The Real Deal of Successful Collaborative Teaching Between ESL and General Education Teachers

Nowadays, it makes so much more sense for teachers of ELLs working in faced paced classrooms to collaborate. Teachers need to learn from other teachers what works especially when it comes to supporting struggling ELLs. But this is not such a simple task. As Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” For supporting ELLs, this collaboration never had a more meaningful role in supporting struggling ELLs learn how to read. I think new teachers especially, become frustrated when they don’t use collaboration strategically, but when they get to build on their collaboration, their interest grows.

Teachers can learn from other teachers who work with ELLs in either a general education class or small ESL learning group. They can create supportive learning and working environments when they know the various ranges of activities that have worked successfully for ELLs. They get excited about adapting activities when it can help their ELLs become more proficient readers and decoders. They learn collaborative strategies by collaboration. The key is to put the teacher as the learner.

My first and second grade ELLs enjoy oral work that focuses on sound and meaning when it is combines in a variety of playful contexts such as rhymes, songs, jazz chants and poetry, but I have found that they sometimes they don’t get the deeper meaning and this frustrates me. What’s this word? What does it mean? Back to thinking different strategies on my own…not again.

During my first year of teaching struggling elementary ELLs, I worked closely with a mentor and ten other teachers. The focus of our workshop was learning what worked from other teachers, so we could bridge some of literacy gaps. The facilitator had us engage in learning journals using guided subjects for reflection. We began by writing our concerns and questions, and then we reflected on the lessons using guiding questions. Our facilitator then responded to our journals and extracted various entries, which were then categorized under various subjects. Some of the other reflections revealed a totally different approach to teaching ELLs. Some of the teachers had plenty of practical activities and thoughts while others raised more thoughtful questions and concerns. Reading their responses helped me get into the mind of a first grade ELL – what a great experience!

After this, I realized that there were plenty of issues I needed to be aware of before expecting ELLs to read. The challenge with using the teachers’ responses as a guide for planning lessons was being prepared in knowing that some activities wouldn’t work for my particular struggling ELLs. They couldn’t acquire meaning without doing lots of decoding exercises and so there was not much they were able to do without a lot of oral help and support. In addition, they needed a lot of support in other areas as well. The most important thing a teacher of ELLs can do is to is to take a pre-assessment of their abilities and interests and create a student profile. Then, a teacher can customize instruction by providing successful activities based on what is available to the teacher and what the ELL can do. If teachers want ELLs to succeed just like their native English speaking peers, they need to be prepared a wide variety of learning options.

With other general education and ESL teachers, I tried to recreate a productive collaboration mode whereby teachers were able to learn from each other. I encouraged general education teachers to reflect on how successful they were able to teach a balanced mode of reading using components of oral and reading instruction. Then I asked teachers to reflect on the challenges using a series of lead-in questions and subjects for reflection we could investigate. Then we categorized the responses and as a collaborative group, we came up with a wide range of possibilities for teaching struggling ELLs in both educational and ESL learning contexts. The ELLs from both groups were then challenged using the wide range of activities we were able to pool together.

Creating the need to collaborate between general education and ESL teachers is a lot harder than it looks. General education teachers need encouragement, guidance and support to see the benefits of collaborating with ESL teachers and vis-versa. But teachers are actually benefiting when teachers successfully collaborate, not simply for the sake of acquiring additional teaching ideas but how to use those ideas more strategically to support their struggling ELLs. Students continued to struggle, but at least, teachers felt that the dialogue experience gave them more confidence builder strategies and tips to fully cater to the needs of their ELLs and they created lessons with more thought and engagement than before.

