I’m getting ready to conduct a self-study on my own teaching for a research paper. However, I thought it would be fitting to give a little background information before I begin.
I have always wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. Not because I have teachers in the family, because I don’t, but because of the many great teachers I have had growing up. Okay, and also because of the teachers that were not as good. This dream is something that would become a reality after my middle school and ultimately my high school experience. Middle school and high school brought me three of my favorite teachers. Two taught social studies and one co-taught the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC). Although these teachers had very different personalities (one -a comedic, another- no-nonsense, and the final- a hippie) there were many things they shared in common. I appreciated their dedication, flexibility, and care that was conveyed in every single class period although they went about it in different ways. There were times in my life I sought out school as a way to escape from things and I always knew that I would be able to do that in those three classrooms. Not only that, I knew I had at least three people whom I could go to if I needed someone to talk to.
As I mentioned before, I was also motivated to become a teacher because some of the teachers that I experienced were not so good. The more notable ones happened to be during the time I was in high school. One was a Language Arts teacher and the other a Social Studies teacher. I remember finding my first Language Arts class in sixth grade to be frustrating. I remember the teacher going over the expectations and it blew my mind how different it was from my elementary and middle school experiences and even most of my high school classes. The expectation was that we read and work on our assignments silently every day. When we would come into the classroom assignment was posted on the board and we were expected to get to work right away. It was so boring and quiet that many students would often fall asleep so he had to post on the board that every time you fell asleep you would lose 25 points. I was so frustrated that he didn’t care enough to make the class interesting so students wouldn’t fall asleep. That class had the most students in “band” just so they could leave the classroom.
When I got accepted into the education program at the University of Northern Iowa, I made it my goal to make sure I did everything to be the best teacher I could be. I jumped in head first especially for my field experiences. I was like a sponge that wanted to soak in as much as possible from my coordinating teachers.
My first teaching job began six years ago in a third grade classroom. To say that it was overwhelming is an understatement. Although it would be the smallest group of students that I would teach as of yet, it was an extremely low group of students. Out of the nineteen students in my classroom, twelve students had an Individualized Education Program, or better known as IEP. I was told that while I thought my classroom was a general education classroom it was technically a special education classroom due to the percentage of students who received an IEP. There were countless nights with tears as I struggled to find ways to meet the needs of all of my students. I asked to attend professional development about co-teaching with an instructional strategist (formerly known as a special education teacher). As the year progressed, I began to feel more confident in my teaching as I put in many hours outside of the school day to find strategies to help my students. I would step back the following year from co-teaching with the instructional strategist only to be asked the next three years to continue to co-teaching in a classroom with an instructional strategist. As each year passed I felt more confident in my understanding of the curriculum and I took away many different strategies that I would use to meet the needs of the students who had IEPs as well as the low students who were not identified as needing an IEP.
It wasn’t until my fifth year of teaching (still a third grade teacher) that I even began to think about English Language Learners (ELLs). Yes, I was still co-teaching with an instructional strategist, but I had also gotten an ELL student two or three months before school ended in order to keep down class sizes. The classroom in which they normally placed ELL students was a lot bigger than mine. This student was so sweet but seemed to be terrified. She had just arrived in the United States from Mexico and didn’t know any English. She spoke a dialect of Spanish. I began to use Google Translate to communicate with the student using my phone, but it didn’t always translate very well. During the day the ELL teacher or older Spanish speaking students would come into the classroom to help with communication. As I ended the year I felt humbled as an educator and knew that I needed to do so much more to help any ELL students I would have in my classroom. I lacked the knowledge and strategies needed to meet the needs of ELL students. This motivated me to improve my instruction for ELL students
It just so happened that a fifth grade teacher transferred at the end of the school year and her position was open in our building. The administration had asked for volunteers, but eventually said that they were going to have to pull a teacher since all of the grade levels were dropping down to two sections. Once I found out that the teacher moving to that section would have all of the ELLs for fifth grade, I volunteered to take the position since I knew that this would give me the opportunity to work with ELLs and improve my instruction. After speaking with the ELL teacher in my building wanting advice for working with ELLs and seeking permission from the administration in my building, I was able to attend the Iowa Culture and Language Conference in the fall. I found this conference to be extremely beneficial- especially for an educator that didn’t have a lot of experience working with ELLs. I was so motivated after the conference to be a better teacher for my ELL students. I went back to work having taken a few things away to better instruct my students, especially a newcomer student who only spoke a dialect of French. All of this led to me wanting to focus on my instruction for ELLs for my research.
I have always been passionate about literacy and have been decent with math. Don’t laugh too much but during my childhood, I would often take my stuffed animals and lay them out across the room as if they were students. I would pretend the wall was my chalkboard and my chapstick was chalk and we were complete math problems and discuss the parts of the book (after I read aloud the book of course). I would pretend a page protector was a transparency and we would work on solving problems or Daily Oral Language (DOL) on my pretend overhead. DOL – that was as much writing as I ever worked on in my pretend classroom.
I felt like writing was my weakest subject area throughout my education and as an adult that mindset has transferred into my teaching. Each year when we are expected to pick a goal as an educator to work on I have always had my goal centered around something within my writing instruction. As an educator I am constantly wanting to improve on my teaching and I actively seek feedback so I know what I need to work on. It only felt right to focus my research on writing instruction for ELL students so that I could continue to improve a weaker instructional area.