in Italy and then work in Greece for the summer. I've been to the Pink Palace several times in my travels and this summer I'm going to be there all summer working at the reception desk.

-Fall semester at college.


-My last semester at ASU (since I'll be spending my last YEAR of college in Florence)! While I'm waiting to schedule my classes with the guidance counselor I see a sign on the wall for Arabic 101. I remember a good Jordanian friend of mine in Italy jokingly saying that I couldn't learn Arabic because it's too hard. I register for the course on a whim since if fits perfectly into my already packed schedule putting me at 19 credit hours for the semester.

-My first summer since 1998 that I don't travel for the summer. Instead I work like crazy to save up to go abroad.

-Back to Italy! I arrive at the beginning of September and start to learn to navigate the mess that is the Italian university system.

-I fly home for Christmas with my family.


-I return to Italy to study for exams. I study for a month solid! Ah, the joys of the Italian universities.

-New classes start. I do some traveling during the breaks. July comes and it's time to study for exams again but it's sooo much harder in the summer than in the winter!

-I go back to work in Greece for two full months during August and September!

-I get back to Italy in September. I'm so happy to be back in Italy and I want to stay indefinitely but I'm finished with university now and job options are limited without a work visa. I've already worked in the leather market and as a waitress and neither of those are sustainable. I decided to go home at the end of September and sort out my credits (so I can officially graduate) and my life!

-Back home. What will I do next? I'm living with my parents and working at a restaurant. My parents "force" me to buy a newish car and I cry in the dealership as I'm signing the papers. This really makes it hard for me to just pick up and take another trip or do something random. Boo to car payments and responsibility.

-Still, I'm thinking about what to do next. I have a little file folder where I've been collecting information on possibilities: Peace Corps? Teach For America? AmeriCorps? Study French at a language school in Paris? So many possibilities but what makes sense?

-December. College graduation! After a long fight with the History department to accept my American History class that I took at the University of Florence I am finally able to graduate! I have a Bachelor's degree in Italian and a minor in Urban Planning and no idea what to do with my life!


-An idea finally comes to me. I will get a TEFL (Teaching English as Foreign Language) certificate so I can teach English abroad. The best part of my plan is that I will take the month long class in Florence (so that I can spend more time in the place that really feels like home to me) and then teach in Morocco (since I've always wanted to go there AND I can try to put some of my Arabic studies to use). I've already been saving money but now I kick it into full gear so that I can save up enough to pay for my car and student loan payments for 6 months while I am gone.

-June. Just 8 months after I left Italy I'm on my way back for a whole month!

-I don't end up getting a job in Morocco so I get a job with an Italian summer camp organization and spend the summer traveling all around Italy working at different camps.

-In September I get a job working at a language school in Sardegna and at the beginning of October I'm on a plane to start another year in Italy. I've only saved up for six months of my car payments and since I know I won't be needing it anytime soon I put it on my parents to sell it. (It's the last car I've owned.)

-Home for Christmas.


-I return to Italy to continue working in Sardegna. By February I realize I'm tired of living on an island. I want to either go back to the mainland of Italy or maybe try out another country. Egypt perhaps? I've been keeping up my Arabic studies so that seems like an exciting idea. The only problem is I don't make much money so don't have much money to move.

-I remember my file folder of possibilities and think of Teach For America. If I could do that program it would give me two years teaching experience and certification which would allow me to teach abroad later at an international school which could be a real job with a real salary! I check the website and find out and the application is due in a week!

-I get called for an interview with TFA and in March I'm on a plane to NYC for the very first time. I love it just as much as I thought I would! My mom convinces me to change my placement preferences to New York as top choice (because it's where I really want to be) from what I'd originally put (which was Phoenix so that I could be near my family for two years).

-April. I find out that I've been accepted to teach ESL in NYC. I am so excited! Now I just have to tell my boss I'm going to be leaving a month early. I start a blog to chronicle my experiences in TFA and teaching.

-May/June. I return to Phoenix for a month to work and get ready to leave for NYC.

-July. My life as a TFA Corps member begins! Induction in Philadelphia is just as intense as they said it would be.

-September. I start teaching ESL in Brownsville. Yeah, the first year teaching is rough.


-I finish the teaching year! Sadly I don't have enough money to travel during the summer. Instead I go to a week-long workshop in Philadelphia, get paid to attend a week-long workshop in NYC, and visit my family in Phoenix.