Reflective thinking is one process that I have used successfully, but there are strategies for encouraging reflective thinking as well. Reflective practice and professional development encourages educators to incorporate reflecting thinking in their daily practice as a prerequisite for collaboration. In our book proposal on Collaborative Teaching between ESL and General Education Teachers, Grades K-2: What Educators Need to Know, we wrote: “The critical need to successfully teach struggling ELLs in primary grades makes collaboration not only beneficial, but necessary. But before teachers can truly collaborate, they need to understand their ELLs and the areas in which they struggle. They will also want to consider how they have grouped their students. Teachers take this information as input when they meet with other teachers to work on practical solutions. Teachers face constraints of time, curriculum, and district procedures. They can suggest collaborative models to their administrators and colleagues to be part of the solution. The ultimate goal is to create a supportive learning environment for teachers and students.”

I think this sums up the goals of the collaborative teaching experience in a nutshell.

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Is There Still A Shortage of Special Education Teachers?

Today, I am a Special Education teacher. However, I can still remember when I was young and back in graduate school matriculated in the social studies teaching program. Since I wanted to be a History teacher, not a Special Education teacher, it’s kind of funny that all these years later I am teaching Special Education. How did this happen? Well, the same way it happened for some others too I guess… I had friends who were Special Education teachers and also a few who were enrolled in Special Education teacher-preparation programs who talked me into giving it a try. They told me that Special Education is where the real need was. Basically, they told me that this is where a guy like me could do the most good.

Well, more than two decades later not much has changed. There is still a huge need for Special Education teachers here in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Special Education is among the most high-need fields in schools that service low-income students. The U.S. Department of Education also states that there is a Special Education teacher shortage in 49 out of our 50 states.

In addition, today there are more instances of students with multiple disabilities at a younger age. The National Education Association (NEA) says that there has been a 30% increase in Special Education students since 2006. Finally, throw in the high turn-over rate of teachers in such a demanding field and one can easily see that our country has a problem, and that problem is only going to get bigger.

So, why can’t we get enough Special Education teachers? Well, according to National Public Radio (NPR) our country is having this shortage because of the extremely long hours they have to put in and the crushing paperwork that they are expected to complete on top of their everyday teaching. I say we’re also having this shortage because being a Special Education teacher isn’t for everyone. Only a few people can handle the day-in and day-out uncertainties of the job, and the ever-changing roles they have to play. Not only do they have to take an enormous amount of time to learn the academic side of multiple subjects or scholarly disciplines, which could take five to ten years to fully learn, but they also have to learn about all the different factors that could impact academic performance, and learn the law too, as well as do many administration duties.

In a word, it’s overwhelming. Just considering the disabilities side alone, a Special Education teacher has to be able to accurately identify and treat needs that could be based on learning deficiencies or even different styles, as well as the mental, emotional, and even social deficiencies too. Furthermore, Special Education teachers also have to know what to do with the other side of the spectrum too with the gifted students.

Basically, not only do they need immense people skills in dealing with all kinds of students and adults, but they also have to love the unpredictability of the field, and must be a believer in possibilities, as well as possess the highest form of intelligence, which is called empathy. Not sympathy here, but empathy. There is a difference between empathy and sympathy. Special Education teachers need all of these mentioned skills and more in order to just survive the day, let alone an entire career in these education trenches.

So, what can we do about this shortage? Well, some school districts have been creatively working with their local universities and creating special programs where teacher candidates can work full-time as teachers for two years to get teaching experience while they go to school at night to get their degree. Some school districts have offered signing bonuses, stipends and tuition reimbursement in their efforts to attract more teachers. These are good ideas. However, these kind of initiatives are not being done enough. Some school districts are offering young teachers mentors to support their efforts and offer guidance in an attempt to cut down on the attrition rate. Again, this is another good idea, but not enough districts are doing this either.

I personally feel that one of the toughest things about being in this field is the lack of respect for what these unsung heroes do on a daily basis. The lack of respect is causing low teacher morale and driving a lot more teachers out of the education field than I think most of us are willing to admit. And this low teacher morale and lack of respect for our country’s teachers is something that is avoidable, and something that we can fix if we want to do it bad enough. Finally, just to get an outsider’s perspective, I asked my wife what she thought could be one of the solutions to the Special Education teacher shortage problem and she said, “More pay!”

