StarTeaching Feature Writer
You can contact Christina at criggan3@sbcglobal.net  
Check out Christina's book's website www.howtobeagreatteacher.com
You can order her book in ebook form or in paperback on her website.
Past Articles from Christina:

Does Your Kid Have a Great Teacher?  Here's How You Know
Too Much Pressure Too Soon?  What's A Teacher To Do?
The Ten Commandments of Teachers
Teaching Literacy to ESOL Learners

 

Does Your Kid Have a Great Teacher?  Here's How You Know

By Christina Riggan

After meeting with your child's teacher spend some some time thinking about these
ideas listed below to help you decide if you have a great teacher for your child.
And even though most people make up their minds about whether they like others or
not in a few seconds, give your child's teacher a fair shot and meet with her
several times to learn enough about her to make a decision.  These may help serve as a
guideline for you.

1. Does she care about your child in every way? A great teacher is a trained
observer of children and looks out for signs of poor learning, social adjustment
problems, poor vision, poor hearing, learning problems, and whether he/she is happy
or not. These are documented and based on many observations and are not a subjective
and momentary judgment.

2. Does she listen to your concerns and your child's concerns? Does she ask
clarifying questions about your child's dreams, goals, desires? Does she make plans
and set goals with this information?

3. Does she exhibit good values, is she moral and honest, and considered respectable?
He/she may have different values than yours but they would not be considered a
harmful influence or morally bankrupt. 

4. Does she respect your family and demonstrate that by being courteous and
considerate? Examples of this would be: Answering your questions with courtesy,
respecting your family situation- whatever that may be, returning phone calls or
emails promptly, setting up conferences when requested or needed.

5. Great teachers respect the importance of good grades and test scores but also
value the learning and growth that may have occurred that grades sometimes cannot
measure.  She is able to demonstrate this growth through understandable and acceptable
measures. Examples might be learning journals, performance tasks, benchmark tasks,
essays, experiments, reports etc.

6. She communicates clearly, fairly and as frequently as is humanly possible and as
much as that family may wish.  Examples of this may be: Newsletters, letters, phone
calls, announcements of events. Others might include letting you know your child is
failing in time for him/her to recover his/her grade before the end of the reporting
period.
Or if your child has been sick for a week, he/she is not required to complete every
worksheet he/she has missed but only the most important ones for learning.

7. She is equitable or fair with all students. Examples might include giving everyone
a chance to redo a problem on the math exam because everyone failed that problem.
She doesn't punish the whole class for the infractions of a few.

8. She values the immense possibilities from learning through taking risks, errors, and
mistakes and sees learning as a journey. She encourages a low-risk environment in
the classroom. Kids are encouraged to take risks and are not chastised for mistakes.

9. She is knowledgeable about and values cultural, racial, and religious
differences, and teaches diversity in the classroom. This means it is an integrated
part of her curriculum all year, not just for a holiday.

10. She is academically competent and thoroughly trained in all areas. She may have a
certification of training for a special form of learning and that's okay. But she
should be certified in the main area of her teaching. If she is teaching all the
math for fifth grade, let's make sure she has a degree in math or the requisite
educational hours (this could be 18 hours at the collegiate level).

I hope you have found this information helpful. Remember to give your child's
teacher a chance and interact enough before making any judgments- just like you
would like her to do for you!

Too Much Pressure Too Soon?  What's A Teacher to Do?

By Christina Riggan

I often wonder if we are exerting too much pressure too soon on young students when they begin attending public school. Hopefully, they were in a more carefree environment in preschool and then may enter an intense atmosphere in public school that even begins in Kindergarten. Some of my friends that teach early grades tell me that Kindergarten is becoming more like first grade in the stress and academic demands and first grade is becoming more like second, etc.

Every teacher understands that legitimately a community must expect schools to be held accountable for proficiency and learning. Most teachers I know do not object to reasonable demands for this.

But the current climate suggests that if we just push students even more then they WILL be able to compete more effectively in the world as adults. We could enter a whole philosophical argument as to whether our society has been more productive in the past when we allowed children to play and develop their imaginations which translated into more inventive and creative adults. These adults go onto be more productive because of their imaginations have never been squelched or hammered into a box. Certainly Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple, still asserts that play and fun are an integral part of his current company policy and why it is so successful.

