November 17th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

Vertical learning curve

This is my third year teaching in Woodburn, OR. And it is my third school, and my third assignment. I think my brain is overloaded with so much I have had to learn and evolve, and I feel I will never be able to rest and enjoy the feeling I finally mastered what I teach. I feel like my learning curve is a vertical line, because what holds true for one assignment, does not necessarily work for another.

Teaching in a Two-Way classroom

This year I am a classroom teacher in a two-way Spanish/English second grade classroom. That means I teach in Spanish the whole day, while my partner teacher teaches in English the whole day. We share two groups of 22/23 students, which switch classrooms mid-day. It honestly is less horrible than I expected, since it allows us a break from students who are driving us crazy. The hardest part, however, is keeping track of each one of these individuals, their strengths and weaknesses, their various grades, their preferences for books and other subjects, and having space in the classroom for two times the materials a regular classroom would have.

Basic routine – basic for whom?

In addition to the regular challenges anyone faces with 45 students to teach and keep tabs on, I find myself struggling with the routine of a classroom teacher, all those little things an experienced teacher does probably without thinking – assessments, small group vs whole group instruction, interventions, balanced literacy, different levels of ability in Math, who wears glasses and where are their glasses, sending flyers home, fetching snack and returning the tub, keeping pencils sharp, planning homework, etc.

Walking away from chaos

Today we left for a whole week of Thanksgiving. What I am the most thankful for is this break. I really needed it. However, for the first time since the beginning of the year, I simply walked away. My ‘kidney table’ – where I work with small groups – has a pile of individual reading assessment papers literally falling to the ground, my desk is miraculously holding an uneven pile of books, papers, binders, pencils, markers, staples, and bottles of water; the books returned by the students are scattered around the room in boxes waiting to be placed back in our classroom library. And I simply walked away. And I am just mentioning it. Not really worrying about it. I will deal with it all when I return.

No guilt

I am a perfectionist, and I stress myself to the limit trying to keep up. Although my work day is officially over at 3:35, I stay past 5 every day, I work every waking minute of my day, and often in my sleep as well, and I always feel I am falling short. The last thing I need is to burn out. I love my job too much to let that happen. So walking away was the best thing I could have done today.

Let’s start over in 9 days with a clear head and see where that takes us.

Posted in Education
March 13th, 2012 | 3 Comments »
To Kristie,
Thank you for helping me figure myself out as a teacher.

Always learning

It is a known fact that teachers are always studying, always learning. But I am not sure it is known that one of the reasons leading to that is dissatisfaction with how things turn out in our daily teaching. Well, I am not certain I can speak for all teachers, but this is how I feel more often than I would like to.

One Among Many

I currently teach in two public schools in Woodburn. In one of them I teach Spanish to English-speaking children, and I teach English to Spanish-speaking children. In the other one, I teach reading to children who are having difficulties with cracking the code, and I also have one English Enrichment class of second graders. This last group is incredibly diverse, but the children in it share the designation of “English Only” in our multicultural and multilingual school community, which means that their first language at home is English – thus their participation in English Enrichment instead of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages).

Technology and Programs

Since the beginning of February, I have been using Achieve 3000/KidBiz with the more advanced readers of my English Enrichment class to keep fostering their development, not only in reading nonfiction, but also in text processing, reading pace and comprehension, and test-taking strategies.

With the readers in that same class who still find it difficult to decode text and who encounter challenges in responding to five questions about a 7-page fiction story, I am using RazKids. With the one child who did not bring a signed authorization to use the internet, but who needs to work on fluency, I am using Read Naturally, the Masters Edition.

Personalized Solutions for Differentiated Instruction

Sounds like advertisement, but I am truly thrilled with the personalized solutions made possible by technology and programs out there. The differences among children’s reading development is such that I have in the same classroom students reading at beginning of first grade level and students reading at third grade level – and they are all considered “English Enrichment” students, even though some of them have a lot of trouble using oral language to organize their thoughts in a sentence.