-I start my second year teaching at a new school where there are many more ESL students for me to teach. The school isn't perfect but it's a HUGE improvement over my old school.


-Graduation! Grad school is finally over. My parents come to visit me in NYC for the first time to celebrate.

-Summer. I finally have enough money to travel! I decide to take a trip to Guatemala and take a little Spanish class while I'm there.

-New school year. I'm still teaching ESL though I'd asked to have my own class teaching a self contained grade. I start thinking about international schools again and put the job fairs on my calendar for early next year.


-The job fairs come and go. I realize I'm just not ready to leave New York.

-July. I get a job working with a study abroad company in Florence for a month. I've wanted this job for a couple of years now and I'm SO excited to be going back to Florence.

-August. I travel around Italy, Greece, and Switzerland visiting friends from previous trips.

-Fall. I start my fourth year teaching. I remember being in Italy and thinking that two years in the States would be *SO* long. now I've doubled that time.


-I start thinking about summer plans. I toy with a couple of ideas including going back to Italy and going to the Middle East. I decide it's finally time to go to the Middle East. I've been studying Arabic for long enough now and wanting to go for even longer.

-I plan to go to Syria for two full months to study Arabic. After two weeks in Syria I take a side trip to Lebanon and fall in love with it. I decide to change up my plans and stay in Lebanon for the whole second month.

-Fall. I start my fifth school year really itching for a change. I really want to go back to teach in Beirut at the American International school there but if that's not possible I'd be willing to go to another country too. As much as I love NYC now might finally be the time to make a change.

-December. I register for the job fairs to find an international school to work at for two years beginning in the fall.

So, in conclusion, what started out as me not having any clue about what I wanted to do at the beginning of the decade has all sort of started to fall into place and make sense. Things build on each other and one thing leads to another until it all seems meant to be. Maybe next year I will be at an international school (in who knows what country) and that will be the start of a whole new chain of events. Or, maybe not. We'll just have to wait and see.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Could this year be the year?

I've been thinking about it for a *long* time. Could this year finally be the year that I decide to work at an international school?

I have wanted to work at an international school since before I started teaching. At first I thought I'd teach two years in NYC and then immediately apply to work abroad. I quickly realized I'd need at least three years to be ready to leave New York (both financially and mentally). At the beginning of my fourth year I even had the international school fairs on my calendar but by the time they rolled around I knew I still wasn't ready to leave. Now it's my fifth year and I think I'm finally ready. In part my travels in the Middle East this summer have inspired me to go abroad and do something exciting again. Especially since I fell in love with Beirut (like I knew I would) and even visited the two American schools there. Lebanon has been my first choice for teaching abroad for a long time. Another factor has been my boredom with school lately. At the end of last year I started feeling that I was getting into a rut and it came right back at the beginning of this year. I need a new school, a new environment, just *newness* to keep me interested. Five years in the same city and with the same job is a really long time for me.

For the job fairs you have to specify three regions that you would be willing to go to (and by "regions" they mean continents). My first choice will be Lebanon (followed by elsewhere in the Middle East), then Europe or South America.

I took the first step yesterday and started an application to go to an international school job fair at the beginning of February! Today, I even brought it up to my principal. I need her (and two others to be references on the application). She was really excited for me and the realized it would be "really sad" to not have me at the school next year. She said it would be hard to replace me. (Awww!) Now I just have to line up one more reference and submit my application.

I feel like things could start happening quickly.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Moving Along in October . . .

The Kindergarteners and newcomers continue to be my most challenging groups to teach this year. The "Kindergarteners" I should start off by saying are actually a group of Kindergarteners *and* first graders. Even in my mind I keep thinking of them as just Ks, sometimes forgetting that there are first graders in the mix too. I'm trying to build in parts of my lesson where I push the first graders to do more than the Ks (especially in writing) but some of the first graders are *at* at Kindergarten level anyways. The squirrely behavior at the end of the day has been really frustrating and I want to try to come up with more fun things we can do in the classroom so that we're learning English but not necessarily always reading or writing. It's just a lot to ask of these little ones at the end of a long day. On a positive note though, the last two days have been almost miraculously good in terms of their behavior. I've been rewarding them early and often with stickers and Skittles (maybe one or two Skittles per student for the entire period). And of course lots of praise for the kids doing the right thing. It's working and I'm so relieved. I'm starting to feel like now we can start getting to work!

