Observation at Southeast High

Stephen Shupe / ED206 / Dr. Shellie Gutierrez / Dec. 2, 2015

High school ESL learners


My previous observation was at Curtis Middle School. I didn't have to go very far for my next assignment. Southeast High is right next door, and like Curtis it has an excellent Newcomers Program.

The program at SE is for new and relatively new arrivals from other countries. The newest was a girl who had only arrived in the U.S. two days prior to my first visit. Their home countries include Honduras, the Congo, Mexico, Vietnam and more.

Meet Ms. Agudelo

I worked mostly in Ms. Agudelo's class, and I do mean "worked." One of the first things she said to me was, "I expect visitors to walk around and help, because as you can see they [the students] need a lot of help." She ran a very tight ship (in contrast to some of the other teachers, as we'll see). Students worked a lot in pairs, and as I walked around to help with pronunciation, I had trouble hearing them. I wondered if they were being so quiet because they weren't confident in what they were saying, or if Ms. Agudelo's no-nonsense approach had rendered them timid, a bit afraid even.

Ms. Agudelo did a great job of fostering responsibility. She had students perform certain classroom duties like passing out supplies and taking attendance. I was frankly in awe of her ability to manage her class.

Things I'll use

One thing I noticed during my observation at SE: I wasn't thinking so much about what I could use in my report for this assignment. I was thinking more about what I could use when I teach my own classes. I think this is a good sign.

Ms. Ptasznik did a great job of incorporating different learning styles into her Social Studies lesson. She used visual aids and engaging activities. I really liked the listening exercise we did. The students were given a worksheet that had different words missing. She played an audio recording, and the students had to listen along in order to fill in the blanks with the right words. This is a great exercise for improving listening and writing skills for ESL students.

"I don't know when you're telling me the truth, Manuel."

Ms. Agudelo and Ms. Ptasznik had the same students in their classes, but they were a lot louder and more energetic in Ms. Ptasznik's class. Compared to how they were in Ms. Agudelo's class, with Ms. Ptasnik they were practically bouncing off the walls.

I worked with a more advanced group of ESL students in Ms. Young's class. The dynamic was completely different in this class compared to the other two. I wouldn't say that Ms. Young didn't have control of her class. She was able to keep one student at a time talking. She had strict rules like not issuing bathroom passes, and only handing out pencils to students who hadn't brought them to class in exchange for lunch detention. But, as I said, there was something different going on in her class.

The students had gained more confidence in speaking English, and this allowed them to behave more like "normal" high school students. It was like they shared a secret language, a joke that only they were in on. Everything was not quite sincere, more sarcastic. At one point, Ms. Young told a student she didn't know whether he was telling the truth, and I could see what she meant. I was reminded of a scene from The Simpsons:

Teen 1: Are you being sarcastic, dude?

Teen 2: I don't even know anymore.

Bilingual teachers

Ms. Agudelo and Ms. Ptasznik are both fluent Spanish speakers, and I think this gave them an edge over Ms. Young. They could explain things more easily by speaking to many of the students in their first language. In Ms. Young's class, the students felt like they could get away with something. I've heard this is a problem for some teachers working abroad; they don't know the first language, and this gives their students an advantage and leads to a lot of goofing off. My time at SE made me consider whether I might want to work on becoming a bilingual teacher when I start teaching ESL in the U.S.

Making the material relevant

Ms. Young had her class's undivided attention during a lesson about Bram Stoker's Dracula. The students were really into the story, debating whether or not it made sense that a vampire could turn into a wolf (as Dracula does in the book). One student argued this was nonsense because "vampires and werewolves are enemies." It was a reminder that choosing topics based on the students' interests is a good way to engage them in learning.

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