To illustrate, this is what some of my students are reading:

"Animals live in many different places.
Some live above the ground.
Some live in the ground.
Some live on the ground.
Some live in the water"
(RazKids "Where animals live", level D)

While others, are reading this:

"The Great Falls is important in American history. In what way?  
During the Industrial Revolution, Paterson had many mills. It had many factories.  
The Great Falls created a lot of power.  
This power was used for the mills and factories. "
(KidBiz3000 "Welcome to Great Falls Park!")

Programs are Not the Teacher

With all this help, however, I still feel beat at the end of each lesson, feeling like I failed to support certain groups of students, or even all of them in some days. The programs are great but, as commonplace as it sounds, they are not the teachers, I am. And second graders need guidance to make the best use of the programs, otherwise they will inevitably focus on the number of ‘stars’ or ‘points’ they accumulate each time they finish a task, and that creates horrible reading and test taking habits that make me cringe just thinking about.

Putting Things In Perspective

But then I think back to the beginning of the year, when these children would not even sit down, and they would not be quiet long enough for me to explain the lesson, and they would not sit next to one another without someone getting hurt, and I realize the enormous growth we underwent.

To get to where we are now, I invested a massive amount of time and energy on figuring out the students as individuals and myself as a teacher, and I worked deeply on developing a sense of community and respect in the classroom through teaching them sentence structures that would allow them to communicate clearly while being respectful with one another.

This reflection leads me to I realize that believing we can improve professionally, and believing our students can develop if we find what drives them and if we devote enough energy to making it happen, are some of the important propellers of education.

It is a known fact that teachers are always studying, always learning. Maybe not so much because we are dissatisfied as I wrote before, but because we believe things can be even better – I believed it then, and I believe it now.

Posted in Uncategorized
March 8th, 2012 | 3 Comments »

Language and Feeling

On Monday I once again introduced new words to help students communicate their feelings. This time, I am working with Intermediate ESOL Kindergarteners. More than my 2nd grade English Only students, these children’s language limitation is influenced by two aspects of their lives: English is their second language, and they have only been in the world for 5-7 years.

When I asked them about feelings, three adjectives came to the table: happy, sad and mad. Even after I introduced ‘angry’, they still called it mad.

Naming and Feeling

However, more than the language teacher, the idea that children – or adults, for that matter – resort to three single words when referring to their feelings bothers the Psychoanalyst in me. It makes me think of the enormous range of feelings that are being boxed into three categories and not being fully experienced. And it makes me think of an anecdote my mother tells me from when I was very young: I think it was my first day of school, and I told my mom I did not want to go. When asked why, I answered: “I have a stomachache”. “Duchinha, she said, what you are feeling is not stomachache. It is anxiety.” I was probably about 3 years old when ‘anxiety’ was introduced to me as a name for the stomachache I felt when something new and somewhat scary was about to take place.

For most students I work with, that stomachache remains a stomachache, and the child often stays home, not dealing with the anxiety and missing important learning experiences – both from school and from the possibilities that naming our feelings opens in our lives.

Not Seeing, Not Feeling?

During my Masters of Arts in Teaching at George Fox University,  one of my instructors shared her experience with students from a population similar to the one I work with. Rather than shallow feeling recognition, however, her kindergarteners had a rather limited perception of their possibilities for entertainment. According to her, the question “What did you do this weekend” always yielded with the same “I went to the park.” No depth, no novelty, no emotional engagement or learning.

She began a study in her classroom using Cynthia Rylant’s “Night in the Country” to explore all the wealth of life that exists in the field around a home in the country, and the sounds that can be heard, which represent such life.


Learning and Feeling

After bringing children’s attention to how the author uses her senses, she urged her students to do the same. The result was a brilliant, sensitive compilation of experiences from her kindergarteners. I am positive that those children found a new perspective for their weekends on the park.

Hopefully, by the end of this week my students will understand a little better the differences among anxious, worried, angry and frustrated.

Posted in Education, life
October 26th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

I feel ______ when _____

By the 40th minute of class I threw my arms up in the air and my body down on a chair. It took me a few seconds to reconnect with where I was and with my role there. That’s when I decided to verbalize my feelings to the loud, energetic second-graders in front of me – still making use of the sentence frames we were working with last week: “I feel frustrated when I am trying to explain something to the 2nd grade students and they are talking at the same time, or climbing the table, or kicking one another.”

