Tag Archives: teaching

First Day of School!

27th August 2012

School days are here! I love and hate the first day of school. I still get so nervous stepping in front  of a new class. It helps to have my first week of clothes picked out. 🙂 So here’s a close imitation of my first-day-of-school outfit. Mine is all from Marshall’s, so unfortunately, I can’t link to the pieces, but I can tell you the shirt was $14.99, skirt $20. The bag and shoes were bought long ago. But this is pretty close (except for the insane price tags on the skirt, shoes, and bag!)

First day of school
But I also wanted to take a chance and introduce you guys to a really cool website: Donors Choose. I know you guys love books and also love putting books into the hands of those who need them. This website helps you do that. Teachers in high poverty areas explain their special projects and the books they’d like for their students, and you can help them reach their goals! So often donating can be impersonal, but this isn’t. In fact, the teachers and students post an update once the goal has been reached. Most aren’t all that far from reaching their monetary goal, so check it out and give if you can!
And whether it’s your first day of school as student or teacher, or your children are going back to school, or you just like that first-day-of-school feeling, have a great day!

SuperTrash striped top
$33 - welikefashion.com

Fendi yellow messenger bag
$310 - pret-a-beaute.com


ESL: One Semester Gone

7th December 2011

16 weeks. 16 weeks have gone by since I frantically began a new semester teaching a totally new class/subject: ESL Reading and Writing. The program at my university was undergoing changes, and I was hired to a full-time position right as the semester began. I am a super-organized teacher, so the last-minute prep was really taxing. Books didn’t come in until several weeks into the semester. The other teacher and I were at our wit’s end trying to be prepared for these students.

But let me tell you, once I calmed down and realized that teaching writing is teaching writing, and hello! Teaching reading? Heck yeah. I took it in stride. It was an incredibly challenging semester, but it was also extremely rewarding, and for the first time in many years, I can honestly tell you that I love my job.

The students? They came from China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Thailand, and Brazil. They are a variety of ages and cover a whole spectrum of jobs – doctors, attorneys, accountant, architects, radio hosts, entrepreneurs. The relationship I had with these students was so different from the traditional instructor-student connection. I had each student for 10 hours a week and also spent time with some of them outside of class. Almost every student was dedicated and prepared to work intensely toward their goals. I have never been more impressed and so grateful for a group of students.

Even with the rough start, we quickly settled into a routine, working on reading Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and writing on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We read several books together and had some really great discussions. In fact, even though most students claimed to hate reading, several asked when we could continue when we were in the middle of a book. 🙂

As for me, I also learned quite a lot, as an individual and a teacher. It was difficult, at first, to slow my speech and search for synonyms and antonyms spontaneously. Seriously. Try it sometime on the spot. Your mind goes blank. Having to search for words and new ways to explain words was a challenge. As a teacher, I was a bit overwhelmed at first. I thought I would have to approach instruction in a totally new way. No. I simply had to modify. These students are so intelligent and were very eager (for the most part) to soak up every lesson. What I had to realize is that confidence is the most important skill for a teacher. I know how to teach students to write and read. I just needed to trust myself to do that.

One of the most fun parts of teaching ESL? Halloween. As a college instructor, holidays come and go without comment. These students had so many questions, specifically about Halloween. Do I have to give out candy? What if I don’t have candy? Why do the kids say “trick or treat”? I had a ball creating articles about the history of Halloween in the States. I brought in treats and got more into the holiday than I ever have in the past.

The Latin students were amazed when I could pick up on what they were saying and sometimes (roughly) answer them. The Arabic students were so generous and patient in teaching me parts of their language as well.

So…thank you guys. Thank you so much for such an amazing semester. I care for each of you so much and will miss those of you returning to your home countries. I appreciate you trusting me and encouraging me as your teacher. Be safe, and be well.

Hasta luego.


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To the Naysayers

29th November 2011

I truly pride myself in finding books I think students will really enjoy, and mostly I’ve been very successful, though I think I’ve remarked in the past that when it comes to short stories, students always seem to enjoy the ones I’m not sure they’ll like. As for novels, I include some surefire hits: Persepolis, The Book Thief. Students almost universally enjoy these, and I am always pleasantly surprised by the comments I get during and after reading them.

ESL is a whole different story. First, I’ll be honest: it is super difficult to find material that works for them. ESL readers work according to vocabulary count, which I understand is similar in lower grade levels. Therefore, I cannot simply bring any book into the classroom and expect it to work. This means lots of rewriting articles and creating questions to go along with the readings.