The newcomers have also been improving slightly in the last couple of day. There are two boys in the group who are non-stop talking, calling out, jumping out of their seats, etc. There are another three who are easily pulled into all of that who then compound the situation. When any of them are gone things run much more smoothly but when they're all there it's really out of control. I finally started calling parents which is really hard for me because I don't speak Spanish so I need to get a translator to call home for me. In addition to the phone calls I've been trying to break up the group a little by having two or three students go off to a center to work on something while teach to the rest of the group. The students who are off at the center are enjoying being independent and doing something hands on while the students who stay with me are much calmer in the smaller group. It's only been a few days but I'm hoping that this system will continue to work out.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

New Year, New (and Old) Classes

Last year I didn't have any Kindergarten students but the year before they were my *favorite* group of kids. They were just so cute, eager to learn, and they followed directions beautifully. This year the Kindergarteners are SO not my favorite group. Maybe it's because no group of students could compete with the Kindergarteners from two years ago (who were also my favorites last year in first grade and again this year in second grade), or maybe it's because they are just so squirrely, talkative, and immature (for lack of a better way to describe a bunch of five year olds). To be fair I do pick them up at the last period of the day when surely they must be exhausted (I know I am). In their regular classrooms they would be having "choice time" where they could choose to play with blocks, play in the kitchen center, or something else hands on. Instead, I'm picking them up and asking them to sit quietly and listen to a story and then go to their desks and draw a picture about their favorite part. Still, I don't have as great an affection for these students as I did for my other students who made me think I wanted to be a Kindergarten classroom teacher.

The groups that I am loving this year are my second graders, third graders, and fourth/fifth graders. These groups are all made up of kids that I've been teaching for three or four years now. I know all of them and they all know me. From the first day that I picked them up for ESL this year it was like we were just continuing from where we left off at the end of June. I didn't have to teach them class rules and procedures, I just made sure that I was very structured in implementing them. They know my classroom so well that they actually were reminding me of some procedures that to be honest I hadn't really used in over a year. One third grader raised her hand with three fingers to make a "W" and said, "Ms. M, I remember we ask to get water like this." Um, actually we haven't done that for two years (mainly because *I* slacked off on implementing the procedure) but OK, I guess we can start doing that again.

The group that I'm still on the fence about is my Newcomer group. Newcomers have always been my favorite to teach. There's nothing more rewarding than seeing a student go from not speaking a word of English at the beginning of the year to talking up a storm just a few months later. This year I got five Newcomers from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, all in fourth and fifth grade. Add them to the mix of Newcomers I got last year who are now in second, third, and fifth grade, and I have a nice mix of grades and abilities for this group. The thing is, four of the five new students are boys who are rowdy and silly during class (not at all typical of the Newcomers I've gotten in the past who are so sweet and quiet). They're still a good group, I'm just having to work a lot harder than I'm used to for a Newcomer group.

Monday, September 07, 2009

It's the last day before Back-to-School and I'm sitting here on my couch enjoying a French Press and some morning talk shows.

I'm feeling good about going back to school tomorrow. The other day I was talking to one of my friends from school and she was lamenting the end of summer vacation. I got back from nine weeks of traveling in the Middle East on Monday so for me I feel like vacation is already over anyway. This past week has sorta just felt like killing time. I guess that's why I wasn't at all bothered by going into my classroom two days last week to start getting set up. I was in fact excited to do it. This is going to be my fifth year teaching and there have been summers where I went in early and summers where I didn't. This year it just felt right. I spent about eight hours total in my room and it's already looking fabulous. Teaching gets easier every year, and I guess so does setting up your room. I completely rearranged the set up of my room this year but it took no time at all (probably because I'd been imagining it since the middle of last year). I stopped by the dreaded "Teacher Store" and quickly picked up exactly what I needed. I now know exactly what to buy and where to find it. I was even smart enough this year to go before the crazy crowds and avoided waiting in line for more than an hour like usual. I think it's going to be a good year.

Tomorrow I get to start the fun part which is figuring out which kids tested out of ESL and which kids will be coming in. It's a long process but it's my favorite part of the year.

Now the real challenge: getting to bed early tonight so I can wake up at 6am! Ugh.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ok, so I know this is totally wrong to say and I'm SURE I'll be regretting it soon, but . . . I'm actually sorta looking forward to going back to school a little.

(Please, don't hurt me for saying it.)

