Did you know that students are NEVER too old to enjoy a picture book? This article here tells you more. Even adults can learn from picture books - I do!
The book Dreamers, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales, is a stunning picture book with an amazing story about an immigrant mother and her baby immigrating to the US. While discussing it with our newcomer students, I began placing sticky-notes everywhere with all the ideas and thoughts that were rushing through my mind. Here is what I was thinking:
Packing Our Culture
I was 15 years old when I was asked to pack-up a backpack with a couple of outfits and whatever else I could fit in and carry with me on a journey from Guatemala to the USA.
I remember looking around the room and packing a few photographs and recuerditos (keepsakes) I didn't want to leave behind.
I do not doubt that many immigrants experience this moment when they have to decide what to pack and bring along their migration journey. Besides packing the essentials, many of us pack something that will remind us of the world we are leaving behind, representing our country, homeland, and believes.
Just like we pack-up objects, we also pack-up our identity within us and hold on to it as tight as possible because we know it is what makes us who we are. The things we pack-up within us are experiences, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, family, foods, music, culture, heritage, and more. All this builds our individuality.
Yuyi Morales narrates this personal experience perfectly in this image. We see how her backpack includes a jatana, a pencil, nature items, and Señor Calavera. If you follow Yuyi's Instagram account, you'd see how these objects represent her identity. Objects that she carried with her as she crossed over the Mexican border to come to the USA. And just like we see in her book, the objects that represented her identity were kept safe and packed up because they were being protected or perhaps they stayed packed up because she didn't feel like her individuality would fit in the new culture.
In Dreamers, we see the characters trying to blend in and function in a new country and culture but with a substantial struggle to be who they are.
I experienced this as well, and so do many immigrant students and individuals who come to the United States. While many of us love our home culture, our language, and everything about our heritage, society tells us that to function successfully, we must keep our background packed up and blend in the American culture and master the English language to be successful.
For many of us, it'll be years and years till we realize that our culture, language, and heritage are valuable and core to who we are.
For others, this realization will never happen - and heritage, language, and culture will be lost. To me, this is a sad reality that will hinder many generations.
Opportunities to Unpack
As an immigrant myself, I can tell you how intimidating it is to be yourself and unpack our background for all to see.
You look around, and everything is new and different. You listen around, you and all you hear is the new language -- a language you don't yet understand.
However, there are ways to embrace the differences while still appreciating what is packed within us and show them to the world.
Here are a few of them:
Having our culture and heritage unpacked is just the most wonderful feeling. How do you know your culture, language, and heritage is unpacked? - When you celebrate it, appreciate it, and embrace it. When you do not fear what others will say about who you are, how you speak, or what you're wearing. When you begin to find a place in your new home, you understand that we have more similarities than differences and contribute to society to create a beautifully diverse culture.
As we were reading this book with my student, we both had different takeaways from the text. Yousef here was able to draw what he understood what was happening in the story, then retell the story using his own words. He was able to personally connect with several parts in the story and was very confident understanding it because the images speak so much.
I am encouraged to write my takeaways because he did the same!
If you have read this book and would like to share your takeaways with me, please share them with me. I'd love to hear about your experience with this amazing book. Or if there is another book that would share these same ideas, I'd love to know of it.
Remember YOU matter! Your culture matters, your language matters, your heritage matters. So, showcase it...display for all to see and appreciate it.
Thank you for reading!
On November 26th, 2019, I received an email from Alex Granados, a Senior Reporter for EducationNC. His email stated that he was "working on a series about "rock star" teachers...who are considered particularly beloved, effective, or innovative..." and he wanted to come to my school to learn more about me and my students.
Of course, we were thrilled to welcome him to our school and see our classes and students in action.
On December 4th, 2019, Mr. Granados visited our ESL classroom and was able to see my newcomers and my instruction in action!
My students were all working at their seats working on other class assignments and/or an assignments I had provided.
Meanwhile, I was pulling small groups to provide individualized and personalized instruction.
Mr. Granados interviewed me, observed my students, and met with my principal, Dr. Auerbach.
While Mr. Granados was in the room, we took a minute to cheer and celebrate one of our students. Oliver had just received a letter from the NC superintendent congratulating him for a recent recognition as Athlete of the Week for the Charlotte Observer.
I share this with you because I LOVE it (and students do too) when we are highlighted and featured for what we do best...learning and building a culture where the possibilities as endless!
My Favorite part of the article is this:
"Sitting in her classroom, one can see how that experience translates into a personal connection. The students work on their ESL assignments. But they also work on homework from their other classes, periodically checking in with Francis to ask questions or seek advice. The students chat with her in a way that is rare for students to interact with teachers.
“If I didn’t have my struggles and experiences, I wouldn’t be as effective as I am,” Francis said."
So, here is the beautiful article Mr. Granados featured on us! Enjoy!
An immigrant’s dream to be a teacher: Emily Francis of Cabarrus County
This school year, my English for Beginners class is quite different than last year's class. This year I have a lot more newcomers <1 year in the USA than I did last school year.
Just in case you didn't know, this is only my second year teaching HS ESL and I'm loving it!
One of the challenges I am facing this school year is having so many different levels of English proficiency in one class. This is a challenge when planning one whole group lessons and not all your students are at the same level on the proficiency continuum.
My biggest group is in the entering stages of the continuum (Level 1), a couple in the beginning stages (Level 2), and another group of 5 students are in the developing stages (Level 3).
