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President's Message:
By Cassandra Lawrence


Cassy Lawrence, NJTESOL/NJBE President Challenges and Making Magic Happen

     September is probably the most intense and busy month for classroom teachers. Setting up and decorating the classroom, gathering materials, meeting the students, figuring out what they need and how best to deliver it to them, class lists, discipline plans, rules, lesson plans, and paperwork, paperwork, paperwork! All of these take up lots of a teacher’s time. Our to-do lists can be overwhelming at times, and yet we do the same, year after year. We’re almost accustomed to tired feet, stress-tightened necks, and dehydration. Considering all of these, and even after 20-plus years in the classroom, I was still excited for another school year.

    That exhilarating back-to-school feeling was placed in check for me this summer when I learned that I would be teaching a multi-grade Dual Language class. I researched dual language over the summer, and read all sorts of articles and blogs on multi-grade settings. I also participated in three days of Dual Language training in August. My dual language partner and I did a lot of talking and planning; we found ourselves making interesting “adjustments” to the way we would approach planning and teaching. While it’s a learning process for us as experienced practitioners, we also welcomed the opportunity to be a part of this district initiative.

    Reality hit when, on the eve of the first day of school, we received our class list of fifty (50) students! Day one was a blur – but I do remember that we didn’t have enough desks and chairs, and that the shortest 3rd grader was standing in line directly behind the tallest 4th grader– a difference of almost two feet, and things did not seem right. It was loud and it was crowded. On top of that, I had no materials. There were no math or reading texts for my 3rd graders or 4th graders. It’s now the end of the month, and I still have no books.

    For some teachers, this may all seem normal. For others, these conditions seem appalling. For many of us, it’s what we’re often dealt, but we make it work. We forge ahead and do our very best to make a difference, no matter the situation. And we still manage to work our magic.

    Just as I’m struck by being responsible for 50 students this year, I’m equally humbled by knowing that I represent over 1400 members of NJTESOL/NJBE. I take this role to heart and assure you that I will keep the needs of our members, students, and families in mind during my two year tenure as president. As a multi-grade, dual language, bilingual teacher, advocating for ELLs is an important part of what I do. My objectives as a teacher and as president of this organization include the same ideals – rigor and high expectations, support and encouragement, communication, and the pursuit of language.

    As a dual language teacher and a balanced bilingual, I think constantly about the magic in languages and the value in bilingualism. It is my goal as president to establish a Seal of Biliteracy for all students in New Jersey schools. As an organization, we’ll be working with Foreign Language Educators of NJ (FLENJ) to establish criteria to recognize students who have achieved a certain level of biliteracy. This powerful movement has already taken place in California and New York, where grassroots organizations like ours influenced their respective legislatures to develop a “Seal of Biliteracy”, recognizing qualifying students with a seal on their diploma and a notation in their transcripts. Please talk about this in your districts, keep informed, and keep an eye out for news from us, regarding this effort. Let’s encourage our ELLs to develop their skills in their first languages while they learn English. Let’s also encourage English speakers to become bilingual and biliterate in another world language. Being bilingual can propel our students toward amazing futures!

    When I write for Voices, I like to remind our membership to make use of technology and social media. Much of the work we do as educators and advocates for ELLs can be facilitated via Facebook and Twitter. We can build our organization and extend our reach through these venues. Social media keeps us current. Please, consider joining us and “Like” us on Facebook, or “Follow” us on Twitter.

    Despite the challenges I face in my classroom, I still look forward to a great school year. I’ll be making magic every day. You’ll be doing the same – in ESL classes, in bilingual or dual language settings, in elementary, middle, high school, and college classrooms. You’ll be working with or without materials, with small groups or small-scale crowds. You’ll be in sub-standard buildings or state-of-the-art facilities. You’ll have students from almost every corner of the world, and you’ll be teaching language.

    ¡Adelante! Onward!

     Cassandra Lawrence is President of NJTESOL/NJBE. She is a bilingual elementary teacher in Perth Amboy.

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