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ESL Middle School

Continuing the Journey

By Tina Kern

The end of the school year is frenetic! 

My mind is spinning and my computer is on overload with the documents that are being integrated into the hard drive. I am anticipating the files representing my new students for the coming year that will be sent to my school’s office shortly.   Simultaneously, I am pondering the journey my present students will take on the next phase of their education. They have changed since our introduction and we have grown – all of us.  A new set of teachers will complete their journey as they sojourned with me for what seemed a millisecond.  Will the new teachers of our exited students understand the complete child that comprises our ELLs?  Will they recognize how their backgrounds have shaped their attitudes toward education and how their personal stories are as diverse as they are?

As I complete file information and prepare for the students entering and leaving the school, I am forced to concentrate, yet I reflect on the individual students and the faces behind the numbers. Who are these students who comprise the ELL population in my school?  How did I prepare them for the following year?  How much information and skills will be retained?  Who will really read books and continue the voyages into worlds of fiction and non-fiction that they began in class?

Meanwhile, the aura and excitement that envelops me after our NJTESOL/NJBE conference is dimming, yet not forgotten.  This year was awesome – with a pulse and excitement that permeated the halls everywhere (and the food was really good, too).  As usual, I regret that I don’t personally get to sit in on the sessions and drink in the information from our presenters as you do.  Though my time is well spent, I would like to have an avatar to do my executive board member work as I surreptitiously flit from workshop to workshop.  Educators never cease to learn and that is reflected in the positive energy and atmosphere of our conference.  Hopefully, our members will turnkey information to colleagues who regrettably could not attend.  Also hopefully, we will share our enthusiasm and knowledge with regular classroom teachers that need to hear what we say in order to help educate our ELLs.

Even today, as I walk the halls I still hear outrageous misinformation from teachers frustrated by the amount of time our students sometimes need to achieve success in the regular classroom. Our students are pivotal numbers on standardized tests now and their progress is followed carefully as it impacts on the entire district’s population.   It is very difficult for me, though, when an educator seemingly turns a deaf ear on the research and experience we implore him/her to acknowledge, before complaining about the student.  He/she doesn’t appreciate how culture affects the whole child and enriches, not diminishes, the student.  Also, a student born here in the United States to parents that speak another language exclusively in the home is starting his education equal to the immigrant child who has no comprehension of English.  We must provide support for, and information about, these students, too, as they navigate our school system. We must continue to provide staff development in order to create a compassionate atmosphere for our ELLs. I will continue to advocate and educate: June and September are pivotal months for communicating with others on behalf of our students. Similarly, the summer is a great time to read, compile information, and prepare for the next year. 

Now it is our job to soften the bumps as our students travel the road ahead by communicating with the next counselor/teacher and disseminate not just the numbers in the test results, but the faces behind the files that we are sending.  After you reach out to the next school, follow up with emails.  A common thread in our profession is the caring and intense purpose that permeates our classrooms. We go beyond the curriculum and take that extra step that often makes the difference between an education and an educational experience.  And we are reborn in the knowledge of that one student who comes back and says that we changed his or her life -- the student that one day might be the one standing before our members during our annual dinner and receives one of our awards, or the student that that gets accepted to college and acknowledges how we helped them when they were an ELL, or the student who one day comes back to school for parent conferences for their child and we recognize how their journey has gone full circle as they speak to us – in English -- about their future and the future of their child.

Thanks to the members of our SIG that enriched our meetings. Additionally, thanks to our members who provided the energy and dedication that made our conference another success.  It was an absolute pleasure to meet you personally and I look forward to our continued dialogue on the Internet.

Tina Kern is the representative for the Middle School ESL SIG. She teaches in the Morris School District and may be reached at tkern@njtesol-njbe.org .

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