"Authentic, engaging, and essential teachers are encouragers and explicit models of what it means to be a literate person."

~Rasinski et al, 2010

Teaching Children Who Find Reading Difficult

          There is this assumption that teachers tend to teach the way they were taught, I strongly do not subscribe to this adage.  My memories of impressionable teachers growing up is scarce because for the most part, I was not into learning.  I went through the motion of going to class, getting good grades, participating in school events, and the like, but I simply wasn't engaged in learning at all.  My only recollection of some teachers were based on their personality and how I was either comfortable being in their class or not.  Even in my undergrad, very few professors really made an impact in me enough to influence who I am now as a teacher.  The first two years of my teaching were more of a per-functionary experience as I plan to go overseas to work.  In many ways, my focus on teaching was immature.  Teaching came easy because the schools I have worked with have high SES families which meant that the students were reading with comprehension by Kindergarten since this is the basis of acceptance to reputable schools back home.  As a teacher, my main role is to execute the curriculum, scaffold their learning, model good behavior, and mold the students according to the school's motto:  Jesuit's "Ad majorem Dei gloriam" or "Men for others" and the Augustinian's "Virtue and Science".


       Further consciousness regarding teaching fully made its way to me when I started teaching here in the United States.  In teaching at-risk pre-K students in the first school I joined in Alexandria, VA, I knew that I needed to shift my focus to what effective teaching is about.  The class I taught in was part of the Virginia Preschool Initiative, a program that works hand-in-hand with the HeadStart program of Fairfax County.  Suffice to say, majority of my students were English Language Learners and were classified at-risk because of their background.  The components of this class were very different from what I had in the past.  I have to re-frame my teaching to meet the needs of these students.  In as much as it was totally new, there will always be a constant to any teaching practice, which I basically used to my advantage as I grapple in this new experience--teaching dynamics.  I have always been great at building rapport with my students, their families, and the school community.  I was lucky to have a great mentor, Ginger Welch, beside me as I re-tool myself to match my practice to the demands and needs of my classroom.  She saw my potential as an educator.  These initial experiences with Ms. Welch were the impetus that changed the way I teach as I continued with my teaching career.

"The principle of experience means that every experience both takes up something from those of which have gone before and modifies in some way the quality of those which come after."

~Dewey, 1938

Experience & Education

      The two years I spent under Ms. Welch's wing enriched me in ways that I have never expected.  The difference between the students I was teaching back home to those I was teaching in that VPI class did not matter to me because the reality that students are all different and yet the same dawned at me.  All students need their teacher to guide their learning.  As my "local" teaching experience grew in number,  I still have the unsettling feeling that I am not where I should be.  In as much as I love teaching young children, I miss teaching elementary students.  The limitations imposed by my working visa held me in preschool for far too long than I have anticipated.  After devoting a total of five years in preschool education, I just had to move on.

       Teaching kindergarten again was a joy for me.  Though the students showed differences in ability compared to the previous kindergarten class I taught back home, these kids showed interest in learning.  They are still in the process of acquiring the skill for reading and writing that made them active learners in my classroom.  I was teaching and yet I was learning more and more about the 'typical' teaching practice used here.  My classroom was a collection of eager students with different learning styles.  I was able to improve on my differentiation.  The experiences I had helped me to change, develop, and improve my practice.

       Last school year, I joined a secular school which gave me a totally new experience.  The religious limitations of this school caused me to constantly  reflect on my practice.  In heading the Literacy Team, I had to interact with all members of the school community, not just my 4th grade class.  The different roles I played in the school highly contributed to my learning growth as a teacher practitioner who tries to embody all three--learner, teacher, and teacher inquirer.  I was able to build a great relationship with my 4th graders as they immersed themselves in a class that is totally non-traditional, dynamic, and process oriented while building good relationships with the school community and some teachers eager to learn from my experience with grad school.

"New teachers, if they do not come from communities that are similar to those they teach in, are particularly vulnerable to miscommunication."

