Monday, March 26, 2012

30 Goals 2: My Magical Teaching Moment

Day 26 of 31 at TWT!
One of my favorite things about School #3 is that I get to spend part of my day helping teach ELLs.  This year, I'm co-teaching a mixed-grade "welcome center" class for some of the newest ELLs, who have been in the U.S. one year or less.  I absolutely love this opportunity to work with these sweet, motivated students and hone my TESOL skills while learning from an experienced teacher.  Unfortunately for me, all these students are Japanese this year, so my Spanish doesn't help!

My first year in this position, there was a Spanish-speaking student who had arrived at School #3 just before I did.  I was excited to use my Spanish to help her, but I couldn't have imagined the ways she would change me.  Out of the thousands of students I've had, she is the one I think of the most often, the one that I wonder and worry and hope about frequently.

When I read that Goal #2 of the 30 Goals Challenge was to describe a magical teaching moment, I knew I had to write about her. But we had so many "magical teaching moments" that I didn't know where to start.  I kept putting it off because I knew that it would take several posts to capture who she is and how we learned from each other that spring.  Now that I'm at School #3, walking the hallways that we'd walk together, I know it's time to tell her story.

I'm going to call her "A".  That's not even her real initial, but I want to protect her completely.  So, "A" for "anónima", but also for "amable", "audaz", "agradable", "admirable"... and so much more.

Originally, I was going to help with an ELL study center that spring for one period.  A. had just arrived at School #3 after short stints at several other schools in the area; she had been in the U.S. for about 6 months.  Due to bouncing between schools and a complete lack of prior experience with English, she was basically a complete newcomer.  Imagine being plopped into a foreign country with no knowledge of the language and trying to learn 8th-grade-level math, science, and social studies while also learning the language.  Oh and while you're doing that, your family has to move several times in the first six months, causing you to change schools at least three times.

Sadly, the Spanish bilingual aide only came to School #3 three days a week, and of course he had to help other students too!  To help keep A. afloat, I started going to her first period class (reading) during my planning period on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Right away, we hit it off as we chatted a little in Spanish about our lives.  I gently helped her through simple picture books, using lots of Spanish to check and develop her comprehension.  We laughed together when I couldn't think of a word in Spanish and had to resort to circumlocution and sometimes terrible pantomiming and drawing.  We giggled together when she'd make a pronunciation error while reading aloud and I'd show her the difference.

Tuesdays and Thursdays became every day.  Two periods straight of chatting and reading and laughing and learning, since we'd go directly from 1st period to the ELL study center I was originally supposed to help with.  My planning period was now gone; reduced to the random 20-minute break I had between study center and lunch.  I didn't care.  A. was bright, hard-working, enthusiastic, and fun to teach.

Then one day at the end of study center, A. turned to me with puppy-dog eyes.
    "Will you come with me to art?"
    Art?  What could she need me for in art?  "Do you really need help?"
    "Oh yes, the teacher is explaining some project and I don't understand it at all."

So I went to art.  It was more complicated than I thought.  Moreover, I discovered that the teacher didn't really know what to do with the ELLs or how to explain things to them.  I stayed for the 20 random free minutes I had left in my day, explaining the project to A. and two other ELLs before running off to scarf down my lunch.  But I loved it.

Goodbye planning time.  Hello life-changing teaching experience...

That was just the beginning.  Tune in the next few days for a peek at the real "magical teaching moments" that A. gave me.


  1. I so love magical moments. I can only imagine how rewarding teaching ELL can be. You help open up a whole new world. I also think you are wonderful for giving up your time to help her. Many wouldn't do that you know. Can't wait to read more!

  2. This is the kind of story the newspapers need to be running. What a caring teacher does to help a student in need. A. was so lucky to have landed at a school with you. Can't wait to learn more about this young lady.

  3. I think this line captures the essence of teaching sometimes: "Two periods straight of chatting and reading and laughing and learning,"

  4. How great it is that you are telling us about one student, among your many, Jennifer. It's only fitting that you continue the story. I love that you are enticing us with this beginning of your 'magical teaching moment."


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