Teachin' Spanish For America

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 30 2011

After Institute

I’m sitting in Newark once again, an hour early for a brunch at what is touted to be an excellent Halal Soul Food place?  Looking forward to some real food.  I had a crazy and bizarre afternoon/night that (temporarily) wiped the memory of Institute from the surface of my brain, but it’s back.  I thought I would share my thoughts and feelings about Institute and possibly everything as I go back into Newark.

Three days before classes started at the school that I was teaching at, I was switched from a kindergarten to a bilingual first grade classroom.  It was a lot of work to redo lesson plans, investment plans, charts, etc. etc., but I was so SO SO SO excited about teaching bilingual.  I already knew my escolares were going to be amazing (and they were) and that we would have so much fun and learn so much.

The four weeks seemed to go on forever; at the same time they are a blur.  It wasn’t as hard as people bitched, but it was hard.  I got 5-6 hours of sleep a night, and I can function on that.  My kids made growth; some of it was dramatic.  Some fell through the cracks and remind me that I need to always work harder to get every kid.

I met F., one of the smartest almost-second graders I have ever met, who loved to read, write, and draw and loved his baby brother more than anyone.  F moved up 2 levels in reading, the equivalent of 17% of a year’s worth of reading instruction in 4 weeks.  I met A., to whom I was not shy in expressing my admiration of his handsomeness and intelligence, and J.

J was that kid for me.  He got here from Santo Domingo a few months ago, and spoke probably 4 words of English.  He had a lot of trouble sitting still, (obviously) especially if the class was being conducted in English.  He could write his name (and would do so with gusto, and including his middle initial), and count to 12 in Spanish.  I loved him immediately, with his little smile and when on the second day he came in with a Mohawk, I was delighted.

There’s more to why J was that kid.  After the first day, when I was sitting with my School Mentor Teacher, she expressed a lot of shockingly racist views and it included a lot of strong opinions about “Dominicans” and “Blacks.” She mentioned her opinion that J was unable to learn and that he did not speak English or Spanish, just made “animal noises” (not true, by the way).  That’s when I knew J HAD to learn this summer, if for no other reason than he would be having my SMT as a teacher in the fall and someone needed to show her how smart he was.

With the hard work of my collab, J went up 300% on his reading diagnostic and went from a 13% to a 39% on his math exam.  More importantly, J was no longer afraid to raise his hand.  J loved being with his teachers and the other students.  J lead activities and helped the teachers.  He was still hard to control, but I believe that J is now invested in learning in a way that he wasn’t before, and in a way that the SMT would not have bothered to try to instill.

There was drama some times, and tears other times (or at the same time…), but I did what I could for those children with the resources I was given.  Logistics across the board were a consistent and absolute nightmare, and going into a specialist in the fall I felt particularly unsupported, but I now have a lot of great material to help me transition into the fall.  I can say that, though nervous about it, I am still excited.

I’m also still pissed off.  I had the opportunity to observe one of the monolingual 1st grade classes and I was so, so upset that their material seemed SO much more advanced than what we were teaching in our room.  I felt like I was witnessing one of the “gaps within the gap” that we talk about in TFA.  I think I would be interested in teaching bilingual in the future, but I’m also pissed about the state of language education in the US and I’m thrilled to do something about it starting very soon!

I’ll probably think of more kids to talk about, and I’m very sad that I can’t post any pictures of them, because they are hands-down the cutest almost-second-graders that ever spoke two languages.  Until then, I’ll be working to get ready for the 100 or so 1st and 2nd grade scholars I’ll be welcoming into my clase very shortly!

2 Responses

  1. Kathy Low

    I’m sorry to say that won’t be the last time you’ll run into ignorant morons like that SMT. So many teachers get jaded and burned out and just throw in the towel on the harder kids. Those are the kids I love to go after. There area very few “bad” or “lazy” students. It’s figuring out what makes them tick that is the key to getting them to learn. I’m glad you had that first great experience right off the bat. You know it can happen!

    Just curious, what is the SMT’s racial background?

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