~Kohl, 2002

Topsy-turvy:  Teacher Talk and Student Talk


       My attitude and approach to teaching has tremendously evolved because of the experiences I've had working in different schools with their unique learning communities and philosophies.  My practice has been overhauled many times over as I changed the fields that I worked with--early childhood to elementary.  The ability to be more attuned to what is "clicking" in my classroom as I teach, and where the "kinks" are got better and better.  As I read more about teaching and compare it to what I have been doing, I gained more sense of the purpose of why I teach and the reason why I continue to engage in learning as a teacher overall.

       In essence, my "cabinet" of tricks (strategies, theories, knowledge, etc.) is increasing in content as I grow more in the profession.  My teaching repertoire is improved by each contribution made by the learning environment I am in.  The schools, with its own culture, have given me the basis of understanding how diversity enriches and/or affect my practice.  The insights I have gained thus far are packed away in my repository of experiences, ready to be pulled out in moment's notice.

       The impact we make in our classrooms shapes our students in ways we can never imagine.  The language we use, our attitude towards our students, the way we communicate with them--all these play a part on how we are perceived as teachers.  The more I read about best practices in teaching, the more I understand why teaching is such a delicate profession.  We are forming students and influencing them which makes it essential that we model the kind of people we want our students to become.

~An excerpt from my personal journal...July 2, 2012~ 

"Teacher's language & the nature of conversation in the classroom are determining factors in learning."

~Kohl, 2002

 ...In one of the conversations I had with Sandra*, she told me that she won't skip a grade if I am her 5th grade teacher pointing out that it's because I help students understand things.  In reflecting, I see why we need to also use conversation as a means of evaluating the learning experiences we provide our students.

(Conversation with our former Asst. Principal) 

Me     :  I'm curious to know if you enjoy substituting in my class.  Specifically, what can you say about the kind of dialogue initiated by my students?

Mahdi:  I like taking over your class.  Here's the thing, I have observed a veteran teacher who got an award for his exemplary teaching practice in action.  That class had the "Ms. Salem-ness" feel to it where students are actively engaged and are aware of the parameters set by the teacher.  It was controlled chaos but the learning was great.

Me     :  Is that type of interaction generally in our school, or is it specific to just some classes?

Mahdi:  It's the ideal, but I can say right now it's localize to 4th grade.

 Through the "Looking Glass":  Conversations as Lenses for Reflection on Teaching

        I have always used conversations I've had with students and colleagues as items for thinking.  Below are two examples that made an imprint on how others viewed me as a teacher:

(Conversation with Seyad* after he was reported for misbehavior in his non-core class)

Me     :  I just talked to your teacher.  What happened?

Seyad:  We were taking a test and the teacher changed the instruction to translate answers to English instead of Arabic because Faith* did not study.  So, I got mad and tore my paper.

Me     :  I see.  However, what you did is unacceptable and disrespectful.  You know, if you did it in my class, I would have been just as upset with your action.

Seyad:  Well, it won't happen in your class because you won't do that.  You don't change your test just because someone didn't study for it.  I studied all night and slept late to study and it wasn't fair that he changed it because of her.  

There are different pathways to learning, explore! 


       In this day and age, access to different forms of media is commonplace to students.  The instant gratification brought about by technological advances can become either an enemy or an asset in the inner workings of my classroom.

       My teaching repertoire includes the use of technology to strike a balance between my practice and the need to accommodate the students' natural inclination towards media.  I have found that variations in my teaching techniques keep my students alert, especially when I use media that seem to make my students hang on to every word, picture, and/or audio that is part of the material prepared for their taking.

       This use of technology expands on how I try to inform and educate the school community through the literacy meetings I conduct and in one PTO presentation I have given to introduce my literacy initiative.  I am especially inclined to using Prezi because of its great features.  I likewise see a special engagement in my Reading Club when I use Prezi.

       Other forms of technology I use are PowerPoint and Movie Maker.  With me leading the Literacy Team, Progress Monitoring, and helping interpret standardized test results in my school, presentations are essential part of informing all stakeholders of what has been accomplished.


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