I've been having a fabulous vacation (better than I could have imagined) but I'm also looking forward to getting back to real life. Like my apartment, my friends, the city, and yes, even school.

It's going to be an interesting year with our assistant principal-turned-principal. I'm looking forward to seeing all of my little ones (especially my babies in the first grade who will now be second graders!!). And I love all of the beginning of the year organizing: my classroom, my schedule, finding out who's new to ESL this year and who tested out.

I'm sure come October 1st I'll already be counting down to summer break, but for now I'm reveling in the last days of summer and thinking about the year to come.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Flat Stanley in Syria

July 29, 2009

Guys, I have some big and exciting news to share with you! Ms. M. and I are leaving Damascus and moving to Beirut, Lebanon. Yes, it’s true! Now I think we will have to rename this book “Flat Stanley’s Syria AND Lebanon Journal.” Im very excited to see Lebanon. It’s a very tiny country but there us so much to see and do, Our very first weekend in Lebanon we are going camping in the mountains, I can’t wait! (I’ve never been camping before!)

Flat Stanley in Syria

July 24, 2009

This weekend Ms. M and I did some traveling around Syria. We took a bus to Aleppo (it took 5 hours!) to meet some friends and see the city. Aleppo is smaller than Damascus but still very big. We saw the citadel which was amazing!! It was so big. I thought, Oh wow! So cool! Who built this?? The souk was also very interesting. It was similar to the souk in Damascus but the alleyways were narrower and it seemed like a maze. We saw lots of children in Aleppo. They all said, “Hello. What’s your name?” in English. Of course I said, “Hello, my name is Flat Stanley. What’s yours?” They had names like: Ahmed, Mohammed, and Emad.

After a few days, we left Aleppo and went to another city called Hama. It had big water wheels that used to be for making electricity. They were so pretty. Then we took a little side trip to see the Roman ruins of Apamea. There we saw the longest road from Roman times. The street was lined with tall columns. Some of them were broken but most of them were standing tall.

On the last day of our trip we went to see a huge castle called Crac de Chevalliers. It was so big! We climbed all the way to the top of the command post where you could see the whole castle from above. I was imagining that the enemy army was coming to attach the castle and I had to defend it! It was cool!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Flat Stanley in Syria

July 10, 2009

Wow! I can’t believe we have been in Syria for 10 days already! Time really flies when you are having fun. In the past week Ms. M and I have been learning our way around Damascus. At first it seems really confusing but after a while you learn how to get around. Now we even know the short cuts! We have also been meeting a lot of new people. Syrians are so nice and everyone tries to help us wherever we go. Everyone on the street says “Welcome!” in English when we walk by. We have also met a lot of students who are studying Arabic just like Ms. M and people who are traveling all over the Middle East. Many people come from Turkey and then to Syria. After, they go to Jordan, Lebanon, and sometimes Egypt. I want to visit all those places too! When people talk about them they all sound like so much fun! Ms. M says we will probably get to go to Jordan and Lebanon. I can’t wait!


Flat Stanley in Syria

July 3, 2009

Wow! The last two days have been so exciting! Yesterday was our first day in Damascus. (In Arabic it looks like this دمشق). When we first left the hostel I wondered where Ms. M had taken me! The streets were narrow and dirty and the buildings were brown and falling apart. Then we turned a corner and saw a long beautiful street called the “Straight Street.” It was filled with people and all kinds of shops. Then we got to the market. The famous. Middle Eastern souk. (In Arabic it looks like this سوق). There was so much to see I didn’t know where to look first. Instead I let my nose guide me. I smelt exotic spices, strong coffee, and sweet candy. There were all kinds of people in the market too: kids, adults, women in head scarves and some without, tourists, and men in traditional Arab dress. The strange thing was that Ms. M didn’t even take any pictures. She said she knew we’d be back and just wanted to take it all in the first time.

Today we took our first day trip. We went on a car ride with our new English friends Sam and James. They were so nice. Sam was really funny because he kept forgetting my name! He called me Flat Eric once! So anyways, on the trip we went to a place called Bosra to see an ancient theater. You really have to see it to understand how cool it was so I’ll let you see the picture of me there. At Bosra we even saw a camel!

Oh, and I forgot to tell you one other cool thing about our day. To leave our hostel we had to climb down a ladder from the balcony. The hostel is built into the old city walls so going down the ladder is the quickest way out. It was really fun and I wasn’t even scared!