Some of the kids hadn’t even noticed I had sat down, and they looked at me in surprise, as if my frustration seemed absurd to them. What had they done?

What they had done

This group is requiring all my energy to make lessons happen. When I think “Oh, now I got this!” they surprise me. Yesterday, by the end of class, a boy was sleeping on the floor, while another was choking a classmate, and another was telling me that someone was chewing gum. All that after I had already confiscated a couple marbles, been smeared with a girl’s creamy chapstick that came in a little pouch resembling fast food ketchup, been accused by a second girl to have touched her hair with my chapsticky hand, and been introduced to the sweet newly-arrived-to-school Olivia – “Can she be in my group?” “No! In mine!” “No, I am in her classroom!”

I love it when they love it

I have been trying different strategies, contextualizing the classes with subjects of their interest, and teaching them language they should actually be using in their lives outside the classroom, and outside the school. What happens when I hit the bullseye is that the students get so excited that they stop hearing me. They jump up and down, they run around, they yell with joy. And the craziest of all is that I smile when I see that reaction.

“I like it because it is good”

I need, however, to find a way to harness all that passion and redirect it towards learning what they must know: to speak their own language in a coherent stream of words that is more than basic. My mission with this group is to get their English to a higher level of precision and to get their thinking to grasp ideas more complex than “I like it because it is good”.


For the time being, I have established another goal. Simpler in theory, but extremely complex with my little crowd, I am determined to build a sense of community, in which “Who is the leader of the table?” is less important than “How will we tackle this task as a group?”

Posted in Education
August 24th, 2011 | No Comments »


Not sure I have written about the amazing guidance I got from my Reading Specialist team last school year.

Yesterday I had a brief breakdown, shaken off by my not-so-tactful-but-well-intentioned-sometimes-effective husband. The momentary panic happened because I felt thrown in a situation in which I am expected to do something I do not feel completely competent at. No scaffolding, no gradual release of responsibility, no questions asked. Just the expectation to be adult, professional, and capable – and, after I pleaded, a promise of support when needed.


Then today I saw the Reading Ladies back in last year’s school – where I still work half the day. And I remembered when I started teaching reading as part of their team last November. In a flash I relived the anxiety generated by doing something of high responsibility for the very first time. And I felt again grateful for how observant they were of my delicate moment, leaving some breathing windows throughout the day between groups, discussing each group and child with me, supporting my practice, allowing time to observe them at work, patiently answering not-so-smart questions I asked all day long. They were true mentors, and I learned the equivalent of several years of graduate school in those seven months.

Gradual Release of Responsibility

My year was not all breezy. As soon as I mastered the demands I had on my plate, they served me a chunkier scoop, adding challenges in the form of number of groups, types of students, and schedule changes. By the end of the year I felt more of a peer, sharing with them most of the burdens and joys, and having my experience validated and respected.

New Year, New Demands

I am thrilled to be challenged once again. And looking back to this experience I realize I can succeed. I can succeed because I have a solid education, because I have a strong will and character, because I am in a district that supports professional growth, and because I am surrounded by competent teachers, coaches, support staff, and principals. All I need to do is say “Yes” and ask for help when needed – and stop wining already.

Posted in Education, life
August 23rd, 2011 | No Comments »

Esta semana eu comecei uma nova fase. Uma fase em que sou funcionária permanente de um distrito escolar, com uma posição integral sob a perspectiva distrital, mas trabalhando meio período sob o ponto de vista das escolas: meu tempo esta sendo dividido entre dois campi.

Estou empolgada com a oportunidade de fazer parte de duas culturas diferentes dentro de um mesmo distrito. Uma é a maior escola elementar do distrito, trazendo enorme diversidade. A outra é a menor, criando um ambiente quase familiar. Uma é trilingüe e tem como desafio aprimorar a comunicação interna. A outra é bilingüe e parece ter conseguido organizar grupos profissionais eficientes. Uma eu conheço do ano passado, pois trabalhei lá por 7 meses em período integral. A outra é uma novidade para mim – fascinante, apavorante, excitante e desafiadora.

