Sunday, May 31, 2015

'Tis the Season: Hiring Qualified ESOL Teachers

Hiring season is in full swing and I once again find myself busy screening potential candidates.  My principal recently attended a job fair and called me filled with glee at 9:00 at night to report about someone he met.  He thought had caught the biggest fish in the sea: a bi-lingual candidate.  I stopped my principal and inquired about the candidate's actual qualifications, beyond his language skills.

You see, my school had been burned over the summer.  I returned to school and met a teacher who had been hired while I was off in Guatemala.  I questioned his qualifications and was not surprised when he learned that his contract would not be renewed at the end of the year as he did not have the required education coursework. Upon learning of this, he immediately resigned and we were left without a teacher for several months. While the administration made excuses about why he was hired in the first place,  my answer was simple: when looking for other content area teachers we closely scrutinize coursework, experience and the completion of certification requirements.  When it comes to ESOL candidates, there seems to be a misconception that a person's ability to speak two or more languages trumps everything else.  While it can be helpful to have teachers in the building who can relate to the students on a cultural level and directly communicate with the parents, it is a disservice to hire anyone other than fully qualified individuals to work with this population.

It turned out that this particular candidate did not complete all of his certification requirements, so we elected to keep looking for candidates.  I also agreed to attend job fairs with my principal so that I can help him vet candidates early in the process.  It's still early in the hiring season and I am optimistic that we will be able to attract outstanding talent to join me in the trenches.  Do stay tuned.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Games Middle Schoolers Play

Spring is in the air, which means that my middle school students are up to their seasonal antics.  I have been dealing with middle school antics for a decade, but have to admit that this year's students may be the overall winner so far.  Here are some true tales from the trenches:
  • My school created a daily progress report form.  Often parents will request that teachers complete this form everyday, other times teachers themselves will take students under their wing and implement this type of accountability.  Blank forms are easily accessible to students and some of my better behaved students decided to forge one with a terrible report just to drive me crazy.
  • One of my students brought in her pet rabbit to school.  She carried it around in her purse all day, just like rich people carry around their chihuahuas.  She showed it to me last period of the day and to be honest, I was too tired to make a big deal out of it.  I agreed to ignore it as long as I did not see it during class.  All was fun and games until she disregarded my instructions and handed it off to her friend, who interrupted class to announce that the rabbit peed on her. Luckily, I was able to hold the class together and they did not go into their natural state and cause a ruckus while I handed the student a roll of paper towels.  
  • I walked into my classroom while another teacher was conducting a lesson in there.  One of her seventh grade students disrupted her lesson to challenge me to a push-up contest.  It was completely random, but I was in a good mood, so I accepted the challenge.  I won!
Happy Memorial Day weekend.  Remember, there are only a few weeks left :)

Monday, May 18, 2015

My Annual Book Study

Almost the entire school year has passed, which means that my vice-principal has declared that now is the perfect time for me to conduct my annual book study.  My annual book study began several years ago when I was the only ESOL teacher available at the whim of my principal who needed a name to put down for a Race to the Top grant. Apparently I received rave reviews and have been tapped on an annual basis ever since.  In reality, I do not mind conducting book studies.  In most cases, I am allowed to select the book (although this time Teach Like a Champion 2.0 was assigned to me) and I am not required to produce a massive amount of original content.  The book studies are voluntary, which helps foster a collaborative environment.  Here is what I learned about conducting book studies over the years:
  • Allow People To Talk: I rarely go through more than three PowerPoint slides without allowing participants to talk about a concept.  If I want participants to move around and find new people to talk with, I usually instruct them to find a someone wearing the same type of shoes, same color shirt, hail from the same area of the country or divide them into people who plan on cooking for their family after the event versus those who plan to hit the drive thru.  
  • Plan At Least One Group Activity: Chart paper and markers are staples when conducting book studies.  I usually have one group activity involving these items during each session.  This is either a warm-up activity or a gallery walk activity.  I often find these activities right in the book. If nothing else, the participants are amused by the way I pronounce "chart paper" and "markers" in my best New England accent.
  • Show Videos: Although I refrain from turning my book study into a film festival, I do show short video clips to illustrate concepts.  If I am a presenting a particularly dry concept, I even throw in a funny teacher cartoon or a carefully selected video of my dog.
  • Assign Homework: I encourage participants to try one of the concepts after each presentation.  I schedule time to debrief about the successes and challenges of integrating the concept into their lesson.  The participants find this to be particularly encouraging and motivating.
  • Find Out What Participants Want: As stated above, the book studies I conduct are open and voluntary for all staff members.  In order to draw a crowd, I tailor them to the needs of the participants.  Although I am not reimbursed, I also ask participants which snacks I can provide for them.  The participants appreciate this gesture and it helps me stay on schedule as participants are not constantly going back and forth to the vending machine.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Let's Research Like It's 1993

The facts that my school has banned use of the Internet due to PARCC testing and that all electronic devices are dedicated to testing made me really consider whether or not to scrap my planned research assignment.  After days of pondering, I came to a startling realization: my students could do research the way that I did research, by reading books and taking down notes.  In order to keep things simple, I changed the research topic to biographies.

Since the media center is closed down for the majority of the day due to PARCC testing, the media specialist agreed to gather biography books and check them out to me to bring back to my classroom.  I explained the assignment to my students and took in their looks of horror when they found out that Google would not be part of their research journey.  They moaned about having to read an actual book, having to write and hearing me state that I was not interested in their complaints.  As they delved into the project, they appreciated that I attempted to make it somewhat interactive by incorporating Loving Lit's templates.  I even followed the suggested project arrangement, which I am encouraging my students to keep as a model since they will have to complete research papers in high school.

As students completed their research paper at different paces, I dispatched the early finishers to help their classmates.  Since my early finishers tend to be my quieter students, this gave them an opportunity to take on a leadership role.  The students that needed a little extra attention in order to finish the assignment appreciated help from their classmates.

In the end, the students agreed on a few things: 1) technology makes it easier to find information and 2) they're glad that they didn't have to live in a world without the Internet like Ms. Ninja.  It's revelations such as these that make life an adventure deep down inside the trenches.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

In perfect timing with Teacher Appreciation Week, comedian John Oliver dedicated this past week's episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver to standardized testing.  His monologue is dead-on accurate, well-rounded and of course, absolutely hilarious.  I realize that Mr. Oliver's brand of humor may not be everyone's cup of tea.  Viewer discretion is advised.