“Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing.” – Helen Keller
Note to parents: This is what I do, and why. It is a privilege to be your child’s teacher. Let me know if you have any questions.
What happens in our classrooms will determine the future of our country. It is that simple. Students come from around the globe, or simply from around the corner. They come to us literate or illiterate, wealthy or poor, seeking a better life or simply looking for a way out of the life they had. These will be the students dropped into my classroom. My job is to create a learning place. The challenges are huge, but so are the payoffs.
Much of the literature about teaching ELLs focuses on what they don’t have – English fluency. I plan to look first at what they do have. It is not just semantics. Students who first accept themselves and their cultural identity can accept the same about other people. Together, they will forge a new national identity. We really need that.
Two things are crucial to my teaching philosophy: a sense of belonging and a curiosity about life. Learning is about satisfying that curiosity. The rest of my educational philosophy flows from that. It informs my teaching strategies, materials and curriculum, classroom management and engagement with family and community.
We will tell our stories. We all have stories. We will write or talking about ourselves in pairs or small groups aimed at producing a poem or a one-paragraph autobiography. I have my own stories. I will need to know everything I can about students, asking other teachers, looking in school files, communicating with families. That will help me not only with instructional matters that pertain to students from various countries, but also with cultural information.
Students who are not fluent in English do not get a break on academics. I’ll do frequent and accurate assessments to determine appropriate coursework, but students will have to work hard to do well in class. l steps are explicit and include repetition of key concepts and a strong focus on visual elements such as pictures, video clips, Web content, graphic organizers, skits and demonstrations. Anything that expands language learning and supports reading and writing is good. Sometimes that’s as easy as bringing some stuff from home that helps define vocabulary words. Students can understand what they hold in their hands.
Family and community
Student achievement and parental involvement are closely linked. I will use every tool possible to involve parents. All parents will receive school communication in their native language. I will nudge my school toward family friendly practices such as after-school tutoring with transportation. One thing close to my heart is finding a way to bridge the literacy gap for students’ families, encouraging them to learn English and maintain their heritage language for their children. In addition, I will take every opportunity to tap into the knowledge bases of my language-minority families.
Students must be soaked in words. The classroom will have dictionaries with pictures, translations, idioms and word origins, along with novels, magazines, newspapers, cookbooks, repair manuals, tourist brochures and “sets” of content-area materials. I want to make folders for individual students with word games and other materials they can use if they finish classwork early. If the size and dynamics of my classroom allow it, I want to spend part of my day on “centers,” each with differentiated content area work.
A mountain of research shows student engagement is the key to classroom management. Bored students are students who goof off. My teaching strategies – short, full class discussions, followed, by individual, pair or small group work, should cut down on that. Proximity helps, too. I don’t plan to sit at my desk. If behavior problems persist, I will speak to students, with a translator if need be, and set consequences. I will reward good behavior with time for games (educational) on Friday afternoons.