Hoje eu ziguezagueei entre as duas, me senti sobrecarregada, esperneei quando descobri que querem que eu dê aula em espanhol, tentei escrever um plano de aula, não consegui me concentrar, percebi que perdi a hora de uma consulta ao médico, saí da escola apressada, deixando para trás o pirex no qual levei a salada para o almoço compartilhado…

Chegando em casa, tentei desabafar com meu marido, mas ele só tinha coisas boas a dizer a respeito dos desafios que estou enfrentando. Para completar, passou a apresentar todas as razões pelas quais esse furacão é na realidade uma grande oportunidade, e como vou crescer com essa experiência, e como eu ficaria incrivelmente entediada se só me escalassem para fazer coisas que eu já domino.

E ele tem TANTA razão! Mas eu ainda estou emotiva, e ainda estou ansiosa, e ainda estou amedrontada. Empolgada para começar a jornada, completamente consciente da grande oportunidade que recebi, mas ainda sensível com tudo isso.

Posted in Education, life, Português
August 23rd, 2011 | No Comments »

This week I started a new phase, one in which I am a permanent employee of a school district, holding a full time position from the district perspective, but working part time from the school standpoint: my time is being divided between two schools.

I am excited with the opportunity to take part in two different cultures within the district. One is the largest elementary school of the district, bringing a huge diversity. The other is the smallest, bringing an atmosphere that is almost family-like. One is trilingual and counts on incredibly competent staff, but struggles somewhat to master the communication piece. The other is bilingual and seems to have effective teams in place, and probably has particular struggles I have not yet observed. One I know from last year, having worked there full time for 7 months. The other is very new to me – fascinating and terrifying, exciting and challenging.

Today I zigzagged between them, got overwhelmed, kicked and screamed when told I’d be teaching in Spanish, tried to put together a plan, failed to focus, realized I missed a doctor’s appointment, left school in a hurry leaving behind the bowl I brought my salad in for the potluck…

When I got home, I tried to vent with my husband, but he only had good things to say about the challenges I am facing. Then he went on to tell me all the reasons why this was a great opportunity, and how much I will grow from this experience, and how bored I would be if I were asked to do only things I already master.

And he is SO right! But I am still tearful, and I am still anxious, and scared. Looking forward to begin the journey, fully aware of the great opportunity I have been given, but still edgy about it.

Posted in Education, life
June 23rd, 2011 | No Comments »

Acho interessante como algumas pessoas verdadeiramente preocupadas com educação multicultural e aceitação humana em geral às vezes, pelo desejo de ampliar a perspectiva do que é multicultural, desprezam como superficial os hábitos alimentares de um povo.

Embora as complexidades de uma cultura não possam ser totalmente compreendidas simplesmente preparando-se e comendo seus pratos típicos, não podemos ignorar que tais pratos sao uma fantástica fonte de informação se formos mais a fundo. As razões por trás de cada item, a influência que o clima tem sobre o que é produzido ou não em determinada região, o que é considerado sagrado, o que é considerado profano, o que é comido todos os dias e o que é reservado para ocasiões especiais, como aconteceu de cada prato ser preparado da maneira que é preparado, os nomes a eles atribuídos, todos esses aspectos do que comemos em cada cantinho do mundo podem não determinar o caráter de um povo, mas são muito provavelmente determinados pelos mesmos fatores. Tempo seco, comida seca, povo seco. Tempo quente, comida quente, povo quente. Nem sempre tão diretamente ligados, mas conexões podem com frequência ser feitas. Não é interessante que várias culturas do oriente médio usem trigo partido, carneiro, hortelã, iogurte…? Na América do Sul, por alguma razão, os preferidos são o arroz e o feijão, ao lado de carne e verduras. Temperos differentes marcam variações em países ou regiões, mas podemos quase certamente contar com os feijões em vário países da América do Sul.

Percebo uma conexão inegável entre comida, geografia e cultura, e acredito firmemente que é perfeitamente plausível ir fundo nos aspectos mais intrincados da diversidade começando com hábitos e tradições alimentares – contanto que não percamos de vista que estes são caminhos para o entendimento, não toda a cultura em si.

