7 Making a Difference_one moment from Tampa (FL USA)

Making a Difference_ one moment from Tampa (FL USA)
Author: Olivia Braunworth, Mitchell Elementary, Tampa, FL USA

A month into school and the students and I were finally starting to get into the swing of things. It was Tuesday morning and the bell had rung. All of the second grade students were quietly reading in their seats when there was a knock at the door. Little did I know that behind that door was a student that was going to challenge me, inspire me, and make me fall in love with teaching again. A small boy stood outside the door with his Mom. This boy, let’s call him Jack, had just arrived all the way from Venezuela to the west coast of Florida. He had never been in the United States before and he did not know any English. As his Mom kissed him goodbye, he welled up with tears. He was scared and lonely and it broke my heart. I couldn’t imagine being in a new country, in a new school, without knowing the language. Then again, kids are resilient and time would show that this was exactly where he was meant to be.

Teaching in general is no easy task. Data, meetings, paperwork, differentiation, grades, planning, are just small glimpse into the life of a teacher. Not only do we teach but we are nurses, social workers, counselors, mentors, etc. It can be challenging in many different ways but when Jack walked into my classroom that day, I was faced with a new challenge. How was I going to teach this student how to speak, write, and read in English? I had taught ELL students before but had little experience in teaching someone how to speak English. I was nervous and overwhelmed. Luckily, I was in a co-teach with 36 students in our class but there were two teachers so I was able to give a lot of my time to Jack for one on one and small group lessons that he needed. We spent every day learning letters, letter sounds, and vocabulary. Jack was totally immersed in the English language and that’s when the magic started to happen. As he got comfortable, he was a completely different child than that first day I met him. He was joyful, funny, and sometimes even a little mischievous. There wasn’t a day that went by that he did not put a smile on my face.

Watching Jack grow throughout the year was something I will truly never forget. From coming to the United States without knowing a single English word to speaking it fluently was a highlight in my teaching career. It made me feel like I was truly making a difference. And even in a couple of months, he was reading! How remarkable! Nothing is better than a teacher watching it “click” for a student. Seeing his face light up when he could read a word was the best gift I could get as a teacher. Once he was able to put his sounds and blends together, there was no stopping him. He was enthusiastic about learning and although he struggled, he never gave up.
My story with Jack doesn’t stop there. Towards the end of that school year I was asked to move up to teach third grade reading and writing the following school year. I accepted and guess who was put into my class? Jack! We picked up right where we left off and he kept on reading. During this year I decided to go back to college to get my Masters in Education. I was taking a research class and my professor stated that our semester project was that we were going to choose a challenge we had in our classroom and research strategies that would help us with this challenge. I chose to research how to help below level ELL students with their reading comprehension. I was so excited to find new ways to help Jack. Although he was making progress, reading and writing was still very challenging for him!

After doing my research and implementing new strategies, I was delighted to see that these strategies were in fact working. I wrote an entire research report on these strategies and how they worked with Jack. It was even published! Today, Jack is in fifth grade and we still always get excited to see each other! As much as I was able to teach him during our two school years together, he might not know it, but he taught me a lot. He taught me that teaching is hard and challenging but every single challenge is worth it. He showed me what it’s like to really persevere. He inspired me to keep learning and trying new things. He brought joy and laughter into my life and made learning fun! People always say that teachers impact their student’s life and although I believe that to be true, in this case, Jack impacted mine.