Amy, who teaches seventh grade English at a large school district in Texas was kind enough to share her experience and advice in an email interview for the TEFL Logue. Find out what she does, what challenges she’s up against, and how she overcomes them.
Amy’s school is an alternative one and categorized as a disciplinary campus, which means that discipline problems are an issue for all of her students. “The population of students in my school is constantly in flux,” she reports. “Students are “sentenced” for a few days to a few weeks, or even a whole term (though that is rare), and every day is a new day for someone.
“Many of their academic problems stem from a lifetime of border crossings and re-crossings, a non-educated home life (in truth, many of my students are generations deep in the local gangs), and a lack of foundational knowledge on which to build. Nearly all of my students, however long they’ve been in this country, struggle with English. Most of my students’ first language is Spanish, but I also have students who speak Arabic at home, or Turkish or German.”
What specific challenges does she face, and how does she overcome them?
Due to the contant flux in students, Amy has to start out at step one every day, and “Step one is often basic English skills. A student cannot read until he or she knows all the letters and the sounds they make. At the same time I’m giving one student basic matching-picture-to-English-word lessons, however, I will have another student in the same classroom whose English is far beyond the general seventh grade level. How can I meet the needs of both these extremes, as well as serve the students who fall somewhere in between?
I turn to the Internet. Specifically, I look to TEFL Logue for some good tips and links. [she really said this — and I didn’t have to pay her!] My very favorite tip, the one I email out to all of the other English teachers I know, is Breaking News English. It’s hard to get news items the kids will read (and comprehend!) that are relevant to their lives. BNE is by far the best ESL news resource out there. I use it with my ESL kids who have some English, as well as with my mainstream kids. All of them like it.”
The next challenge she needs to overcome is “encouraging my ESL kids to use their English knowledge in their other classes- and getting my math, science and social studies teachers to acquire some ESL materials to work with that non-English speaking kid in their classrooms. Sometimes it’s a challenge to communicate with my ESL students, but I have a modicum of Spanish (and of course, I know all the curse words!) that helps me through. Also, the kids like teaching me about their culture, so I acquire a little more every day.”
Read on for Amy’s advice for other teachers in a similar situation, and also her response to my question on English-only legislation.