How Teacher Shadowing Benefits ED Employees

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Diana Schneider, an education program specialist at ED, engages with a student at H.D. Cooke Elementary in Washington D.C. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

I recently had the privilege to visit H. D. Cooke Elementary School in Washington, D.C.  The school has a population of 398 students with 44% English Language Learners (ELLs). I was shadowing Flora Lerenman, a 3rd grade English as Second Language (ESL) teacher.

Our morning started off with meeting with the instructional coach for literacy. The teachers shared their schedules to make sure the coach has the opportunity to watch and support all the teachers during the coming weeks. It was incredible to see the support and the resources available to the teachers that help them ensure the academic success of their students.

Furthermore, the success of any teacher comes from ongoing professional development, as well as the support and mentoring from the administrators. In the National Professional Development program within Office of English Language Acquisition, one of our goals is to improve instruction to ELLs and assist educational personnel working with these students to reach high professional standards. The team collaboration, support, and mentoring at H. D. Cooke Elementary was an example of supportive implementation as a team.

Without skipping a beat, Flora moved on to co-teaching writing with another 3rd grade teacher. They were focusing on synthesizing students’ biography research into original pieces. I was able to work with students in a small group.  The teacher, Ms. Rytter, was very welcoming and it was very encouraging to see that Flora is considered part of the class when it came to working with the students.

Next, Flora took some 3rd grader ESL students to the ESL classroom to provide guided reading instruction in small groups. She had three different reading level groups, comprised of students from different 3rd grade classrooms. This coordination was done on Flora’s own time, without any breaks.

The most memorable experience of the day was with one of the groups, which was reading the book I Hate English by Ellen Levine. This book was perfect in a class where English is the majority of the students’ second language, and the students could connect and relate to the story.

Having been through the acculturation process myself as a 6th grader, I found that I really related to the character in the story, as well as the students reading the book. I saw myself in those students and hoped my presence provided an encouragement.  Not only was I able to share my own stories with the students as an ELL, I was able to share and show students the Chinese language. It was wonderful to see the excitement in the students’ faces.  Even during lunch duty with Flora students were still asking how to say things in Chinese.

As a federal employee at the U.S. Department of Education, I often think about how we can support our teachers and allow them to maintain their passion and commitment to inspiring future generations. Teachers delight in the success of their students and I know that for so many their internal motivation is to help and grow each student that enters into the classroom.  We need to have more open dialogue and opportunities, such as this experience, in order for us to better support and provide resources to the educators to do the job that they are passionate about and committed to.

Diana Schneider is an education program specialist at the U.S. Department of Education.

Teacher Shadowing from a Teacher’s Perspective

Teacher Flora

Diana Schneider, an education program specialist at the U.S. Department of Education, helps a student with work. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Diana Schneider, the U.S. Department of Education employee who visited my classroom during ED Goes Back to School Day,  proved to be a wonderful thought partner to me the entire time. We have a lot in common: we both were English Language Learners and we share a passion for helping students develop their English language skills, while also fostering a respect for their heritage languages and cultures. Diana definitely showed this passion when she co-taught a few lessons with me throughout the day. She helped me add layers of connections and critical thinking to our reading tasks and also forged relationships with my students who continue to talk about her to this day. Diana even volunteered to help chaperone a future field trip so that she could sustain these newfound relationships with our 3rd graders.

I hope that Diana saw how much collaboration goes into being an ESL teacher and how much job-embedded professional development schools provide nowadays. I’m glad that Diana could experience a professional development session as well as a grade-level planning meeting. Hopefully, these experiences captured how teachers use every spare moment to learn from each other and grow their practice.

I’m glad that Diana was able to see the multiple reading levels of the ELLs with whom I work and the amount of differentiation that goes into planning lessons that target their varied interests, decoding abilities, and comprehension skills, while also ensuring that all students are challenged to think critically. Diana noted that even lunch duty was infused with inquiry and academic discussions with the students. Every minute was used purposefully and it was wonderful to share that experience with her.

It would be great for Diana to also observe the ways in which I co-plan and co-teach with my entire 3rd grade team. I am extremely fortunate to collaborate with three dynamic and flexible general education teachers, each of whom has their own unique style of planning and teaching. We often experiment with different approaches and try to tailor our instruction to the needs of the different students in each classroom. Diana saw some parallel teaching, but didn’t get a chance to observe the team teaching or station teaching that I have done.

Students benefit from seeing skills modeled in two different ways or from getting more individualized support from targeted grouping when two teachers are present and both viewed as resources equally capable of leading instruction. I think that ELLs benefit from positive co-teaching relationships and inclusive settings that foster language and communication development.

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Flora Lerenman, an ESL teacher at H.D. Cooke Elementary School, teaching a student. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

In 2014, there are still too many ESL programs in which general education and ESL instruction are far too separated. Collaboration ensures that teachers are partnering to meet all students needs together.

The field of ESL is growing and the Office of English Language Acquisition at ED has the potential to spearhead national innovation and research in best practices while advocating for our ELL students that have been historically marginalized. The ED Goes Back to School experience allows for teachers and policy-makers to collaborate on certain issues that require seeing student learning in action in order to debrief what student and teacher needs truly are — Diana and I were able to talk afterwards about what she saw and it caused me to think more critically about what ELLs need and what is possible for them.

Flora Lerenman is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at H.D. Cooke Elementary School in Washington, D.C.