The other side of the argument holds that unless we set standards and expect students to meet them, they will just lazily slide along in life becoming deadbeats, or letting the other countries of the world outsmart and out invent us in product and out produce us profit.

Somewhere along the line, business has become schooling and schooling has become big business.

Certainly I have always been an advocate of learning and standards. I have had high expectations for students but they are developmental appropriate and reasonable.

For example, if Kindergarteners are ready to read and have proficient reading readiness then they might be ready to receive reading instruction to begin to learn to read.

I heard a disturbing comment the other day from my daughter-in-law (she has a one year old daughter), that unless your Kindergartener can read when he/she enters Kindergarten, he/she is all ready considered behind. Not only is this harmful, in my opinion, but it is without any consideration for what is cognitively, emotionally, socially, and developmentally appropriate.

So what is a teacher to do who may realize that some of the current academic demands are unrealistic, unreasonable and might even be harmful to his/her charges? Remembering that first a teacher’s job, like a doctor’s, is to do no harm; I offer some suggestions to help incorporate play back into learning.

There are numerous advocates and studies that support play as not only valuable but necessary for healthy human growth and development. (See sites at end of article for references)

Without adequate time for play, students may become restless, anxious, angry, irritable, unfocused and uninterested in learning. Think of yourself, when you work too long and hard, with no breaks or time for recreation- what happens? Even the military, realizes that R&R (rest and recreation) are essential to human recovery. I have heard some teachers report that their students just scribbled their end-of the year standardized tests rather than really exert their best. (after endless weeks of test prep and nothing else)

Ideas to Try:

  • Incorporate as many academic standards as possible into one learning lesson. This means you must know and understand the standards well and be able to plan a lesson with as many of the elements incorporated as possible.
  • Weave games, active motion, rhymes, music, songs, poems, and plays into as many aspects of the learning time as allowed. Most of my teaching time was spent designing every element of fun as I could in my learning. Everyone learns more when it is fun.
  • Make sure that your classroom is a community of learners and that you foster the emotional and social standards for this.
  • Let students know that every student is learning, can learn and will learn, but that learning looks different for every student. If you are not an advocate of multiple learning styles, this may be a good area to investigate.
  • Design your schedule with frequent breaks and times for the mind to rest, including breaks for physical activity. Yes, you can walk your students on the side walk for five minutes to clear their heads. If someone objects to this, do exercises in the room.
  • Cooperate with your students. Ask for their fierce or devoted concentration for fifteen minutes. Then reward them with a break, or five minutes to chat with their friends, or ten minutes of free reading time. You can accommodate intense learning time with relaxed learning time by planning and cooperation with your students.
  • Develop the imagination of your students by valuing imagination and creativity and foster these elements by planning activities that encourage it. Show appreciation for students who think outside of the box. Usually, the clowns are, and can be your most devoted students, if you can appreciate their strengths. Brainstorming sessions, problem-solving, experiments, and team projects all can incorporate standards of learning AND fun-- if fun is planned as part of it.
  • Last, have fun yourself as a learner. If what you are teaching bores you to death, it will bore your students to death. Get sincerely upbeat about what you teach and collaborate with colleagues to learn fun and interesting ways to teach it.

  Some websites that discuss the value of play in schools are listed below.

1.     www.kidsource.com/kidsource/content5/studies.play.html

  •     “Academic Studies and Play on a Collision

      Course…And Play is Losing”

2.     www.instituteforplay.info/about_us.html

·        Play + Science=Transformation (article on the seven stages of play)

3.     www.educationnext.org/unabridged/20012/elkind.html

·     “Early childhood Education: Developmental or    Academic”

      By David Elkind

4.     http://k6educators.about.com/cs/professionaldevel/a/stadtests.html

·     “Pressures Are Mounting: Is it all in Our Heads?”

          by Beth Lewis  

The Ten Commandments of Teachers

By Christina Riggan

First let me say, that I mean no disrespect by using the above title. In fact, I can think of fewer greater indicators of respect than to use the vocabulary of Christianity to offer a lens with which to view our profession of being tutelaries, protectors, for children. So it is with humility and respect I offer my opinions as to the ten standards for one of the highest callings for service to this country, teaching.

First commandment: 
Do No Harm.

Keep this foremost in your mind before you utter a word of reproach, or criticism, before you speak to parents about their parenting or to parents about their children and their intelligence, their learning ability, achievement, capabilities, handicaps, etc. You get the idea. Think before you speak, and remember that the words we speak can haunt and damage children and their parents beyond measure.

