Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Feeling Appreciated

I have been administering WIDA ACCESS non-stop for the past few weeks.  It has been so hectic that my daily lunch break has only lasted a handful of minutes.   Today while I was meeting with the testing coordinator, my cell phone rang (it's the only way to get in touch with me during the day).  It turned out that one of the seventh grade students noticed my hard work and asked her mother to bring me lunch.

I ended up taking an entire lunch period (thirty minutes) to enjoy pupusas and horchata with a group of seventh grade students.  While I do not teach this particular group of students, I have filled in for their class and we instantly bonded once they found out that I visited their native Honduras over the summer. It was nice to get a chance to relax as well as get to know a group of students better outside of class. To be honest, it was also nice to feel appreciated.  Once testing finally comes to a close, I do want to take time out and spend more lunch periods with students.  I get the feeling that they appreciate the attention almost as much as I do.  However, I also get the feeling that next time, lunch is going to be on me.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Becoming a Student Again

I work in a fairly large district that has thousands of teachers on its payroll.  An organization of this size is the perfect recipe for bureaucracy, so I am used to fending for myself when it comes to following up on paperwork and keeping track of deadlines. Imagine my surprise when I received an email from the certification office indicating that not only is my certification due for renewal in July, the office still has copies of the transcripts and other activities I have been submitting over the years. They even forwarded all of the paperwork to the state department of education on my behalf.  In addition to this happy news, I received a copy of my latest credit audit and discovered that I am close to hitting the top of the pay scale (Master's degree plus sixty credits).

I am currently exploring classes to take this summer.  This will not only allow me to rack up renewal credits for my next certification cycle, it will earn me a larger paycheck beginning in the 2015-2016 school year.  I want to travel, so I feel that online classes may be a better fit for me.  My preliminary research has led me to several sources that will are most likely to be on my state department of education's approval list.  Here is a list of what I have found so far. This list is also posted on my blog's toolbar for future reference.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Actively Learn

For those of you lucky enough to have your classroom technology up and running (my iPads are MIA and my laptop cart has eight chargers for twenty-five computers), here is yet another website designed to help your students become more active and engaged readers.  Actively Learn offers an extensive catalog of literature which you can customize with questions, or simply use the pre-made assignments. You can also upload your own texts and questions as well as track your students' responses through the data dashboard.  Simply put, it is the online version of the interactive readers that most likely came with your textbook.

As soon as the technology that was promised to me several months ago becomes a reality, I plan to make this a 2015 classroom initiative.  In the meantime, it will be paper and pencil down in the trenches.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Dealing With Disrespectful Students

Overall, I would rank classroom management and discipline low on my list of things that frustrate me about teaching.  Looping allows me to get to know my students fairly well and that strong relationship often prevents minor incidents from escalating.  I also know all of my students' families and am quick to point out our joint expectations.  However, just because I write a blog, do not believe that my students are perfect. Like many middle school students, they do sometimes say or do something inappropriate.

I have one student in particular who enjoys living on the edge of the student code of conduct.  Last year, she dedicated her time to seeing how far she could push the mandatory school uniform policy.  This year, she has been talking back to her teachers. Earlier in the year I asked this student to move her seat because she talking to her friend during whole group instruction.  She responded back with an inappropriate phrase.  I addressed this behavior and we mutually agreed that it was uncalled for.  A similar incident recently occurred again and this time I decided that a parent conference was warranted.  While I rarely write discipline referrals, I wrote one this time and requested that the student spend time in an alternate setting until a parent conference could be arranged (this request was granted).  The parent recently came in for a conference and the student is now back in my class.  Here is what I have learned over the years about dealing with disrespectful students:
  • Avoid the Temptation to Overreact: When faced with a disrespectful student the urge to show him who is in charge can be awfully tempting. It may even win you a class full of compliant students for the entire period. However, in some cases, your reaction may cause the situation to escalate until you are forced to call in reinforcements.  I find in situations like these, it's best to keep your cool and then invite the student to discuss the situation with you either in the hallway or after class away from a captive audience of his peers.
  • It's Not Personal: Students disrespect adults (and each other for that matter) for an array of reasons.  Although it's easy to say, don't take it personally.  When implementing consequences, make it about the behavior, not about the student.  After the situation has been resolved, move on.
  • In The Rare Case That It Is Personal: While ninety-nine percent of cases involving student disrespect are not personal, on the rare occasion, the student may indeed indicate a dislike for you or a personality conflict.  Do not allow yourself to get too emotional over this.  After all, we all have most likely dealt with authority figures in the past that we did not see eye to eye with. This has even happened to me a handful of times over my career.  I've let these students know that while they do not have to nominate me for Teacher of the Year, they do have to follow the rules just like everybody else.  In return, I promise to treat them fairly and with respect.
  • Hold Your Ground During the Parent-Teacher Conference: This may be a shocker, but when I met with this particular student's mother, she informed me that she did not raise a disrespectful daughter.  She even expressed doubt that the alleged incidents even took place.  I commended the mother for doing an excellent job raising her daughter alone in a new country. However, I also held my ground and explained to her that my schedule does not allow for meeting with parents based on fictitious events.  I calmly repeated every word that her daughter told me and expressed my desire to move on so that I could help her daughter reach her maximum potential.  The meeting ended with a hug from the mother and an apology from the student.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Living on One