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Flat Stanley in Syria

I think I have mentioned before that I have been doing the Flat Stanley project with my students. I am taking Flat Stanley on my trip to Syria this summer so that I can share my experiences with the students when I get back. I made a little book called "Flat Stanley's Syria Journal" so that Stanley can write to the kids. I thought I'd publish his journal on my blog so that I can share my experiences traveling with you all as well.

July 1, 2009

Hi guys! It's me, Flat Stanley. I've been waiting to go on this trip to Syria with Ms. M for so long and I can't believe it's finally here! Right now we are at the airport in Dubai. Do you know where that is? It's in a country called the United Arab Emirates (or U.A.E. for short). Ms. M and I left New York yesterday morning and had a 13 hour flight! It was so long! We ate two meals, watched three movies, and tried to sleep as much as possible. The next flight to Damascus, Syria is only 3 hours. I can't wait to get there.

Oh, one important thing about our trip: we are traveling to countries where they speak Arabic instead of English. Ms. M has already studied some Arabic but I haven't. I learned my first Arabic word today. It is "marhaba" and it means "hello." In Arabic it looks like this: مرحنا. Cool, right? I can't wait to learn more!


Thursday, June 25, 2009

The End of the Year is Finally Upon Us!

I've been saying all of June that it doesn't feel like school is ending soon. I think it's due to the rainy and cool weather that we've been having in NYC. Normally it is sweltering and all I can think is: IT'S SUMMER!! WE SHOULD NOT BE IN SCHOOL! (And yes, in my head it is a scream.) But this year I haven't had that feeling at all. That is until this week. This week I am just done. I spent this week finishing up odds and ends with the students and cleaning up my room. As of yesterday there is nothing left to do: room's clean, all final assignments are finished. I'm ready to turn in my keys and say goodbye to my classroom and students until September.

The best news of the week was that teachers don't have to come back to school until AFTER Labor Day! This is especially good news for me because I am returning from my big trip to Syria on August 30th. I knew it would kinda suck to get back just two days before reporting back to school but I really wanted to maximize my time traveling. Now I have an ENTIRE week off before we go back to school. I leave June 30th!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


New organization sheets came out yesterday and as usual we got them the very last 5 minutes of the school day. It wasn't stressful at all for me because I didn't even try to switch out of ESL this year to get my own class, but there were a lot of stressed teachers Monday, let me tell you. All in all we lost two teachers (they had been told in advance) and most if not all of our school aides.

The big upset came when the principal told us that she was not satisfied with our extended time schedule. (This year we had switched from after school four days a week to before school five days a week.) Her reasoning was that she "caught" (and yes, she actually used air quotes) teachers eating breakfast, coming in late, and "cutting things for student art projects." Even though she spoke to these teachers, they continued to do it, she claimed. So therefore the schedule had to be switched back to afternoons. I can not tell you how furious this made me (and many other teachers too). To claim that we are not working and that is the reason she is changing the schedule is just ridiculous! And how dare she put the whole staff down like that! We have a hard working staff at my school and if there are one or two or however many teachers doing the wrong thing the solution is not to change the extended time schedule which is working beautifully! (Teachers have not complained about it at ALL this year.)

First of all, I'm sure that is not the real reason she wants to switch the schedule. Second, if the problem IS teachers not working, will the work any harder AFTER school? And third (and perhaps most important), she will not even be at the school next year. She's "retiring." So is this all her last ditch effort to torture us as much as possible before leaving the building for good? Sounds like it.o

P.S. Do you think she won anymore people over to attend her retirement party with this showing??

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I don't think so

The other day I was talking with a teacher at my school who is helping to organize the retirement party for my principal in September. It's going to be a big to do with drinks, dinner and dancing (like a wedding I was told). And, it's going to cost $110 to attend. I was asking this teacher if she thought a lot of teachers from our school would attend. She said they were passing out the flyers to see how many might attend. I mentioned that I definitely wouldn't. "$110 is a lot of money," I said. (Especially for a party honoring someone you don't like all that much.)

"What??" She replied. "Even if you save up ALL summer??"

"I don't want to save up all summer. I'm going traveling* I have other things to save up for."

She was truly shocked that I wouldn't want to go. Seriously, by September she will be so far from my mind. Why would I want to bring her back? June 26th we say addios for good.

*I'm going to Syria for the summer! I just booked my ticket. I'm going to be studying Arabic and doing some traveling in Jordan and Lebanon. I've been waiting for this trip for a LONG time!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

It's Starting to Happen . . .