By the way, this includes any written words: suggestions for writing improvement or a letter home about why Johnny is misbehaving in class. I like to remind teachers to pretend you are writing the note or speaking the words to your child. What words would wound you forever? What notes would make you cry?

I will relate a short tale as regards to this. I just came home from the shop of a former parent of one of my students who runs a jewelry shop. I had a dead watch I thought she could fix.

I had taught her son, long ago, in middle school. I taught him English and Literature in seventh grade. He is now thirty, and has just been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, due to forceps use at birth. He is so borderline that it was difficult to discern a problem in school. It was simply put that… he had learning problems. Most of his school life was miserable. He couldn’t tie his shoes, and P.E. teachers made fun of him for this. He couldn’t write, and his third grade teacher made him sit outside the classroom door.

By the time I started to work with him, I realized he had problems, and the parents were up front about it—which helped. We decided to help him and I decided to do no harm. A sweeter, gentler, kinder young boy no one could have found. It would have been easy for me to fail him or write him off, but I did neither. Not because I am a saint. I have made my share of many mistakes, but never through intentional cruelty, usually just through my stupidity.

I simply modified his assignments (quietly) the best I could. His writing was impossible, so either I or his parents transcribed, or I tried oral responses—which he could do. I cared about this sensitive soul and wanted his journey with me to be as joyful and pain-free as I could make it.

Others in middle school and high school helped him too, and he was able to graduate and works with his parents now, is a masseuse part-time, and is functional. According to his mother, he felt great relief when he heard the diagnosis. I can only imagine how hellish it has been for him to not know why he is different.

The truth is that for me, he was a gift. I can still see his blonde hair and cherubic face sitting in the front row of my class. I will never forget his kind ways, and I pray he will not forget mine either, and that I eased his passage to learning and adulthood. Remember this story. It has been over fifteen years since I have seen this boy, who is now a man—but his parents have never forgotten me or I them or him.

Second Commandment: 
Keep the Children SAFE
.

This means that you are aware of the many factors in schools that can hurt children and take steps to prevent it.

This includes: adhering to fire, disaster drills, and safety procedures in the building (includes attending training and learning, reading manuals, posting exit maps and procedures as required, checking the identification of visitors to the building).

This also includes reporting parents who are abusive—this can be done anonymously now and in most states- it is a crime, and you can lose your license, if you do not report it.

This includes reporting teachers on your campus, whom you have witnessed or have strong evidence regarding, abusing children or using legal or illegal drugs while working. If your evidence is strong enough, it is your obligation to report it to your administrator, and if he/she does nothing, to then report this person to the legal authorities. It is your business, if the teacher next door is drinking while on the job. Not only are our reputations being damaged by immoral or unethical behavior like this, but trust in a community is severely damaged when this happens. Nothing happens in a vacuum, but usually someone knows something or suspects something, but we remain quiet. Why? Our loyalty does not lie with these types of people, but to the children we are sworn to protect.

Last, do not forget that bullying—in all forms—is abusive and many believe that it leads to violence and rage. Witness Columbine and the many other school shootings in this country. While it may seem convenient to blame parents, it is also OUR responsibility to observe, protect, and intervene. This may mean training for your campus regarding bullying and intervention techniques. or lacking that reading a book recommended by your counselor. There are wonderful programs out there, so don’t let your lack of knowledge be an excuse.

Third commandment: 
Love Them, Especially When it is Hard

I will never forget the two incidents in my teaching career that exemplified this commandment.

In walked a surly, long-haired, six foot tall juvenile into my eighth grade English class. With a sardonic grin he fell into a chair, and slumped down, sticking his legs out into the aisle. He was devilishly good-looking and as I was soon to find out very popular with boys and girls in the school—who seemed to respect him a great deal.

Warily heading to the front of the class, I began to teach. Halfway through, I broke for class work and homework assignments. He ignored the work and began drawing. As I drew closer I viewed the most exquisite art work I have ever seen. I expressed admiration for his work and asked him if he was in Art class. No, he replied.

After the day was over I headed to the counselor to find out more about this young man. Apparently he had a very bad reputation. I insisted he be allowed to take Art and went to speak to the Art teacher. Of course, his schedule had to be changed and he was moved out of my room.

I know you may think that was my motivation… but I assure you it was not. He had a talent I had never seen before in one so young.