The WIDA ACCESS testing window opened this week.  I scheduled my fifth period students to take the exam first thing in the morning and by the time they reached my class in the afternoon, they were drained.  While I do not believe in wasting class time, I do keep a bank of educational films available for testing days.  There is a whole world that can be discovered through film and my students enjoy learning new things from a source other than a book or my mouth.

A colleague in the social studies department stopped me in the hall a few weeks ago and told me that she showed her class Living on One.  This documentary follows four Americans as they attempt to live in rural Guatemala for two months on a dollar a day (the typical wage of a person living in a third world country).   It had a powerful impact on her students and she recommended that I  consider showing it to my class if I could find time to do so.  This film can currently be streamed through Netflix.

After viewing the film at home, I decided to take my colleague's advice and show it to my students. Like my colleague's class, this film had a powerful impact on my students as well.  The majority of my students' families hail from Central America and this film led to a rich discussion comparing their lives to those of kids living a short plane ride away.  The students reported that their parents often tell them that they should feel grateful to be growing up in the United States, but the film made them realize what was meant by that. Several students reported that they discussed the film with their parents when they got home.

As testing season continues for the remainder of the year (benchmark exams, Scholastic Reading Inventory, PARCC, you name it), I will continue to search for educational films for my students.  After all, if I cannot control the amount of testing that takes place, I can at least control my students' experience in my class.  Rather than complain that testing days are wasted, I will turn them into positive learning opportunities.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


As all good ESOL ninjas know, a surefire way to turn any student away from reading is ensuring that it is chock-full of difficult vocabulary.  I recently came across Rewordify, a website that searches for difficult vocabulary in either websites, pasted in text or the site's bank of texts and simplifies them into student-friendly terms.

While I find the site's layout to be a bit too basic and the fact that more than one vocabulary word is often provided in place of a more difficult term a bit confusing, it meets a need.  Overall, I would recommend it to students to use at home to independently complete complex reading assignments. Many of the difficult classic literature titles and public documents that secondary ESOL students struggle with are already available on the site and taking advantage of the modified texts can make the difference between a student actively engaging in or flunking an assignment.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Differentiation: A Ninja's Point of View

Education Week recently published an article which claims that the structure of most classrooms does not allow for effective differentiation techniques.  All I can say is, thank you.  For years I have been forced to endure PDs where differentiation has been preached as the cure for meeting the needs of all students.  The truth is that the student make-up of most classes almost ensures that differentiation meets the needs of very few students.  As a country, we have turned away from the homogeneous grouping which would allow differentiation to actually work.  We say that this shift was made to prevent students from being labeled and suffering from poor self-esteem.  We have decided that it's better to fail this generation instead.

ESOL classes are homogeneous by nature as students are placed by English proficiency level.  Although I have thirty-one students in my advanced class, the line between the most and least proficient students is more blurred.  This allows me to create more targeted lessons and ensures that all students make progress, even if I do have to provide intervention to certain students.  

As far as students feeling labeled and suffering from poor self-esteem, most of that comes from the adults, not the students.  My students know that they are coming to ESOL class everyday, while their classmates go to language arts class.  However, I worked to create a positive classroom environment, so the students actually enjoy coming to class.  They feel good about what they are learning and are confident about their ability to earn a good grade.  If heterogeneous groups were created due to students suffering from poor self-esteem in "low" classes, I guarantee that the culture was created by adults, not students.  Adults could easily turn that around by ceasing to act as if they are being punished just because their classes consist of below grade-level students or rewarded if their classes consist of gifted students.  In fact, why label the classes at all? My class is often referred to as Ms. Ninja's fifth period class, not eighth grade advanced ESOL.

I know that despite this article (and my personal opinion), the tide is not going to change as far as promoting differentiation over common sense in the immediate future. However, I do know that ideas around best practices tend to come in cycles, so I will see change at some point in my career.  The sad part is that this will indeed come too late as by that point, we will have lost a generation of students.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Teacher Problems

I recently came across the Teacher Problems website.  This fun site is curated by teachers and includes personality quizzes (Which Grade Should You Teach?) as well as teacher humor and other inspirational posts that can help you get in the right mindset after your much needed and deserved winter break. Here's the link:  Enjoy!