Educational Software: Learning at Play

Nowadays, computer software have become quite easy to develop, allowing more and more teachers and parents to take maximum benefit out of their educational aspects. Children learn effectively while enjoying the learning experience and this is the major ingredient in Educational Software programs that makes them effective. There are different ways of adding sound effects, graphics, and games in these programs that encourages children to spend their time in the learning process.For instance some of the programs integrate exciting games for students if they are able to solve some mathematical problems. One of the software allows children to play a small car race for a short time once they are able to sort a math problem. And, once you are able to turn learning into fun for your kid, it can help tremendously in cultivating the taste for learning in the child. When you are using a tool like education software that excites children, you will be able to save all the energy that you used to spend in persuading them to concentrate on their studies.The easy availability and the access of computer, enables the use of education software in both school and home. This indicates that using these programs you will be able to improve the retention of your child by reinforcing the information that he/she studies at school. As an example, rather than spending money on a game that involves violence, it is better to invest your money with a game that allows your child to learn mathematical skills, science, new vocabulary, geography or history. Using these programs can also allow kids to learn necessary computer skills. Learning typing, saving files and opening programs can assist them in preparing for use of computer in future. You must have otherwise as well noticed this increase in computer skills with your kids even if they have been using basic computer applications.Once kids are able to learn the use of education software, the reviewing part can be carried out independently. It will not only help them to feel independent and enhance their confidence, but it also helps teachers and parents get some free time. While shopping for Educational Software programs, you need to give special attention to the skill sets and grade levels for which it has been designed. In case the problems and questions are too advanced, even fun-filled education software programs can become discouraging. Hence, ensure that the study content matches with the intelligence a level of the student and it develops to next level only after testing the skill and knowledge level of the kids. Nowadays, lots of education software programs are created in such a way that they develop to next level after learners are able to clear the evaluation tests.

What Is Involved in Becoming a Special Education Teacher?

One of the first questions that individuals ask when they are considering a career in Special Education or Special Ed as it is oftentimes called is “What are the responsibilities of a Special Education teacher?” This type of teacher is usually involved with teaching children who a wide range of disabilities that range from minor to major in nature. This career requires a lot of background education and work as well as a total focus on the career.If you are already in that mindset and have the dedication, desire, and determination to pursue a career as a teacher for educating learning disabled, then you may already be aware of the above. The next question that arises is “Do I have what it takes to become this type of teacher?” If you think you do, then the following information will enable you to pursue a career as a Special Ed teacher.From start to finish, there are basically 6 steps to becoming a teacher. Hopefully these steps will get you going in the right direction for starting your career:Get your degree – there’s a good possibility that this first step will be the most challenging of all due to the fact that there are very few colleges and universities that offer curriculum in Special Education Depending on which learning institution you are hopeful of enrolling in, your only choice may be getting a Bachelor’s Degree in English, Math, Psychology, or Sociology.Focus on a specific disability when you are earning your degree – there is a broad variety of disabilities to focus on so you should do some research and decide on which one that you want to focus on and work with as a Special Education teacher. Be aware that there emotional as well as physical disabilities.Take the Praxis II Exam – this is an examination for becoming a Special Education teacher that you will have to pass with flying colors. The scores required for becoming a teacher in any of the 50 states will sometimes vary from one to the next. So study hard before taking the exam.Enroll in an internship – an internship in as a Special Education teacher or some other career are two totally different types of careers with different responsibilities attached. You’re going to have to take your classes at the same time as working full time in a classroom when you are enrolled in your internship.Get your experience as a Special Education teacher – you want to start getting your experience as soon as you can. Working in a classroom alongside a Special Ed teacher as their assistant is the best type you can get during your internship and before you get your first job in the field.Apply for a job – surprisingly, this may be the easiest of the six. Starting your career as a Special Education teacher provided you have gained the necessary knowledge and learned how to apply it during your experience as an intern.