Thursday, December 15, 2011


In Florida, because of a lawsuit many years ago, all teachers are required to take courses in teaching second language students once they have their first student.  I have been teaching for over 40 years and I have never been flagged for ESOL which means I've never been told I had to take the hours.  That's because I am a Special Education teacher and it used to be highly unlikely that a second language student would be identified with special needs in the early grades.  However, two years ago three little Hispanic children from the same family all showed up in my classroom on the same day (two were twins and the other had been retained).  They had already been identified as students of a second language and students with developmental delays, so...  I was flagged that year - the same year that I officially retired and entered DROP (our state's retirement program).  I was NOT happy.  I just couldn't believe that after all those years, that now, at the end of my career, I would have to take  college courses on strategies to teach second language students to continue teaching.

Most of my friends have had to take the courses and most described the time of sitting three hours a night as similar to that of any other poorly designed professional development.  The strategies they described were so similar to the ones that we are already using for our students with language deficits and other academic challenges.  They learned about diversity, but I come from the years when home visits were a regular part of a school year. How was sitting in those courses now going to help?  Then, as often happens (Divine intervention?),  I had the idea of doing an independent study and actually doing action research to meet the requirement. I was already spending time at the MARC (our tutoring center in our large Hispanic area).  Why couldn't I use those hours for ESOL certification instead of sitting in a classroom and simply reading about the problems. The time with the kids at the MARC actually requires me to apply the strategies and it forces me into the community where our tutoring center is housed.  It took several phone calls through the Ivory Tower to find the "right" person, Karen Patterson - someone to share my dream and my enthusiasm. 

As time passed, that simple idea began to germinate.  If it would be better for ME to meet the ESOL requirement through service, then why wouldn't it be better for the many other teachers at my school who were already involved in this volunteering effort?  It wasn't long before I shared that idea with KK Cherney, our dynamo Media Specialist.  She immediately realized the potential of this small idea.  She had already been thinking about spreading the idea of our volunteer tutoring center all over the county and this was one of the answers on how to help staff those centers.  Teachers from all over the county who needed ESOL hours could choose to spend their time applying the strategies instead of just sitting in a sterile classroom and reading about them.  It would put teachers directly into the community working with children and their families.

That "big picture" hasn't happened yet.  The dream has not been fulfilled but the dream has spread.  Karen and Sharon Patterson are helping us realize the dream.   Today, our first little wave of putting teachers into the community through ESOL hours, came to fruition.  A handful of teachers met with Karen and Sharon, our ESOL supervisors, and shared their written reflections and artifacts - pictures, blog posts, student progress.  Teachers not only participated in weekly tutoring.  They were in the community for Second Harvest food giveaways and hosted children while their moms worked through classes in English.  They participated as 50 families were helped through our Angel Tree project this week.  They helped host a huge Christmas party that included crafts and stories and even the big red man himself. 

Has this experience changed any these teachers?  There is no question that each of these teachers have logged hours in this community.  They have formed strong relationships with children and families.  They have been inside homes.  Some have shared meals.  They have had conversations, often through interpreters, with parents who would never have come to school for a conference.  They have been touched by the dreams that they have shared with the children.  This grassroot effort has the potential to mushroom into something beyond what we can now imagine.  Stay with us for the ride.  The best is yet to come...

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