She said, “One mistake and he’s gone.”

“Fair enough, just give him a chance,” I murmured.

The next morning he was gone to another English class. I saw the Art teacher several days later and asked her how he was doing.

She said,” He’s no trouble. As a matter of fact, he’s a big help. He cleans up and carries materials for me.”

“Is he as good as he appeared to be?”

“He’s teaching me things I didn’t even know,” she said.

In my second year of middle school at another campus, an African –American juvenile, convicted of sexual assault, sauntered into my class and sat across two chairs in the back of my remedial English class. (They had those types of classes then).

He slammed his books down on his desk and gave me a belligerent look. I really was scared to death. Our turning moment came later in the month. We warily tried to respect each other. But one day he refused to stand up for the pledge.

“Get your ass up and stand up. I can’t make you say the pledge, but you can stand up and be respectful of YOUR fathers, brothers, and uncles who shed their blood for that flag,” I said. See what I mean about stupid.

But the funny thing is, is that it worked. I meant it, and he knew it. I helped him think about the fact that probably just as many African-Americans have shed their blood for this country and flag as whites. He was showing disrespect for them, not me. He never gave me any trouble after that. I respected him and helped him learn and I think he respected me.

Due to some events in my life, I had to leave that position that year at mid-year. No, it was not due to stupidity on my part. I heard later that he threw chairs across the room with the new teacher, and was expelled.

It is ironic I mention middle school incidents. I guess it is because, usually, elementary children are so easy to love. Not always, of course, but for the most part. Sometimes, it is harder with the older ones.

 Remember that for some children, you may be the only person that may ever care about them, or believe in them.   

Fourth Commandment: 
HELP THEM LEARN

Your job is to teach AND help them learn. It is not enough to write assignments on the board, teach beautifully, or assign exciting projects or books to read…if they are not learning.

How do you know if they are learning? Ask them. If they can’t answer, or won’t answer you, use a form of assessment that measures MASTERY. Warning this is not usually a test made by the state, the district, or some textbook, but one you have designed yourself or planned as an assessment when you planned the lesson.

If you do not know to plan assessment for learning and mastery as part of the teaching or lesson plan, then that’s a whole other chapter.

I can tell you briefly these things help: let them teach and re-teach each other when learning, let them work in groups, give them plenty of practice, re-teach often, when needed, do not move too fast, do not assume everyone has learned because you have taught it, and do not take the results of learning as indicators of mastery. Not the same thing. Enough said.

Fifth Commandment: 
Know Your Stuff

It seems to be an unfortunate comment on the times that teachers who are not certified in an area or subject matter are being asked or forced to teach in a subject unfamiliar to them.

I can’t fix that and probably most teachers can’t either. But if you are in this position, be a professional and learn on your own. Take classes, professional development, audit other teachers, seek a mentor, and read professional books and magazines. Many professional journals are online now. There’s no excuse why a teacher can’t spend an hour a day reading to further his/her education.

If you are teaching in an area/subject that you are certified in, do not become complacent. Use last year’s lesson plans as ideas, but do not repeat them. You have a different set of students with different capabilities. You have a different schedule. This all means different learning and achievement.

Also, keep learning. There are few things worse than an experienced teacher who is so sure he/she is right and his/her way is the only way to teach. Not only is this a big turn-off for other kids and teachers, it is for parents, as well. That is arrogance and complacency at its worst.

New information regarding learning bombards us with how little we really know about how the brain works. Keep learning, reading, attending professional development.

I am also in favor of knowing some of the obvious basics that are the foundation of all learning as tried and true pillars:

Simple to complex is usually best.

Alphabet and Phonics mastery precedes reading.

Pre-teach the foundational skills basic to learning your lessons objective.

Spelling and writing are integrative and essential to each other.

Teach the student in the way he/she learns best.

Modify to meet student’s needs.

Keep learning fun.

Observe your students and give them breaks.

Have a passion for what you do.

Enough said.

Sixth Commandment: 
Love What You Do

Easy to say, isn’t it. But you must love teaching, kids, and have a great passion to see the light that enters their eyes when they have discovered new material. There is no greater high in the natural world.

If you are bored with life and teaching, please…please… do us all a favor and find something else to do that lights your fire.

I don’t really know how to tell you to light what might not be there, but you might keep these ideas in mind.

