Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Glow of Opportunity

And summer school commences.

I was really on the fence about whether I would teach this summer. This past year has been pretty rough and tumble, between getting laid off from my job as a reading teacher in the juvenile justice system, to starting a new position as a middle school teacher of English Language Learners in a severely underperforming school. I have learned that if you're looking to raise your blood pressure by, say, ten to fifty or more points, a good way to do it is to start a teaching job in the middle of a school year. Even better if you're teaching middle school. And you get bonus marks if your students don't want to learn English, which is what you're contracted to teach them.

Over the course of the past six months, my head became like an over-inflated tire, dangerously close to exploding. My days were spent in the mode of constant redirection, with little successes sprinkled in here and there. I told myself, over and over, that this summer would be my grand reward, my treat to myself for having endured an incredibly stressful year. Images of beaches, lawn chairs, books I've been meaning to read, and cool drinks swirled around in my head. I was dizzy in love with my dream summer-to-be.

In early June, my school's ELL coach told me that the summer program had reposted the ELL Writing position. "I know you're not thinking about working this summer, right, Kate?" she sort of sheepishly said one day in passing. No, I'm not. Or I wasn't. I hadn't been? But it was becoming more and more a part of my thinking as we got closer to the end of the school year. I'll admit that part of my thinking had to do with my son's recent declaration that he wanted to go out for the high school golf team in the fall (big cash hemorrhage). But the bigger part of my shift in thinking had to do with conversations I'd been having with colleagues on Twitter. I participate semi-regularly in what's called an #ELLCHAT, in which teachers, consultants and other professionals in the field of teaching English Language Learners get together and share ideas, pose questions and create a supportive community in the field. A few folks had mentioned during one particular chat what a glowing opportunity it is to teach in the summer, particularly with this population.

I guess that's all it took. "Glowing opportunity" is the term that got my attention, but was I thinking of the kids' opportunity, or my own? At this point, I'm inclined to believe it's both. True, I'm far from the idyllic beach setting I imagined myself in earlier this year, but I'm glad I took this job. The kids are (surprisingly) well behaved, at least in my classes. We go on lots of field trips in this program, which provides great fodder for writing. The picture above was taken on our first excursion to a state park about 20 minutes outside the city. The kids got to explore the shallows of a pond and use small hand nets to find critters, creatures and other sorts of freshwater aquaculture. Later, they got to go swimming (although their swim was cut short due to tardy lifeguards). We'll be writing about this trip, and others to come, using pictures, posters, pamphlets, and more.

These kids often don't leave the confines of the city in which they live and, from what I hear, they often don't leave their homes except to go to school. It's awfully hard to teach kids when they have such a severe lack of background knowledge on which to base their learning. But here, in this program, there's a great - and yes, I think glowing - set of chances for kids to enrich their experiences and broaden their horizons. Maybe, together, we'll start to stretch ourselves in ways we never thought we could.