When I think of success, I think of conquering challenges, meeting and exceeding goals and expectations and experiencing that gratifying feeling of achievement that accompanies any endeavor. I can truly say that success is much sweeter when I see it being experienced by one of my students. I have been fortunate to have quite a story of achievement in my classroom this year.
I am a teacher at Telesis Preparatory Academy in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. We do not have traditionally graded classrooms. At Telesis, we have academic levels. I am one of the teachers of the Elementary level (traditional third and fourth grade). Shortly before this school year started, my principal, Sandy Breece, came to me and said that she met with a parent who wanted her child to attend Telesis. At this child’s previous school, she would have been ready to start the fourth grade. So far, nothing that I was hearing was out of the ordinary. Then came the surprise…her previous school was in China. Of course, my first inquiry was regarding how much English she knew. Then came the ultimate surprise…the answer was none. I had never before worked with an ESL student. I was in a state of dismay as I recalled my foreign language knowledge – French and Italian. My background in romance languages was going to be of no help to me here. I must admit I was scared. Then I thought of this little girl. If I am scared, this girl must be petrified. She was coming from China to start school in the United States, not knowing how to communicate in her new school. This was not only going to be a challenge for me, but a huge mountain to climb for this 10 year old girl. I immediately called upon my mother, a recently retired elementary school teacher. I dutifully wrote down her tips and ideas and set to work worrying about the first day of school.
When I first met Shiue (pronounced Shay-yee) when she came to school on that first day, she looked frightened. I spent the first week of school with my set of encyclopedias in the front of the room, flipping to pictures to help her to understand what I was saying to the rest of the class. She sat and paid attention to everything I said, but never said a word. I started asking her questions I thought she might be able to answer with just one word. Shiue started opening up. She tried very hard to answer when I asked her a question. Sometimes she would shake her head and give me a confused look. When Shiue needed to sharpen her pencil she brought it up to me and pointed at the tip. I would tell her that she could sharpen her pencil. She pointed to things and pictures to make me understand what she was trying to communicate. During the second week of school, I called up the first reading group. The absolute beauty of our school is our multi-age classrooms. We are able to accommodate children who need more remediation and those who are working above grade level all in the same classroom. No child has to experience the feeling of being “held back” or feeling the pressure of a special “gifted” class. Shiue was able to participate in a reading group comprised of a few children who needed a little extra practice and attention in the area of reading. In that respect, she could feel more comfortable with learning the language at a pace that was more her speed. That first time reading aloud, she could only read the very shortest of words, such as I, me, you, and, a, and it. I supplied her with the rest.
From that point on, Shiue never looked back. She was dogged in her efforts to learn everything the rest of the class was learning. She started reading 0.5 level books with my help. Shiue quickly advanced to 1.0 level books. Her spelling grades were improving. She was starting to really follow lessons that I presented to the class. Then, she started raising her hand to answer questions! I was so excited. When Shiue was able to answer that first question in front of the class, you would have thought we both won the lottery. She was smiling from ear to ear, and I was clapping and praising her. At this point, Shiue was now able to say, “Sharpen pencil” when she needed to do so. She was answering more questions and communicating on a social level with other children in the class. Shiue’s mother related to me in parent-teacher conferences that she could not believe the progress Shiue was making and how happy she was. Needless to say, I was thrilled.
Shiue’s story is, to me, the embodiment of success. I could go on and on about the accomplishments Shiue has experienced since August. Honestly, there are too many to list here. She just finished the chapter book Ramona the Brave and is now on another Ramona chapter book by Beverly Cleary. These books are a 4.5 on the Accelerated Reader program we use at Telesis. Shiue has an A average in every single subject. She can converse with others easily. She now comes up to me and says, “Mrs. Frantz, may I sharpen my pencil please?” I have always thought that Shiue’s proudest moment must have been when she answered her first question in English. But today I changed my mind. She was reading quietly with another student. They were taking turns reading paragraphs of a story. The other student was reading her paragraph just fine and then she stopped. I was about to look and see what word she having trouble with so that I could help her. But, before I could, she leaned over to Shiue and said, “What’s that word, Shiue?” And Shiue answered her. I sat back down and glanced at Shiue. She looked at me and smiled. I turned away and with tears welling up in my eyes, thought, this has to be her proudest moment… it was most certainly mine.
Telesis Preparatory Academy