Make sure you balance your life with play, fun, and hobbies. Don’t neglect your own children or spouse for teaching. Get enough rest, eat right, and take frequent breaks.

I really do not think the general public realizes how difficult teaching 25 students can be. It is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Pray a lot, read for pleasure, and find pleasure in life. Whatever renews your spirits and soul, helps breathe new life into your love for teaching.

I know the pay is often poor, and some teachers have to work second jobs just to make ends meet.

This is a terrible invitation for teachers to leave the field, and communities that support low pay for teachers usually get what they pay for.

I was just thinking the other day how ironic it is that some professionals have no problem buying big, expensive cars, homes, and clothes because …” you get what you pay for.”

But they rarely apply that to schools and teacher’s salaries.

Seventh Commandment: 
Create Communities Devoted to Kids and Learning

How can I do that, you ask?

Good question, and it may be a hard one, but not impossible.

One teacher can make a tremendous difference and we all have heard the stories about those teachers. And you do not have to write a book about it, or make a movie either, to do this.

A first step is to join the P.T.A. or P.T.O. at your school and become active—within reason. Help out with fund raisers, community drives, or ideas to encourage the children to be a helpful part of the community. Serve on the board, if you can.

Serve on community boards, district groups, or brainstorming groups. Work on committees on your campus to improve standards of learning for teachers.

Join professional; organization devoted to learning and helping kids learn.

Become certified in areas of need, and be willing to learn from other great teachers.

Represent your community or school when you are able with pride, confidence, and professionalism. Do not gossip or belittle your school or your district. Dress professionally. Tight, revealing, or sloppy clothes indicate a lack of self-esteem and pride regarding yourself.

Eighth Commandment: 
Support the Other Professionals in your Community

It is not a contradiction when I say this in light of my comments regarding reporting abusive behavior. This is plain old courtesy and good manners, which seems to be a dying commodity, lately.

You can still and should show respect for all professionals in your building; from the janitor to the school secretary. This means being courteous and polite, saying please and thank you, often. Asking politely for something is mature behavior, instead of acting like outraged children that you do not have it NOW.  

The Golden Rule to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” still applies everywhere. Even if other people do not abide by it, you can. You can turn the other cheek, when you need to. I am by no means suggesting that you let others abuse, belittle, or insult you, and take it. But you can respond like an adult without insult and disparagement.

You may have noticed that everyone has a chip on their shoulder lately and flies into a rage over the slightest incident. (Witness road rage, temper tantrums in stores.) This is not assertive behavior, this is adolescence, immaturity… refusing to grow to adulthood.  

A school system is a social group nurtured by courtesy, empathy, and understanding. Do your part to be the adult. Speak to everyone every day. Say Good Morning. Tell people goodbye. Ask if they need help. Help out when you can. Don’t fight with other teachers or gossip about them.

Ninth Commandment: 
Support your Administrator and District Personnel

I admit that at times this has been hard for me. I have seen a change that were made for political reasons or for personal aggrandizement and it was very discomfiting for me.

But in general I can tell you that most administrative personnel care about kids as much as teachers. They have a hard job to oversee the general plan and all the details. It is particularly hard when they want to implement change and they have few supporters.

Most teachers will tell a principal why all the changes they want to implement won’t work, but these same teachers rarely have an alternative solution or have even thought about it. Complainers and gripers bring everybody down.

Remember creating a community of learners can not be done with the leaders. Do your part. Willingly cooperate and help the leaders. They will see you as part of a team instead of someone they wish would leave the community. If change is happening, try to become part of the learning curve, you may be surprised at how much you learn, and this may change your opinion of the change being implemented.

Tenth Commandment: 
Stay in Teaching or Keep Contributing  

Maybe you can’t stay in teaching. Maybe the salary is so low, you can’t survive. No one should be forced to starve, just because they are willing to serve a cause greater than themselves. But if you love it, and are good at it, even if you are approaching burn-out, try to stay in the field of education.

Becoming a principal is not the answer, if you love teaching. Trust me, most of them are handling paperwork and bureaucratic demands; they are not teaching and working with kids on a minute by minute basis. If they were ever any good at teaching, most of them miss it, and envy you.

Taking a leave of absence may work for you. Approaching teaching from a different angle may work. The Peace Corps still needs teachers. Teaching overseas can be exciting. Asian countries always need English teachers. Going back to school may help re-ignite the fire and passion for you.

