Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Words Matter

at Two Writing Teachers!
Today, as they have done in several other summers, our district ELL coordinators brought in some teachers who were participating in a PD session about ELLs.  (And today... surprise! The deputy superintendent showed up as well, as if a gaggle of teachers wasn't enough!)  This always makes me proud but nervous, since I know they are trying to show the teachers what good ELL teaching looks like.  It's a compliment and something-to-live-up-to at the same time!

I laminated it to keep on my desk!
A couple of years ago, they came in for the first time during only my second summer teaching summer school.  (Thus, only my second little experience teaching ELLs!)  The ELL coordinator had stopped by the previous day to bring supplies or something and caught me busy making faces, oohing and ahhing and pointing at the pictures in the book,with the kids huddled around me as we were captivated by Pete Seeger's audio performance of his retelling of the South African folk tale Abiyoyo. She ducked back out without talking to me, but when I went back to my desk, she had left two sticky notes. One said "You are a pleasure to watch teach." The other asked if the PD class could come observe me the next day.  Observe me?  I don't even know if I know what I'm doing! 

But they came, and they ooh'ed and aah'ed and pointed at the activities and decorations and materials I'd made for our thematic unit.  They watched my students learning, they took my extra copies of my handouts, they asked me questions, and they pointed out all the things I was doing that were "just like" what they were learning in their PD session.  Of course I knew all the theories I was putting into practice, and I knew my students were learning... but suddenly it was more real once it was validated by other people: I was a real ESL teacher, one worth watching and learning from!

This year, thanks mostly to budget cuts, we have a new format: 28 K-5 students in an elementary school library with me and the librarian for a two-hour, two-day-a-week "Summer Book Club" through the month of June.  (Previously, it was just me with about 10-15 students for about 2.5 hours every day for two and a half weeks.)  The jump back down to elementary from middle school (wooo, those K's are little and wiggly!) has taken some readjusting on my part, and the Tues/Thurs schedule is nice for making it feel like a real summer but makes it hard to get into a rhythm.  Since there are so many kids, we've been splitting them and doing stations, but that makes me feel even more discombobulated.  (What a fun word! I love words that feel like the idea they express!)

Besides, I didn't feel like we were doing anything super "great" today... the kids were using pictures that I took of them last week to write about the show and tell they did about a special object from their home countries, they were adding Olympics-related words to the word wall, the librarian was doing a read-aloud, and I was doing a content-knowledge-building activity about Olympic sports on the SMARTboard, where the kids would drag pictures of sports into "Winter Olympics", "Summer Olympics", or "Not in the Olympics" categories. Nothing spectacular.

So I was feeling just as unsure about being observed as I was that first summer... but my feelings were just as unfounded.  The teachers were fascinated, the ELL coordinators complimented me on the country activity and the SMARTboard activity, and one whispered in my ear that the deputy superintendent was "very impressed".  On top of all that, one of the coordinators texted me this afternoon, just to say "Great lesson!"

Really, I wish teachers had more chances to observe each other and be observed.  Having the chance to talk about my activities encourages reflection and helps me articulate what I believe about teaching and learning, and I would certainly learn so much more if I could watch other teachers and discuss their lessons with them more often!  Besides, there's nothing more powerful than words of praise and encouragement, especially from people you admire and respect.  Just as I've come to know through slicing, words mean so much.  They can push you, challenge you, lift you up, and keep you going.

You (yes, you, slicing friend!) are a pleasure to exchange words with.  While I can't possibly tape them all on my desk, I carry them in my heart.


  1. Terrific teacher! Terrific post! I think that my word for you as I read your explanations of things Jennifer is resilient. I am amazed at all the different things you tell that you do, like this time, new plan for summer school, new colleague, different time & format. That's a lot to throw at you, yet here you are being observed & loved. I only know your words, & enjoy them, but I'm betting you are a very fine teacher! Thanks for sharing all this.

    1. Thanks Linda! Your comments are always so uplifting and supportive! I just do what I do, but I guess it is pretty crazy! :-)

  2. So glad to hear that you got this verbal validation by those in your district. That is always so reassuring and should happen more often in teaching than it does. Why don't we observe each other more? We have a new option in our QCOMP observations to do peer observations. It is only twice a year but people have started doing them and seeing the value. Last week I attended my district summer institute. It felt so collaborative and I felt so validated as teachers complimented and thank me for the sessions I taught. Why don't schools feel like that more often? Like a true team of people cheering and helping each other? I get that feeling more with coteaching but I would like to find ways to make it happen even more.

    So glad you are being noticed for your great teaching!

    1. I feel exactly the same way, Dana! It would be so wonderful to be able to see others work and get their feedback during the year, building that feeling, like you said, of "a true team of people cheering and helping each other"! You're right about co-teaching -- that's when I've gotten that feeling the most too. Sad that we can't have that more often (except in Slices of Life, of course)!

  3. Amen Sister! Connecting with the wider world (colleagues, district folks, virtual teacher friends, you name them) adds depth and meaning to the work we do with students. Your description of your classroom is delightful to read. Your line describing classroom visitors as "a compliment and something-to-live-up-to at the same time!" got me thinking about teacher motivation. That "live-up-to" push got me thinking about how my own experiences with observers motivated me to learn more and hone my craft. I wish all teachers could feel the surge in motivation that sort of validation brings.

  4. It is affirming to see that someone who really deserved praise, got it--the right kind of praise from the right people. Congratulations on being recognized for what you perceive to be "nothing spectacular," but is clearly far beyond!

    Your post reminds me of some of my recent reflections on peer observations. This may need to be a blog post in the near future!


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