REaChing for the stars
Empowering English Language Learners
I haven't had time to write about the big career and location change I have recently made and that has brought me back to my home state, Vermont.
First, a little background.
I decided I wanted to pursue my professional teaching qualifications while working with a fantastic group of preschoolers at an international kindergarten in Osaka, Japan, Kinder Kids in 2005. During this time, I could see how quickly my hard-work and creativity in curriculum planning turned into fun and learning for my students. Three and four year olds are full of energy, curiosity, and imagination and I found myself wanting to know more about development and education in their presence.
In 2008, when I was working towards my Masters and K-12 teaching license, I did my student teaching at John F. Kennedy Elementary in Winooski, VT, the town neighboring Burlington. Here I worked with a very diverse group of students who were mostly part of the refugee community. Burlington is a refugee-friendly city, and accepts people from all over the world annually who come to rural Vermont from war-torn countries or refugee camps in Africa, Thailand, India, and elsewhere where they have often lived for years, forced from their homelands by political and violent turmoil. Working with this community gave me a profound respect for the struggles of this refugee population and also the volunteers and teachers who help them to transition and thrive in their new home.
It is in Burlington where I met my husband, began to build my professional network, and fell in love with the more "urban" Vermont landscape along the breathtaking Lake Champlain.
After graduation, I was lucky to find a job as the After School Coordinator of Barnes Elementary School, now the Sustainability Academy of Burlington, VT. It was an exciting and challenging year, but I ultimately missed being in classrooms with children. The lack of English language learner (ELL) teaching jobs in the area encouraged me to look elsewhere for work. It is this chain of events that brought me back to Japan and over four exciting years of life abroad, travel around Asia, and the chance meet and work with many wonderful learners and teachers in the process.
In June, a friend of mine who works at JFK Elementary sent me an email informing me of an opening for a kindergarten and first grade ELL teacher. My initial reaction was that it was impossible. I felt nervous about the lack of time to pack up our lives in Japan and move, and also about the extreme shift for me as a teacher, from high-school and college-level EFL to early elementary ELL instruction. However, as I talked it through with my husband, I found myself remembering those Japanese preschoolers, the supportive group of teachers at JFK Elementary, and the diverse communities of Burlington and Winooski. As I went through the interview process, I got more and more excited. Winooski is working on some innovative, school-wide initiatives that have teachers pumped and students paying attention. Answering questions about my work with young children made me thrilled at the possibility of working with them again. In an interview with the Superintendent, I got to hear about the project-based learning movement at the school. If you have followed my blog or looked through my website, you know that this is one of my passions.
I write this from my new apartment in Burlington, VT, a short ten minute drive from my new school. While it was incredibly hard to say good-bye to Japan, to my students, colleagues and friends, I feel confident I've made the right decision. Two weeks ago I had my first orientation days and an inspiring WIDA training, and this week I've had in-service trainings focused around collaborative project-based learning team planning and mindfulness (a huge part of managing stress for both teachers and students). The teachers I've worked with are all passionate team players who want the best for their students and I'm looking forward to supporting them, and to meeting all of my new learners. I will have about fifty learners between kindergarten and first grade to provide with pull-out (of mainstream classrooms) and push-in instruction. This is the typical structure of ELL services in U.S. schools. The WIDA ACCESS test monitors their language progress, with particular attention to their CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) development. Immersed in English in their American school and community, these learners often pick up social and communicative language much faster than the more challenging language of academics that will help them be successful in U.S. schools.
It is my hope that I can help new learners gain those foundation skills through working closely with classroom teachers to build vocabulary, phonics, numeracy and critical thinking skills needed to help them access mainstream content, and to establish a love of learning. I also aim to connect with families to forge strong school-home relationships and educate parents as to how they can help students by building strong background in their home languages.
I have a challenging road ahead, and I will do my best to keep this site up to date with new resources, stories and ideas for working with young ELLs.