Of course providing whole group instruction would not provide all with the needed support to grow linguistically. I've tried a couple of lessons but I still had to end up diving students in the corresponding groups to work with students at their level.
So what I started doing is working in small groups! I started assigning them readings and projects as groups and they work with peers completing the assignment if they are not in a group with me. These assignments could be assigned by language domain or a project of choice.
I created this Wakelet with resources they can use to help them practice each language domain.
"Before planning any academic content, it is important to get to know our students and try to put ourselves in their shoes." - Sarah Ottow
August 26th, 2019 was the first day of school for students in my county. What an exciting day to finally meet all our new freshman students and to see returning students. I was more so thrilled to finally meet our 2019-2020 newcomer students who enrolled in the USA school system for the very first time.
I am not sure how a high school schedule is set up in other counties/states, but at our school, we offer only one period class strictly for English as a Second Language (ESL) services. The rest of our period classes are inclusion classes where our ESL services are provided at the same time core instruction is provided. This means that for one period students come to my classroom and for the other three periods you'll find me in different classrooms throughout the building supporting English learners. The only class period we offer in our ESL classroom is the English for Beginners course.
This course is designed with newcomer English learners in mind. In this class period, newcomers receive the foundations of the English language as well as any cultural views and lessons students may need to begin a successful and strong year in the United States.
To get an idea of what my day looks like, check out my daily schedule here!
So this is it! We made it!!
Today, Monday, June 10th, 2019, was the last meeting class with newcomers at Concord High School. It's a happy day because I get to see, hear, and read how much English my students have learned. This, of course, brings joy to my heart since I had them from day one as newcomer students in the USA.
But as happy as this day can be - there's also sadness. My heart feels heavy knowing that they will no longer be in room #225 with me.
English for Beginners is a course our school/county designed to provide the foundations of the English language our students need to be able to fully engage in our school, and mainstream classrooms. We meet every day for 90 minutes and we create an environment where risk-taking and changes are supported.
I have students who started the school year with only enough English to understand questions such as "What's your name?" - Today, they were writing complete sentences and sharing with peers how far they've come.
Of course, I couldn't just say good-bye and not have any memories written to show the world how awesome our class was this school year. So...we created our own presentation with moments that are forever in our mind and heart.
So here I am...reflecting on my first semester in High School! As you may know, over the summer of 2018, I made the switch from an elementary school setting to a high school setting. The decision was not a difficult one in the sense that I knew with all my heart I was going where I needed to be. Besides, the passion within me to serve English learners is always seeking out new challenges for improvement. But, to be transparent about my feelings, I must share the FEAR I was facing while making my decision.
Fear of the unknown.
Fear of failure.
High school is a radically different world than elementary school. It's like black and white. The only knowledge I had about high school was what I knew from my son since he is a HS student.
So, I was afraid. I was afraid of schedules, services for students, accommodations for testing, enrollment, co-teaching, etc. I was afraid of how I was going to fit in with Concord High School' staff and students.
Would they like me?
Would I meet their expectations?
Would I be a good fit?
These questions led to begin thinking about failing. What if I fail.
What if I don't fit in?
What if I mess up?
So many questions that for a moment became reasons to avoid venturing the unknown journey.
However, unpredictable journeys can only be lived by being willing to take risks. If we want to maintain a burning passion & seek out new challenges, we must accept the probability that things might not go as planned or as we would've wanted them to; but that's how change happens...and change is good!!
One semester. One semester is just enough time for me to realize how much I love working with high school students at Concord High School!
Do I know everything? NO.
Have I had failures? YES.
You see, that's the beauty of unknown and unpredictable journeys; That no matter what the journey brings our way...we stand strong on the heartfelt decision and risks.
I have SO MUCH to learn. I have so many relationships to build. I have so many more things to do. Meanwhile, I sit here - looking at the bulletin board with all our ELs' pictures (picture above)...and I smile thinking on the many - many more wonderful memories in the years to come.
"Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable." - George S. Parron
Thank you for reading & Go Spiders!
Over the summer of 2018, I took the first step to a great journey...I made the decision to transfer to Concord High School (CHS) after working six years at Irvin Elementary school. The decision was based on a burning desired within me to support students who are facing the same struggles I faced as a high school newcomer student and language learner. Read more about my personal experience as a newcomer here!
I got our classroom ready with so much excitement! However, I was more excited to meet my new students. I had already met a few of them during our ESL summer enrichment program, so I was thrilled to meet the rest of my students.
I am super excited to share with you that I am starting a new position for the 2018 - 2019 school year...I will now be a HIGH SCHOOL ESL teacher!!!
Working with high school ESL students it's a desire that it's been in my heart for quite some time now. I understand first hand the struggles and huddles newcomer high school students are facing as they begin their educational journey in the USA. It is my hope that my personal experiences and 14 years in an elementary setting, have equipped me with the skills I need to support students are Concord HS.
I am very sad to leave Irvin Elementary!! I've built great relationships with students, parents, and staff. However, I feel very strongly about this change. It's the right time.
I must admit that I am a little nervous. New content, new staff, new students, new EVERYTHING! However, the excitement and passion I feel about this change are going to help me adjust to all new changes.
Wish me luck...and send any HS resources my way please...I'll be needing all the support I can get.
Life is about trusting your feelings, taking chances, finding happiness, learning from the past, and realizing everything changes.