Cement.

In my drafts folder is a post of what I really want to say, things I want to expose, but experience tells me to censor myself. For now. Reframe it, be mindful, professional, and progress.

[TL:DR Skip to the last paragraphs if you want to know what EL teachers do.]

Context: I’m in my second year of EL teaching, and my fifteenth year overall. Straddling between imposter syndrome, confidence, and COVID19 building closure, I stepped in my usual gopher holes. But fortunately (and this is an understatement) I work with an admin and district person who could not be more supportive, intelligent, insightful, and there. And while I had to let go of my institutional expertise and community standing (whatever the heck that means) to leave the district I was in for twelve years, it is hard on my ego to admit that I just don’t have the credibility or trust that others do. And my Ego and I had a long talk, a few, actually, and decided it was okay, that what I do have are these two women who are in the work with me to help our students. Do I wish folks would listen to me? Yes, of course, because it would sure make things easier for our students in the short and long term.

The issue, mixed with lack of trust, an unmanageable amount of stress and fear, is this: I was having difficulty coordinating the support time for the ELs in their other classes. Most districts call this the “Check and Connect” time, and having been on the general education teacher side, I have seen my share of great EL teachers who truly support and help scaffold, and those who just saunter in the room, chitchat about football or the weather, and then walk outside again. I am definitely NOT that teacher. Nor am I a paraeducator (and this contains multiple meanings).

Turns out I was not the only one who met with challenges about how to best proceed to support students during the building closures/remote learning. A few weeks ago, however, I sensed the need for clarification on my role in the building, and put together a pretty cool slide presentation to share. However, I didn’t get the chance, and the reasons are painful to write about. But things converged and aligned, and my admin invited the district point person to share at one of our staff meetings.

But– before all this–I have one student who does her work. She shows up. She’s highly motivated to graduate, and it is in her personal character. I am not suggesting that other students don’t care, aren’t motivated, or any of that. They are trying to survive. And while I was helping her with a science lesson, one of the words was “cement.” For some reason, I asked her if she knew what cement was, and she said no.

Think about that for one minute. Or two. Or sixty. A simple scaffold I’ve done for native English and English learners alike is to pull out the vocabulary from a lesson, do anticipatory guides, comprehensible input, etc. Background knowledge building is critical. Contextual information, also critical.

I wanted to share this with a meeting with my admin and the science teacher, but alas, the science teacher had to back out of the meeting at the last minute.

Last year, one of those quick meetings would have been no big deal. I worked in other teachers’ classrooms, sat quietly, listened. pulled out vocabulary and created support instruction and shared. My colleagues seemed genuinely pleased to have me in the building, and collaboration and cooperation was heartfelt and beneficial to our collective students.

This year, I’ve been accused of lying for my students, giving them “the answers,” and helping them cheat.

Yeah, it’s been awesome.

I am just going to put it in the mental bin that year has been too much. Others have unseen pressures, sorrow, grief, and fear that I do not see, nor do they see mine, and grace is not easily bestowed. I’m not sure some folks know what grace means. If it came in the form of a crystal necklace owned by a pointy-eared woman named Arwen and we could pass it back and forth, sure, it would be easy. Maybe we need to make “grace passes” like bathroom passes for when we need each other to back the heck up and think twice about sending that long, nasty email?

This year, I’m not allowed to sit in on their Google classes. I hope that changes, because the EL students need me there. Not “me” but an EL teacher. One teacher has taken me up on my offer for the SIOP protocols and I wait for students to seek help, but I know it would be better if I was there in real time. Believe me, I do understand other teachers’ fears of having teachings ‘observe.’ We had an instructional coach who blatantly said she would tell admin what we were doing, which is a cardinal sin of instructional coaching.

Trust between colleagues is thin and broken now among many teachers across the country. Why wouldn’t it be? We don’t trust each other to wear a mask. Why would we trust each other in the workplace? I’ve seen it firsthand, and felt the long lasting damaging effects. And I hope one day I get a chance to tell a few colleagues this, to share my story, and because of that I have vowed not to harm and try to maintain trust.

My independence is tethered for a bit, and that is the cost. I will pass everything through my admin, and we’ll do what we can. Moving forward, I will still continue to do the best I can, continue reaching out to students, make my little instructional videos, send my notes and letters, and telling students to reach out to their content area teachers first.

Oh, and we have some cultural misconceptions to clear up, too, but that’s for another post.

3 comments

  1. Hi Kelly, This post was painful to read. Thank you for your transparency. I’m sorry it has been such a difficult, painful, isolated year. I’ve been through my own season of darkness here. (It’s a really long story.) One of the things I appreciate most about you is your passion to help students and your efforts to see beyond the surface of what’s going on. My hope is that things will improve or move in a the right direction soon.

    • I have been thinking about you for weeks!!! I really should check my comments more — how are you?! You know me — it’ll be okay because it has to be–all about students and their journey to adulthood.

  2. […] graduate from high school. I take a no-shame approach: we work on vocabulary, text features, etc. And one obstacle for me this past year is being allowed to sit virtually side by side with them in t… It’s not my problem: what is my problem is helping students access the material in front of […]

Leave a Reply