Taking off a couple of years to try something else is always okay. You may find that you missed teaching and wanted to go back. Schools respect that, so don’t worry that you won’t find a job.

Consider research, writing, other avenues of teaching—dance, gymnastics, cooking. Teaching is really almost everywhere and there are never enough good teachers to fill the need. Stay with us folks, we need you!

 


Teaching Literacy to ESOL Learners

By Christina Riggan

Twenty three of my twenty five years of teaching in public schools was with ESOL students from all over the world—from Asia to South America to the Middle East . At one point I had students who spoke thirteen different languages in my classroom, in addition to the English-only speaking students. My job was to teach them English; and to teach them to read and write, learn math, science, social studies, etc. on top of the challenge of learning another language.

You may believe that I started out trained, certified, and with some experience with ESOL kids, or different cultures, but you would be incorrect. My first experience occurred in the second year of my teaching career when the Hispanic Kindergarten teacher next to me came to my room, and asked me to take the new student assigned to her class. He spoke only Japanese. She said, “I teach Spanish. I don’t know what to do with him.” Of course, neither did I, but I took him anyway.

I had no teaching experience with other cultures, or teaching English to others, but I had always loved history, cultures, and languages and their people. I taught the young boy that year for Kindergarten and his younger brother the following year, and learned “by the seat of my pants”. His parent invited me to dinner before they left to return to Japan . One valuable thing I learned about Japanese culture: Don’t eat everything on your plate. It means that they haven’t fed you enough food. Of course, to Americans it is meant as a compliment to the hostess. So therein lies the conundrum for cultural misunderstanding, and a good laugh, if everyone has a good sense of humor. These same parents have sent me a Christmas card faithfully for twenty years.  

Later, the next year, my district paid for twelve additional college course hours for my training in linguistics. I received my certification through training, not a test. To be fair to the district I worked in, they had little to no experience with ESOL students and their families. But when faced with an influx of students, they did the right thing and paid for training for their teachers. As unprepared and as untrained as I was initially, some situations I see occurring now are even worse. Usually they begin with districts unwilling to spend the money and time on training and preparing teachers properly, and teachers resentful of the extra burden from students who may need more than the teacher can supply.

Additionally, even though there is additional work, preparation, and training required for ESOL teachers, few teachers receive stipends. I have even heard some ridiculous folks say “Anyone can teach ESOL. It is simply good teaching.”

No, not just anyone can teach ESOL. It demands training and preparation. You needed a certified math teacher for your math classes; you need trained and certified personnel for one of the most important jobs in public school: teaching English and literacy.

So I will offer to you my Five Principles of Teaching ESOL Students, gained from twenty plus years working with these students and their families, my training, and my professional development and reading. This is certainly the short and sweet version—honed down for this article.  

FIVE PRINCIPLES FOR TEACHING ENGLISH TO ESOL STUDENTS

FIRST PRINCIPLE: Remember that they are scared to death, may cry, may vomit, tremble, run away, throw temper tantrums, or not speak for a year, OR MORE. You get the idea.

YOUR JOB:

1.      Be loving, patient, welcoming, smile, and be friendly.

2.      Discuss compassion and empathy with your students beforehand.

3.      Create a learning environment that encourages success for everyone.

4.      Help them make friends.

5.      80% of communication is nonverbal, so you can communicate. Use nodding heads, hand signs, pictures, mime.

6.      If you resent the child, (or the extra work he/she requires) he/she will know.

7.      Art and drawing are the first written universal languages of communication--begin there, and use it as a tool to gaining language.

8.      Play, fun, games, and laughter are universal childhood pathways to learning--

       be smart and use them to your advantage to teach ESOL learners.

SECOND PRINCIPLE: Fear can paralyze anyone. Risk for a child might mean shame and humiliation in front of their friends, peers, family, and teacher, or school.

YOUR JOB:

1.      Keep the task small, manageable, and successful. (90% successful-10% risk- especially at first)

2.      Nodding approval, smiling, “good job”, clapping, etc. show approval and offer reward and success for students. Most of them want to learn and are desperate for approval.

3.      Create a low-risk classroom where risks are encouraged and applauded, failures are minimized as paths to learning, and everyone helps each other learn, by respecting the process and each other.

4.      Encourage collaborative learning. It lightens your load and creates synergy for learning. Learning is then the responsibility of everyone, and everyone is responsible for each other’s learning. Besides, remember the adage that the best way to learn something is to teach it?

