August 2019 Featured Educator: Deborah White

This month's featured educator, Deborah White, is an ESL teacher for grades K-2 at Noel Primary School in Noel, Missouri. 

Where do you teach? What grades? How long have you been a teacher? What is your current position and how long have you been in this role?

I am currently teaching at Noel Primary School in Noel, Missouri, for Grades K-2. I will be starting my 27th year of teaching Early Childhood, Kindergarten, and am currently working as an ESL teacher. This will be my fourth year as an ESL teacher. I have been at Noel for my entire teaching profession and I love it!

Describe your class, school and district. Please tell me a little about its location, size, and the composition of the student body? What do language services look like in your school?

McDonald County Schools is a consolidated district with one high school and six elementary/ junior high schools in the surrounding towns. Located in southwest Missouri, the total population for the county is approximately 19,000. Our particular school is in a low-income area, and, of the seven schools, our population is in the top 10% of the most diverse schools in Missouri!

Our particular school is 80% ESL, with more than seven languages spoken. Spanish is our most prominent language, but the island languages of Marshallese, Chuukese/Truukese, Pingalapese, Pohnpeian, Karen, and Somali follow close behind. ELLs are clustered in instructional grade-level groups with a pull-out component while others are done as a push-in with a co-teaching element. Since I am the only ESL teacher (we do have a para who is amazing), I work with teachers to co-plan in order to assure that the students are receiving the skills they need.

Why did you choose to become an educator? What do you love about your job? What frustrates you?

I was originally a Business major, but, after a few of those classes, I knew it wasn't for me! My father taught school for 32 years and I remember him saying, “There was never a day I didn't want to go to school!”, so I took a couple of education classes and was hooked! I didn't start teaching right away but when I did it was the perfect fit for me. I love being around the children and introducing them to all kinds of new information and ideas. Since my background is in Early Childhood Education, teaching language is my favorite subject. Whether the students speak English or any other language, the excitement of stories and conversation is so important. When you see their faces light up with recognition of what is happening as we read and discuss things, it is priceless!

What frustrates me is the lack of staffing and an age-appropriate curriculum for our ESL program. Because our ELL population is so large and I am the only teacher, I feel that I am barely touching the surface. There is never enough time to reach all of those students that may need help. We are fortunate that our school does have other teachers that have become ELL certified and an office staff that speaks Spanish. These people have become invaluable to our school and we all work together for the betterment of our students and school.

What is your approach towards supporting language learning in your classroom and school? What techniques/strategies have you found to be most effective in teaching language learners?

It usually begins with grade-level meetings to determine what particular skills need to be focused on. Since the majority of our students are language learners, I engage in conversations with the students during breakfast time, in the hallway, at recess, and wherever they may be. Short bits of language that are meaningful can often be the most memorable. We 'read' the hallways and the classrooms and I ask questions constantly. Since our students are so young, language activities have to be novel and fun and not too lengthy! Lots of repetition is so important, as well as using a complete sentence: I model, they repeat! Praise is generous! They are anxious to please.

We also try to label all things in the classrooms and the hallways. The most effective techniques/strategies arise with the teachers and support staff who have committed themselves to helping every child in our school even if they are not in their classrooms.

How do you encourage students to learn? How do you accelerate their language development and ensure their equitable access to content learning?

I try to make the learning about them. We find books about their lives and culture. The students talk about their families and friends. Once you let them become part of the learning process, they are more eager to learn. I often offer challenges! We chart and graph the number of new sight words or colors they know or how have learned. We 'act out' our reading assignments. I encourage them every step of the way and make sure they hear me share their progress with others.

How do you determine which language standard(s) to focus on in a lesson? Describe your planning process to address the needs of your students. How do you manage to collaborate with content area teachers?

We are in the process of matching our standards with the WIDA standards. Whatever is happening in the classrooms is what I am using in the WIDA standards. A lot of the needs are determined through the classroom teacher and the beginning of the year testing results. I often go through their pacing guides to see what is coming up and try to get on board with the teachers. This is quite a task as we have so many ELL students!

What benefits of strength do language learners bring to your classroom and school? What benefits do their families bring to schools or the surrounding community?

Language learners bring us a glimpse of how large and how small our world is! They offer so much by sharing their cultures and their languages. We learn about family customs from our families who participate in Family Night activities. Our parents are always welcome at our school!

What methods or tools do you use to assess your students' language learning?

I track the students' yearly results on the ACCESS for ELLs assessment to check for adequate progress. I also use data from the grade level assessments, such as Words Their Way, and the students' classroom progress reports. There are also ongoing informal and formative assessments performed on a daily basis. Discussions with classroom teachers are the biggest help in determining student progress.

How has WIDA helped you achieve your goals as an educator?

The WIDA resources are a great way for me to find answers to questions I might have and also have ideas to help me focus on a specific goal. The Speaking and Writing rubrics are a great way to guide how to teach each of the four domains. The WIDA ELD Standards offer a teaching direction and ACCESS for ELLs lets us see how far we have come!