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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My BEAM Symposium Workshop: Teaching Poetry with the ELPS

Years ago, I was asked to present an in-service workshop for other ELA teachers in my district, and I did it because I do not like (or know how) to say no. Years and years later, this is becoming a thing, and I am really starting to enjoy this thing. I have now presented at my school and in-district for ELA and district-adopted instructional model workshops, as well as at two state ESL/bilingual conferences for English language learner strategies. Last weekend, I presented my first ever, out-of-district, solo workshop presentation at the 31st BEAM Symposium (Bilingual/ESL Education Association of the Metroplex, Texas). 

For my BEAM proposal, I actually reworked that very first workshop. After winning a copy of Kylene Beers' When Kids Can't Read at  a district training, I was asked to present one of her strategies. I conducted a Tea Party experience with the poem "Grandmother Grace" by Ronald Wallace. Because it has been so long, all I remember about this presentation is that it was my birthday, I brought cookies, I made people cry with the poem, and the feedback was good. 

For the English Language Learner presentation, I started with the basic premise - Tea Party with the poem. This is an activity I use frequently in my classroom in various ways, and it is always a success. It gets kids thinking and engaged with poetry (and other genres) before they even see the poem. And getting middle school students to do anything but glaze over at the mention of poetry is success in my book. 

In my revisions of the presentation, I added more activities: Get the Gist from ReadWriteThink, understanding metaphor from Kelly Gallagher's Deeper Reading, and a final word activity, again from Kylene Beers. Although these strategies are not written specifically for English language learners, they work very well for this specific population. 

I did modify the activities to focus specifically on reading, writing, listening, and speaking, the four components of Texas' ELPS (English Language Proficiency Standards). The reading was a given; we had a poem. For writing, I worked with sentence stem responses to the different activities throughout the lesson. Participants shared their sentence stem writing with partners, allowing them to work on both listening and speaking skills. 

Overall, the workshop went very well. I received positive written and verbal feedback. The teachers in attendance were appreciative of the ability to take something directly back to their classrooms. As a teacher, I know that is something that I always want from sessions I attend. 

I have submitted a proposal to present this same workshop at another state organization conference, and it looks like it could be going to a third based on my ESL Teacher of the Year award. My goal is to wear the mess out of it as I practice my presenter skills, and then I will start working on a new one. Because I believe in sharing/stealing in teaching, it is all here for you, as well. 

I considered leaving the classroom last year, but I am glad I did not. I feel like I am in the best possible place. I get to do what I love and work with goofy children every day, plus I get to go outside of the classroom and share what I do with other teachers. Watch out world. I'm comin' to get ya! 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

May I now present myself as...

Until this week, winning and acknowledgement were in no way synonymous in my brain. As a teacher, I have never been concerned with winning something. I have always possessed expectations of being acknowledged for doing a good job. Despite the ego many think I walk around with, I am much more modest and humble than I often present myself to be, and I am quite content with a quick thank you and you did great. I have never really been comfortable being in the stage spotlight, unless it has been by my own doing. 

A few months ago, my district ESL/bilingual representative/mentor asked if she could nominate me for a teacher of the year award. She is affiliated with a local bilingual/ESL organization, and she told me that she felt that I was the perfect candidate for the award. I agreed, without much thought, thinking it would make her happy and would amount to nothing. 

The first thing I learned is that there is a lot of work involved in being nominated. You have to put together an entire portfolio!  Granted, my mentor did most of the work. I helped find some people to write letters of recommendation, and I wrote a biography and a philosophical statement - and put together a presentation proposal for the upcoming symposium. 

My focus for the symposium was always entirely upon the presentation. I have been presenting for many years now, and under the guidance of my mentor, I have been moving beyond district presentations. For the BEAM Symposium, I was modifying and updating a workshop that I conducted years ago within my school district (I believe it was from my very first time facilitating) to make it more strategically focused on ELL strategies. 

Last Monday, as my student teacher and I were walking back to class after lunch, I was checking my email on my phone, looking for something that I was afraid I would forget to check if I did not do it right then. As I walked to my desk, I opened a message informing me that I had won the 2015 BEAM ESL Teacher of the Year award:

Now let me tell you something: I don't cry. I. DO. NOT. CRY. Especially in front of people. Especially in front of my students. But I started crying. My student teacher looked at me with confusion as I handed her my phone. I am getting teary and turning red, she is high-fiving and hugging me, and my students are crying out different variations of "Oh my gosh! What happened? Is it something bad?". I was shaking my head that it was not and yelling at them to get out of my way because I DON'T CRY, and I needed to get to the restroom for a minute. 
I wish I had a logical reason for my initial reaction, but there is not much normal about me. I have won awards in the past, but they are student-chosen awards. There have not been many days in the past eleven and a half years, however, that my students have let me feel unappreciated for what I do with and for them. If they had it their way, I would win everything ever because I am just the best teacher ever (teens do have their shining moments). 

With my peers, I have never needed to win anything, but I have often felt that I do not get acknowledged for much of the work that I do that affects my entire campus (disclaimer: this does not apply to everyone I work with because some of them will be reading this). The email did not feel like a win; it felt like the most gigantic acknowledgement regarding almost twelve years of continuous development and growth as a teacher. 

Aside from telling my students what was going on to ease their concerns, I did not run down the halls yelling my good news at the top of my lungs. I informed my administrators, and I let my principal do the rest. Yes, I posted to my social media pages, but I knew the news would still take some time to get out there. 

I have been completely overwhelmed by both the acknowledgement and the win. My campus colleagues have emailed, texted, hugged, and spoken some of the kindest words I have heard in my entire teaching career, and I think the flattery is enough to tide me over for another twelve years. 

Last night, I was acknowledged at a pre-symposium dinner. I brought my daughter as my date. She was 11 1/2 months old when I started teaching, and she has grown up extremely patient and tolerant of all that I give to my students, many of whom she understands do not have the same support and opportunities as she. 

Yes, she is a few inches taller than me, but she also has on wedges. 
Oh, captain, my captain. 
Today, I was presented to the entire symposium as the ESL Teacher of the Year. 
We are forgiving them for misspelling my name here...

because they spelled it correctly here. 

Once all was said and done this afternoon, I was told that I am now moving along to the next round (I had no idea that I was in a beauty pageant). In May, my portfolio and presentation proposal will be presented to the Texas Association of Bilingual Education, and next October, I will travel to El Paso for the TABE conference. 

On a side note, I was also endowed with a Spanish dictionary and two sets of Texas Rangers baseball tickets, one set being for opening weekend. 

I almost left the classroom this year. I explored other options in education outside of the classroom. It was not meant to be, and part of me knew that even prior to my attempt to try something different. I feel like life is letting me know that I am still meant to be in the classroom with my zany, hormonal, pre-adults, and sharing my classroom lessons and adventures with other teachers is an added bonus to what I give to my kids. 

I am humbled. I am overwhelmed. I keep finding myself tongue-tied, and I promise you, that does not happen often. I did not need to win, but it sure does feel good to be acknowledged on such a grand scale.