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Blog entry by Anne Marie Foerster Luu

"Miss, I have two feet, one, two. I have two."

  • Montgomery County, Walter Johnson High School
  • Member since 1999
  • NBCT English as a New Language
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Somedays the world is too fast, the work is too heavy, and the words are too few. There are days when I am curious, and there are days when I want the peace of knowing. I want to put my heart into my work, but I need the protection of translucent boundaries. A daily rhythm belies the jazz that is teaching students who are learning English as an academic language for opportunity. It is the jazz that requires improvisation, the unpredictability that is supported by intuition. The jazz includes comping whoever is soloing, call and response with bandmates, and repetition of a planned theme. Teaching challenges teachers to see the big picture and explore the minute details that impact our work with students of all similarities and differences, requiring us to see the whole child.

In this, my 23rd year of teaching linguistically and culturally diverse students, I am confident of my improvisation, my ability to take a plan and let it change and grow with my students. Nonetheless, as a collaborator and a leader, I still look for heroes. My high school colleagues are problem identifiers and problem solvers from a genuine place of wanting students to succeed. Together we find ways to navigate the nuanced roadblocks to help students find their way. I accept my role on this team, raise my voice, and contribute. This was similar in my experience at the elementary level, brainstorming with colleagues and trying new approaches to the unique needs of specific students. In middle school, my colleagues and I, teachers, administrators, and counselors, worked in concert to keep students in a predictable and safe learning environment so that each step forward might gain some momentum. That is the jazz of teaching.

I want to be fully present even if I struggle sometimes. I immerse myself in discussions of “how can I do better?” and “why is this not working?” This constant brainstorming and desire to meet my students where they are is part of my professional disposition. My heroes have taught me to act on intuition and look for clues to the pressures that exist beyond the schoolhouse doors, the pressures that seep into the minds and hearts of our students, pulling them in different directions. I watch students react to me and seek validation from each other. I observe their interactions and wonder about those who don’t interact. When I draw the wrong conclusions, I apologize. I listen to the genuine feedback when T says he sees me light up when R comes in the room, and I don’t do that for him. Teaching is humbling as it pushes us to move through challenges with grace and love everyday.

I can love without teaching curriculum, but I can’t teach curriculum without loving my students. It is not unconditional love, but it is the kind of love that makes me accept where they are, look for help when I am overwhelmed, and get up to try again the next day. Loving them is wanting them to succeed in all their classes, so I set aside some time for them to teach each other in the language they choose. Loving them is having high expectations for soft skills, interpersonal skills, and academic engagement. Loving them is knowing that some need space to just process the anxieties of a new culture and a new language without the tools to build their own path. Loving them is encouraging them to maintain and grow their grandmother’s language.

Finding ways within the curriculum to encourage their voices is love: write a letter only you can write, research a topic of interest to you, take a stereotype about your culture and write a counterstory or present a slam. I had a student from Peru who passionately described the loss of his family land to a big corporation. Another student wrote and presented a slam on the stage at an assembly about how Venezuelans are starving and medicine is hard to find. Another student presented the importance of understanding the universe and the organization of the planets and stars. Yet another student led a discussion group on the challenges of being a young man in today’s society; he is very unsure of what is expected of him now that more than one culture is flooding his sensibilities. Students tell us who they are and what they need if we are willing to listen.

So, let me explain my title. I once had a student who said, “Miss, I have two feet, one, two. I have two.” She appeared to me to be frustrated. The context was lunchtime, a tired face, a lot of math and science papers on her desk, and someone who had just flirtatiously grabbed her pencil from her hand. I wasn’t sure exactly what she was saying, but I felt it. I sat next to her and said, “How can I help?” This is the jazz of teaching.

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