What were your personal successes with your ELLs this year? Was a student finally able to master article usage? Did your newcomer learn to use irregular verb constructions? Were you finally able to meet with the parents of a student whose absences were making you concerned? Or maybe you convinced a colleague who teaches math to attend an ELL professional development workshop with you. No matter the scale of these events, make no mistake in thinking that these were not significant measures of your value as an educator.
It is understandable that many educators tend to focus on the work left to be done without taking time to stop and celebrate the victories. Pausing to recognize accomplishments is particularly important for ELL students, a subgroup that is often stigmatized and marginalized. In today's climate of high stakes accountability, it is easy to get beaten down by the challenges posed by state assessments. ELLs are students who, by definition, face "difficulties in speaking, reading, writing or understanding the English language that may be sufficient to deny the individual the ability to meet the State's proficient level of achievement on State Assessments" (NCLB, Title IX, Section 901(25), 2002). So, it may very well be the case that you have ELLs who struggled to demonstrate proficiency this year. While the current school accountability system centers around student performance on state standardized tests, we know that schools are about so much more. In Diane Ravitch's 2011 book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, she writes: "Testing is not a substitute for curriculum and instruction." We, as educators, must keep our compasses pointed at curriculum and instruction, the core technology of schools, at all times no matter the chaos swirling around us. This is particularly important when working with students who face learning obstacles like ELLs.
It is easy for us to say that we need to focus on our ELLs more, but we all know that there is a difference between understanding what we need to do as educators and actually being committed to making it happen. The summer months not only allow educators to recharge, but they also provide time. Time--that thing of which there is never enough of in a school day for grading papers, planning for individualized differentiated instruction, and collaborating with colleagues.
Thinking back to the summer after her first year of teaching, Jennifer Paul recalls the deep exhaustion she felt, but her memories of excitement as she thought about all of the things she wanted to change for the next school year are the strongest. She desperately wanted to improve for the benefit of her students. So she took action, making a commitment to spend her summers attending professional development, planning lessons and assessments, finding resources, and getting together with any of her colleagues that were willing to meet with her.
Diane Ravitch calls all of us to action by saying, "Without knowledge and understanding, one tends to become a passive spectator rather than an active participant in the great decisions of our time." During a time when so much seems out of our control, it is important to remember that teachers determine what happens in their classrooms and principals determine what happens in their schools. This is where the real great decisions of our time will actually occur.
There are a seemingly infinite number of stories teachers around the world could share about the personal impact they have made on their many students. To help you more concretely see the successes you were a part of this past year and help you think about next year, we have developed reflection tools for school administrators and teachers to use this summer as you think about what those great decisions will be for the 2015-16 school year.
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