When it comes to readers, I have a very limited supply so far, a bio of Martin Luther King, a couple of Oxford ESL original titles, a bio of Helen Keller, Swiss Family Robinson (a condensed and ESL version), and a very slim volume of Washington Irving stories. Let me tell you, I was worried. Big time. I knew traditional students would pitch royal fits when faced with these stories, and I have to say, I wouldn’t blame them. These aren’t particular favorites of mine, especially in these versions.

However, I couldn’t have been more off base. The most popular thus far? Swiss Family Robinson – by a vast majority. I never thought they would like it, but even my advanced class looks forward to reading it. In fact, these students who 100% told me they hate to read, ask frequently when we’ll be reading in class.

So this is a side note to me, as a teacher: Don’t be a naysayer. Don’t project your feelings on a book. Let the students decide, and they might just surprise you.

For you non teachers out there, the lesson is similar: Take a chance on a book. You might really enjoy it and wonder what took you so long to pick it up.

It’s such a basic lesson, but I think it’s one that we all need to be reminded of from time to time. It also brings up an interesting question: How do we build up these prejudices against certain books?

Midnight Reading

2nd November 2011

My thought process this week: (1) must. finish. grading. papers. (2) stop eating just to eat. (3) I must be getting old. I do NOT want to wear heels today. (4) Really? 60 degrees in the morning and 85 by the afternoon? Sweater is a must. (5) Sleeeeep. (6) I wish I could read. (7) I love my students! (8) grading. grr.

If you couldn’t tell, things are a bit busy around these parts, as I’m sure they are in yours. Therefore, the only reading is happening when I crawl in bed past midnight when my eyes are already closing. So although October was a really productive reading month, I am really ready for things to slow down a bit.

I have read some really great great books this month, and I cannot wait to have some down time to get these reviews written.

In the meantime, I hope you guys are having a great week. I’ll try to be back tomorrow (post grading frenzy) with a review. Finally! What are you reading? Are you doing any midnight reading?

Pencils and Markers and Glue…Oh My!

22nd August 2011

The Picky Girl. Her brother. Ernie. First day of kindergarten. A long long time ago.

I have always loved the first day of school. I can remember my mom marking my name in Sharpie on each of my crayons and the smell of my classroom, new with pencil shavings and boxes of Kleenex and Elmer’s glue. When I was young, my mom taught kindergarten and my dad taught high school. I used to love heading up to school with them to set up their classrooms. Mom’s was elaborate and fun – she had the coolest old clawfoot bathtub with pillows for her students to sit in and read. Dad’s was much more utilitarian, but I loved putting trim on the bulletin boards.

Tomorrow is the first day of school for me, and as of last Thursday, I have a new job: I will be teaching Intermediate and Advanced Reading and Writing for ESL students. I am so excited, as it is a full-time teaching position at my university, something I have wanted for quite some time. However, as many of you know, I have taught English (Composition and Literature) for the last six years, so this is quite a switch from last year’s first day of school teaching post. Since I just got the teaching materials on Friday, I thought I would be a basket case. I tend to be a very anxious person so new job + totally new subject + very intelligent adults who hold multiple degrees in other countries + having to go in practically empty handed would normally = a nervous, nail-biting, caffeine-drinking Jenn. (What? I’ve only had two Dunkin’ Donuts Pepsis and no, that is red pen on the ends of my fingers, not blood.)

I have prepped my syllabus; however, the textbooks won’t come in until later this week, and there is a schedule we are intended to follow, but there are words and acronyms on it that I really don’t understand. By all rights, I really should be nervous, but I’ve got the first-day-of-school haze. All I can think about is packing my pens and markers and syllabi into the great school bag (aka the diaper bag…don’t tell) I bought at the start of school last year. Wish me luck!

P.S. On another note, I was thrilled to wake up today to an email from Amy of My Friend Amy, telling me one of you lovely people nominated me for Best Literary Fiction Blog for Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I think I looked at the email a dozen times just because it made me feel so good. Thank you so so much, whoever you are. You deserve a slice of pie or a very good hair day for passing something so fantastic on to me. The longlist nominations will be posted next Monday, and I’m not quite sure how the whole process works, but honestly, I am just so happy to have been plugged for this. 🙂 I have to pick five posts indicative of The Picky Girl, so any suggestions would be great! Do you have a favorite post?