CELEBRATING SUCCESS AND FAILURE
Blog originally published 05/12/17 on Teacher2Teacher
When I started going to school in the United States, I was embarrassed.
My age landed me in a ninth grade class, but the highest education I’d received in Guatemala was sixth. There was too much to worry about in Guatemala: watching my younger brother and sisters, helping my family buy food, staying safe in a tumultuous country.
We immigrated to New York City to be with my grandmother because my mom wanted a better life for us. So there I was, new to this massive city, experiencing all the shock and displacement that come with being foreign in a new home and placed in classes three years beyond any I’d taken before.
Still, I loved it. All of it. It was the first time I was able to embrace school and education. I went to school in the morning. I went to satellite classes in the evenings. I spent nights surrounded by dictionaries and thesauruses to do my homework.
And as hard as it was, I did well. I learned the language in a year and a half. I tested out of my ELL classes. I completed 42 credits.
But things came apart for me right at the end on a test I couldn’t pass. American history. Go figure. I was so disappointed. I’d given everything I could. I had worked so hard over such a short period of time. But I didn’t graduate. They said, “Come back next year and try again.” I didn’t. I was done with school. It wasn’t for me.
And that was the hardest part, that it wasn’t for me. Failing at school made me question everything I believed I knew about myself. Ever since I was a little girl, I’d wanted to be a teacher. Taking care of my brother and sisters, I worked with them on their numbers and the ABCs. It was always on my heart.
My grandmother was a preschool teacher who retired from New York. I remember her telling stories after school – not what she said or what happened to whom, but the passion and joy that spread across her face as she told them.
After I dropped out, I went to work as a cashier. I needed to help my family. I did that for several years, moving from New York to North Carolina. And that was fine for a while, but a time came when it just hit me: I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do with my life.
I got the bug for education again. I found a local community college and got my GED. My GED is framed on the wall of my classroom. It was passing that test that allowed me to keep going.
I went on from there to find success in college: I got my associate’s degree, my bachelor’s and then my master’s, but a test – another test – did me in. I couldn’t pass my Praxis to become an elementary school teacher.
When I think back on that American history test and the Praxis, I feel such empathy for my students. It never got easy for me. I’m not sure it ever does for ELL students. It’s hard to build confidence, and there’s so much failure.
It never got easy for me. I’m not sure it ever does for ELL students. It’s hard to build confidence, and there’s so much failure.
But if there’s one thing that’s been true for me, it’s that belief comes when you least expect it and most need it. I found my first job in a classroom as a teacher’s assistant in Angie Power’s first grade class. I spent eight years with Angie, and it was exactly where I was meant to be. Because of the time I spent under her wings, learning from her right alongside those first graders, I knew I could do it when it came time to walk out of her classroom and into my own.
After all my starts and stops, the ups and downs, I’d found a place to learn, and I’d found someone who believed in me. I walked out of Angie’s class ready, for the first time, to become what I was meant to be.
They made me the educator I am today, an educator who understands the fears and anxieties of my students and their parents. They made me an educator who will be for my students what I didn’t always have: someone to believe in them. They made me an educator who’s still got so much to give.
And I’m thankful to everyone who supported me. To my mom and my family, to my grandmother, to Angie for teaching me right alongside those first-graders, to my cooperating teacher Sarah Collins, to all who’ve shaped my path: Thank you. Let’s never stop believing in each other and in our profession, appreciating what we get to do and cherishing the opportunity we have to inspire our students to learn, dream and succeed.
Thank you for reading!
When I enter any particular classroom at any particular school, my first instinct is to look around and find something I identify with. The Latino background in me longs to see something that reflects or resembles my culture. When I do find something, it makes me happy and it's even an opportunity to initiate conversations about the artifact's background.
So this got me thinking about my students. I teach English language learners (ELLs). My students come from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Many of them are cross-cultural students (read more about it here).
The point is, because of who my students are, it is my responsibility to establish and maintain an environment where all my students feel comfortable and safe. So as I rearrange my classroom and decorate my walls, I have to be intentional with my decor.
You see, when students step into your classroom, they look around and they immediately search for something they can recognize. They look around for something to connect, whether is cultural, emotional, or linguistic; they long to identify with something...ANYTHING that assures them that their backgrounds are accepted....I can guarantee you that a desk globe and/or a world map on a wall doesn't quite do the trick.
After reading, "To Connect Across Cultures, Find Out What You Have in Common", I realized that I need to do more...WE need to do more in our classrooms to build trust and connections with our ELLs. We need to be intentional about what's in our classroom and support our students with diverse cultures find similarities and not differences among cross-cultures.
We need to come together and share ideas among educators on ways to bring awareness and gain multicultural backgrounds as well as activities that will help our students be sensitive to a diverse population.
I am going to start posting pictures of everything I have in my classroom that supports and promotes students' diversity using the hashtag #ELLchat_Snaps and I encourage you to do the same.
I can't wait to see the wonderful things you are doing in your classrooms to make your ELL feel important, comfortable, and accepted!
Thank you for reading!