THIRD PRINCIPLE: Teach vocabulary, writing, and reading together and keep it simple.

YOUR JOB:

  1. Gather teaching materials that help illustrate words and their meanings. Real objects are terrific. Models of the real thing work too. For example, it is fun to bring real food to school when you do the food unit.
  2. Pictures (realistic and in the correct color) with the matching word are essential tools to do your job. As are writing materials-paper and pencils, markers, crayons, notebooks.
  3. Dictionaries with pictures and words, and simple reading materials are also necessary. Use simply written books with either one word per page or one simple sentence per page.
  4. Start with a thematic unit that is universal—family, body parts, colors, food, transportation, animals, numbers, and the alphabet. I start with the family and the family names.
  5. Spend as much time as it takes to master the concept. Language learning occurs constantly, but usually silently. But then it may begin all at once like an avalanche. Be patient. Encourage speaking, by modeling. Speaking slowly and clearly, but naturally. Don’t try to force them to speak.  On this vein, make sure that you are speaking Standard English correctly. Do not use slang, or idiomatic expressions, and keep drawls to a minimum. Please do not use “fixin’ or getin’”. Students--all students--are hearing and learning English from you. While no one wants a teacher so prim and proper he/she can’t relax, nevertheless, remember that you are their model for many things.
  6. Teach them how to write and say their name first. Then work on a simple repetitive sentence. i.e.  I see my mom. I see my dad, brother, sister, grandma, grandpa, dog, baby brother/sister, aunt, uncle. Draw and illustrate one to a page and assemble into a book.
  7. Keep the books at school in a safe place for them to use as a source for spelling and as examples of vocabulary development. This will allow for transference to other sentence structures such as:  I see a tree, a house, a school.
  8. Over time, you will have created dictionaries for learning (colored and illustrated) evidence of teaching, learning and mastery for anyone to examine or view; and definitions of progress and growth.

FOURTH PRINCIPLE: Learning the alphabet, phonic sounds, and how to combine those sounds into simple words is a basic foundation for linguistic mastery. Spelling simple words (from word families) is essential to reading, writing, and speaking English. I recommend that you read Richard Gentry’s “Teaching Kids to Spell” for valuable information on this. 

  1. Pull your ESOL kids for ten minutes daily-- devoted to building background for learning, developing vocabulary, and reading.
  2. They should write and read every day.
  3. Ask for help from the administration, and accept help if it is offered. If parents or an assistant teacher offers to help, let them work with the most needy students.
  4. Sometimes the most at-risk English speaking kids are also in need of extra help with vocabulary, sentence structure, phonics mastery, spelling, and reading and writing skills. Consider how you could expand your lesson to subtlety include more students who may need it.

FIFTH PRINCIPLE: Be respectful in every way of other cultures, their customs, beliefs and values, or food, especially when they differ from yours, the schools, or even the United States .

YOUR JOB:

  1. Learn something about the cultures of the students you are teaching.
  2. Many cultures teach their children to never look adults in the eyes.
  3. Many cultures do not like to shake hands. A slight bow or a nod may acknowledge one another.
  4. Some cultures find it highly offensive to touch their child’s head. Safe advice is to not touch any child anyway.
  5. Food is culture specific. Teach your American kids manners about civility when eating together. No offensive comments like “Ew! That’s gross or disgusting!”
  6. Discuss cultural preferences with respect and an interest in learning. I have found that most Americans have a great deal to learn about the history, contributions, and value of other countries and cultures.
  7. Encourage some cultural experience days when your class might learn a dance, new words in another language, or taste food from a different culture.
  8. Advocate respect for other cultures with your fellow teachers, other students in the school community, and the community at large. It seems ridiculous to me to argue whether it is proper for women to wear their head covered. Generally speaking, I have found that the more respect you evidence for other cultures, the more respect you will receive for your own, and this will allow honest communication and clearer understanding between cultures.

My experience with other cultures and ESOL students has been one of the greatest rewards of my teaching career. I have learned so much, and my experiences have deepened my interests in all cultures and their histories. The more I have learned about other people and their history, the more respect I feel for different cultures; and it helps me realize that America could learn something of value from all people. I suggest that if you have the opportunity to teach ESOL students, that you try it, and see if it is not one of the greatest rewards of your life.  

 

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By Christina Riggan

 

 

 

 

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