A little over two months ago, I wrote about a new student from the DR who came to me speaking no English. She had a rough start, but quickly started feeling more comfortable in class. She has been trying so hard to follow along, copy from her neighbors, and come to me to give her more instruction when she doesn't understand.

Just two weeks ago we had parent-teacher conferences and her dad, who speaks perfect English told me that he was concerned her English wasn't progressing as quickly as he'd hoped (or as quickly as her older brother). He said he had to think about it, but her classroom teacher had suggested she may benefit from being held over a year. (Newcomers can't be held over in the first two years without the parent's request). I tried to assure him that her eagerness to learn along with the great support she is getting at home will go a long way towards helping her progress in her English and other subjects. I told him how hard she has been working and even gave anecdotes about "Willy" and his younger brother who had a similar situation and in two years have sprinted forward to the top of their classes. He seemed slightly reassured.

And all the sudden last week, it started happening. The first thing that I noticed was when she raised her hand to participate in class she said more than her usual irrelevant "boy" or "girl." Then I started noticing she was really able to understand me without translation from the other kids and could ask for help in sentences. When we learned new vocabulary related to "transportation" she mastered the words just as quickly, if not quicker, than the other students. Today, she came up to me to tell me something that another kid in the class needed help with (and that kid *speaks* English). Literally two weeks ago she could not have done any of these things. I was just telling her dad that children learning English often go through a "silent period" where they are not saying much, but taking it all in, and before you know it they are speaking up a storm. I literally saw her turn that corner this week. This is why I love teaching ESL, for these kids. They make it all worthwhile.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Snow Day!

I am still in shock that we actually have a snow day. Everyone knows that NYC does not get snow days. Even when I woke up and saw lots of snow on the ground I knew that we would still have school. (We even had a 7:30 am faculty meeting and our principal hadn't emailed to say that it was canceled.) Of course, I couldn't even check the news to make sure because my roommate just moved out and took the TV with her. I quickly thought the fastest way to find out out if there was a snow day or not would be to check Facebook as all my teacher friends' statuses would either be cheering or grumbling. One teacher from my school had written that she couldn't believe the mayor would have thousands of students traveling to school on buses while urging city residents to take mass transportation to school. So that meant there WAS school. I texted her to ask if at least there was a two hour delay and got in the shower. Just as I was getting out, my phone rang and it was her. "We don't have school! Don't you watch the news??" Still not believing her I said "No! I don't have a TV!"

That was a little over two hours ago and I am thoroughly enjoying my snow day so far. I drank my coffee, surfed the internet a bit, watched an episode of Friday Night Lights on Hulu and am now making a cooked breakfast. It's hard to believe school would have just started by now. As for the rest of my day I am planning a nap, more FNL, and some homemade soup for lunch that I made last night! Ahh, I want this happy day to never end! (And it is still snowing!)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Field Trips, Good and Bad

Last week I took my second and third graders on a wonderful trip to the Met to see the Egyptian art (we had just gotten our Flat Stanley back from Egypt a few weeks prior and were all pumped to learn more about mummies, tombs, and hieroglyphics). Julie came along to help chaperone and she was a wonderful help. The kids were super impressed at the beauty and scale of the museum and they loved seeing the mummies, coffins, and especially the reflecting pool around the Temple of Dendur. Many of them have told me they want to go back and are even pressuring their parents to take them back over Mid-Winter Break next week with the free family passes the museum gave us. Highly successful trip, if I do say so myself.

Today all of the third grade classes took a trip to Toys'R'Us and McDonalds (in Times Square). Yes, that is right. They went to look at toys and eat Happy Meals. I talked to my students who attended the trip and they said that the teachers told them nothing about Times Square except to point out the NYE ball. (All of these kids said they had already been to Times Square with their families anyway, so it's not even like the trip was exposing them to a part of the city they wouldn't normally get to see.) I was so outraged at this pointless trip. There are so many wonderful (and FREE) places to take students in this city that are also educational! How trips like this get approved by our administration is beyond me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Watching the Inauguration at School

We had major technical difficulties with the internet connection/streaming today at school and I almost missed the whole inauguration. It was (almost) very traumatic.

