Thursday, December 5, 2013

ESOL Endorsement

"I took the BEST ESOL course!"  said no Florida teacher ever! For years, I heard teachers complain about the ESOL courses they were required to take (after a 1990 legal decision). Boring, worthless, waste of time - were the words most often used to describe the courses. I can't think of a single time in all these years that I have heard a Florida teacher say they learned something or even enjoyed one of the courses.   Don't get me wrong.  We need strategies for understanding, engaging our ELL students.  It wasn't the need for the professional development that was the problem but the design of lackluster professional development course that was the culprit.  As a Special Education teacher, I was never tagged to take the five required courses and from reports from my colleagues, I was always glad. 

I actually am one of those people that usually love professional development.  I love learning something new and I am what they call an "early adopter."  However, what I HATE, more than anything, is to totally waste my time.  There is a lot I need to know and children I need to figure out.  I only have 180 days with this group, so I don't have a minute to mess around.  As I have gotten older I have been able to choose PD more carefully and find ways to make the requirements fit my needs.  Often I could talk an instructor into letting me redesign an assignment to do a case study of a student in my class instead of some type of generic project - and usually they appreciated someone that wanted to work at the application level. It was probably always harder on me, but I've never minded if there was something to learn.  I chose great conferences to attend or wiggled my way into trips to study with some of the best educators in the country.  In fact, that's how I came to Chets Creek.  In 2000, I wanted the professional development that they had available, so I struck a deal.  I became a part-time Literacy Coach (never really wanted to leave the classroom) and in return, I jumped into their amazing professional development - and never looked back.  County professional development was a little trickier because it seems that they most often wanted to reteach me the same things that I already knew at a beginner level instead of differentiating.  However, I could often find a way to opt out, if I knew ahead of time.  And then for the past 14 years, I have been at Chets Creek, where they understand professional development.  I could write volumes about that - and I have!  Here, the PD is job embedded, on the clock, on-going, differentiated.  It's relevant.  It continues to push me to be better.

So... when I was tagged three years ago for ESOL, in my DROP (last five years before retirement), I was not excited (That's an understatement!)  It's not that I don't want to know more about my ELL kiddos, but I didn't look forward to going through mindless courses that required me to check boxes and jump through hoops instead of participating in real learning that would make a difference.  So, with the help of some key people at Chets, we asked to be able to design our own learning, which included actual site work at the MARC.  The MARC is a resource center, now funded by the Mckenzie Wilson Foundation.  It is a multi-organizational support for families in a 1000 mobile home community that is in Chets' attendance area. Most of our ELL students live in this area. It is quite a story all by itself.  I couldn't be prouder of my colleagues who continue to change the world, one child at a time, at the MARC. 

What we designed was individualized and "up close and personal."  The County's ESOL Department, at the time, recognized the benefits of that kind of hands-on work and allowed us to combine professional reading with face-to-face time with children and families.  During that professional development, I spent several Saturdays helping families get food from Second Harvest.  I understood for the first time that I actually had children in my class that were not getting a meal at night... sobering.  I helped parents choose gently used clothes for their children during a Christmas clothes giveaway.  I tutored each week - making the difference between failing and passing for several of my students. I visited homes and my eyes were opened to the survival circumstances that my children were living with every day. When the days got shorter and I walked out of the MARC at night, I understood, for the first time,  the fear that families faced for their child's safety.  I had so many parent conferences at the MARC that I have lost count, but I could always find an interpreter in an aunt or older sister - something not as readily available at school.  These are parents that I could NEVER get to come to school anyway.  Parents began to see me in a different way.  They saw me in their neighborhood.  They reached out.  They became less afraid and began to realize that we could work together to help their child.  How many times did a parent come in early to sit and watch as I tutored?  They wanted to know how to teach their child.  Have these three years of PD made a difference?  You have no idea!

However, now I still have two more courses to take.  New administration.  New ideas.  Work at the MARC will no longer be accepted in lieu of the ESOL course. It seems that my only option is an on-line course offered free through the district (unless I want to pay for a college course - which I would be willing to do if it were meaningful).  I've inquired about an independent study. No.  I'm open to suggestions.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Holiday Book Exchange

What an absolutely FUN morning.  Teachers in their tacky sweaters each came with a holiday book and took a number.  Beginning with the number 1, each teacher chose a book from the table, but teachers could also steal a book from a colleague instead of choosing a new book.  Let the FUN begin!  Thanks to the Reading Council and Chair Melanie Holtsman for designing such a fun event and to Maria Mallon and Cheryl Dillard for making sure their room was holiday-ready!  Work hard - play hard!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

How to eat a candy cane

As we return from the Thanksgiving break, it is time to turn our thoughts toward the winter holidays.  The children had a treat this morning as we started writing a new "how to" piece.  We brought out Jelly Belly-flavored candy canes and talked about the different ways that we get the shrink-wrapped paper off the candy cane - Do you tear or cut? Do you take all the paper off at one time or do you unwrap a little at a time so your hands don't get sticky?  Then we talked about the different ways that people eat a candy candy - Do you lick or bite?  Do you start with the stick or the curve?  Do you lick it to a point?  After talking about it, we decided to eat a candy cane and then write about the best way to eat a candy cane.  Below is just one example of a child's procedural writing.

First you go get a candy cane.  Then you take the paper off.  Then you lick it.

Second you keep licking it until it is all gone. Yummy!