Posted in Uncategorized
June 14th, 2011 | 1 Comment »
“Não é o caso simplesmente de que a competitividade de outras nações
é amplificada pela proficiência de seus trabalhadores em uma linguagem
específica, mas sobretudo que sua juventude ganha vantagem competitiva e cognitiva
devido ao seu acesso à habilidade excepcional que acompanha o multilingualismo.”
(Jackson, Kolb, & Wilson, 2011)


Uma conversa de casamento incomum…

Mas estimulante mesmo assim. O tio de meu marido me pergunta: “Você não acha que o mundo seria um lugar melhor se todos os países falassem Inglês?”

Embora eu tenha certeza de que sua intenção é me levar a discutir, embarco na viagem com ele – contestando, lógico!

Como se meu desacordo tivesse fundamento no fato de minha primeira língua não ser inglês, ele refaz sua pergunta: “E se o mundo todo falasse português? Ou qualquer língua que seja, mas que todos falassem a mesma. Você não acha que as coisas seriam mais fáceis, que a vida seria mais simples?”

Minha resposta e sinceros pensamentos:

Simples, talvez, mas tão desinteressante! Privada de riqueza seria uma descrição mais própria.

Se eu tivesse que escolher uma coisa para apoiar nesse mundo, eu escolheria a diferença. Sou pró diferença, pró diversidade. Percebo o encontro com a variedade como uma das experiências mais enriquecedores que podemos ter e considero esta uma verdade em qualquer âmbito de ser humano. Até em ciência aprendemos que, quando em contato com o diferente, coisas se alteram: experimente abraçar com mãos mornas um copo de água fria. A água amorna, as mãos resfriam.

Mentes estreitas se ampliam

Mudanças, entretanto, vão além de adaptação ou reconhecimento da diferença. Por anos eu mantive a idéia de que a língua é nossa ferramenta para pensar. Assim, quanto mais línguas aprendemos, mais caminhos podemos usar para construir nossos pensamentos. Lendo este artigo defendendo multilinguismo, dei-me conta de que pesquisadores também apóiam essa idéia: aprender línguas ajuda desenvolvimento cerebral e pessoal para além da instrução e da comunicação, ou seja, multilinguismo nos ajuda a crescer, ampliando a própria habilidade de pensar e ser.

De acordo com os autores, aprender outras línguas também ensina sobre outros costumes, aumentando nossa percepção de nuances dentro de nossa própria cultura. Especialmente em um mundo em constante mudança onde o fondue* está derretendo cada vez mais, e as cores e culturas se misturando, essa sensibilidade é fundamental.

Jackson, A., Kolb, C., & Wilson, J. (2011). “National imperative for language learning” *in* Education Week, January 26,  2011.

*fondue aqui se refere ao dito norte-americano de que os Estados Unidos são o “melting pot”, ou panela de fondue, onde as culturas se misturam como os queijos do fondue.

June 8th, 2011 | No Comments »

A new experience

And then today I was asked to sub in the Life Skills room for 30 minutes because the teacher was late. What a totally different educational world it is! The Life Skills room serves children whose impairments or disabilities impede their participation in regular classrooms, as they require a completely different program – to be more exact, development of life skills rather than informational learning. The environment, the challenges faced by the children, and the type of support needed from the teachers made me remember my Early Childhood days – which are not that far away, but seem to have happened years ago.

I ponder and I wonder

As I interacted with children who needed constant reminding of not tossing toys, of asking before yanking something out of someone else’s hand, and of staying in the classroom, I pondered what the goals were for each one of those students. I also wondered how the teachers determine how far they can go, how much they can learn. But, above all, it dawned on me that this is one of my weaknesses: this level of difficulty – the lack of evolution or the extremely slow pace of development – could paralyze me as an educator. As I became involved with one of the children, taking the time to establish a rapport and be extremely attentive to capture any response I might get, I suspected some of those students could not make that type of connection.

Give and take x Give and give

I am thankful for the gifted teachers who find their call to teach such children, and I admire them immensely. My inspiration for teaching day after day, for waking up early, working over hours and dedicating my personal time to planning is fed by children’s response to my effort. I need something back from my students so I can gauge my progress and determine the next course of action. I cannot imagine what it would be like to work this hard not having this response. Maybe these teachers are more altruistic than I am, and they are able to give. Just give.

Posted in Education