All of the classes were down in the auditorium by 11:30 and the inauguration was already being projected onto the big screen. (I was impressed that they had gotten everything set up with they way our computer teacher had been running around on Friday trying to figure things out.) We watched until about 11:50 and then the screen went blank. The internet connection was lost and they couldn't get it back. Various teachers were offering up suggestions about finding an actual TV or trying a different news channel. Meanwhile, time was ticking away. Then I saw a second grade teacher making a bee line for the door with her class. I heard her say that it was working on the computer in her room. I followed them up to their room and Obama had just started his speech when we got up there (we missed the actual swearing in). We all huddled around the computer and watched silently as the volume wasn't that great. The cutest part was when the kids joined in singing the national anthem. The whole thing will definitely be an experience I remember forever.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Baby Steps

My new student from the Domincan Republic had a pretty good first day. She seemed to be alert and really trying to figure out what was going on in class so she could follow along. She repeated words the other kids were repeating, moved her mouth like she was reading when the class was doing shared reading, and copied off her neighbor to get something on her paper during writing. Then the second day happened and I think it really hit her that she is now in a new school where everyone speaks English and she has no idea what is going on.

In the morning during our extended time period (where I have a group of only newcomers) she started crying. I tried to get the other kids to ask her in Spanish what was wrong. Finally in between huge sobs she told them she was crying because she didn't speak English. The boy sitting right across from her was new in September and now speaks just a little English but understands quite a bit. I told him to tell her how he didn't know any English in September and now he knows a lot of English. He translated in Spanish and another boy (who arrived just a few months ago) shouted in English frantically, "Me too! Me too!" "Tell her in Spanish," I told him. Then I told Willy to tell her that two years ago he didn't speak any English either. He told her even though he felt a little embarrassed about doing so. She listened to them all and even though she still looked distraught I felt like it was important for her to hear.

The next day (her third in the school) she was still upset at breakfast before coming up to class. Her parents sat with her for a while and then finally brought her up to the class. I decided she needed a little fun and got out the "Go Fish" cards, which the other kids were thrilled about too since they love it when we get to play games in class. At first I played her hand having her repeat everything after me: "Willy, do you have a tropical fish?" Halfway though the game she knew all the kids names and how to say "Do you have?" KC, another first grader with tons of personality was having so much fun making jokes and silly faces at the "go fish" pile when she didn't get the right card. The new girl totally picked up on that and by the end of the game all the kids, including new girl, were laughing hysterically and having the best time. Ever since that day she has been totally fine in class, no more crying.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

New Newcomers

I got another new student today. She's a first grader who just arrived from the Dominican Republic and doesn't speak any English (yet). That brings my newcomer group up to eight students! I don't know what it is about this year but four new newcomers in one year is more than I have ever had. The other four students range from two to two and a half years here, so even though they are all "newcomers" there is still quite a range in the abilities of the students in the group. (Especially when you account for some of the being very strong in their native Spanish while others are very behind.) The newcomers are my favorite group to teach so I'm thrilled to be getting a new student. I can't wait to see the students who were brand new at the beginning of the year sort of graduate up to become the students who are translating and helping the new girl.

And speaking of moving up, I've been meaning to write about one student, "Willy," for a little while now. He came to me in the first grade from Ecuador two and a half years ago. At the time he didn't speak a word of English and was incredibly shy to top it off. In the last two and a half years he has learned so much English and grown about a level and a half each year in reading that he's on his way to being almost unrecognizable as an ELL at first glance. He's not there yet, to be sure, but I can really see his progress towards that. It's interesting to see how he fits (or doesn't fit) in the two groups that I see him in. Twice a day he is in my newcomer group working on basic English vocabulary and sentence structures, etc. He can often be heard saying "This is easy!" or predicting what we are about to do and jumping ahead of us on exercises. But still, he needs work building this foundation and each day he does learn new vocabulary and sentence structures that strengthen his academic English. Then, later in the day, I will see him in his grade-level group (with mostly long-term ELLs who are also in third grade) and after the mini-lesson he will immediately say, "This is too hard. I can't do it." With a little extra support and confidence building though, he can. Willy is a very bright student and it's interesting to see him straddle these two groups, one in which he is very confident and another in which he is very unsure of himself and his skills. I love that I have the flexibility to be able teach him in both of these groups because I feel that by working to both strengthen his basic English foundation while challenging him with his academic English, the gap between the two will close rather quickly.

I'm pretty sure that having this big group of newcomers to teach is part of what has made me much more content in my position as the ESL teacher (rather than a classroom teacher) this year.