Two First Year ENL Teachers Reflect Back on Their Experiences

Jennifer Riesbeck, ENL Teacher

Jessica Ambrose, ENL Teacher

This month we interviewed two first year ENL teachers, Jessica Ambrose from Fayetteville-Manlius School District and Jennifer Riesbeck, from the Binghamton City School District. We asked them to provide some insight about their first year in the ENL classroom. The following is an excerpt from those interviews. 

Looking back, what were some of your highs and lows during your first year teaching?

JA. My lows were when I felt overwhelmed by the demands of preparing lessons for seven different grade levels. It was really difficult for me in the beginning to stay on top of what each of the different grades/classes were working on. I work in two different buildings, and getting time to collaborate with content teachers was exceedingly difficult between the constraints of my schedule and theirs. I did the best I could to stay in the loop with informal, quick chats before and after school and emails…The highs were always related to the kids! The students I worked with during my first year were simply wonderful. I loved getting to know them and their individual personalities. Seeing some of the newcomers grow by leaps and bounds was so rewarding. I can’t help but smile when I look back at the progress all of the students have made.

JR. I have had significantly more highs this year than lows. For me, the greatest high has been seeing the transformation that my students, my colleagues, and I have gone through. For example, the other day I was looking through a student’s folder who was what we consider an absolute Beginner in November…I found his first writing sample that included his name in all capital letters and a few letters on the page. Now, this student is reading hundreds of sight words; he can read, write, speak, and understand complete sentences in English, and he can write a complete paragraph… As far as the lows go, there have been a few. For one, they weren’t kidding that new teachers don’t have much of a social life, especially if they are taking graduate courses at the same time!…I have taken the time to learn how to be a full- time teacher, and although I have many more things to work on, I feel that next year I will already be a little bit better at teaching than this year.

Is there something you wish you knew in September that you now have since learned?

Building Sentences Activity from Jessica Ambrose’s ENL class

JA. It’s very easy to spend a lot of time preparing a lesson that doesn’t work well or isn’t as effective as I’d like. As time went on I got better at knowing what types of activities and instruction would work best with the students, but before I started to understand that, I invested too much time and energy in things that didn’t necessarily pay off. But, it was a learning experience.

JR. This year my biggest struggle has been behavior management. I wish I had known in September many of the behavior management strategies that I know now. Starting one solid behavior management plan from Day 1 and sticking with that plan creates a positive learning environment…I tried everything but I wish I had given each behavior plan an entire marking period before deciding it didn’t work and I needed to try something new. Instead, I tried a new plan every month. Looking back, I know the inconsistencies are what have caused some of these behaviors…A lot of instructional time was wasted trying to figure these out …I feel much more prepared for the beginning of next year, and I’m looking forward to trying my strategies out on a new set of students.

What advice would you give to a first year ENL teacher?

JA. Be aware that the role of the ENL teacher can vary drastically from school to school and even within the individual school. Some teachers may rely heavily on your expertise while others may not really understand what your goal is or what you are trying to accomplish with the students. Some teachers may not be familiar with the process of identifying ELLs and what types of services they get once they are placed in ENL programming…Don’t assume that everyone is up to date on the law and regulations or even how to handle a brand-new student. Some teachers may have an ELL in their class for the first time in years, or maybe even the first time ever. In that case you want to be prepared to help and be a resource for them. It can be very overwhelming to a classroom teacher who has never taught a newcomer before.

A 6th grade ELL student’s storyboard created from reading The Hero’s Journey in Jennifer Riesbeck’s ENL class.

JR. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it, especially with the “nitty-gritty paperwork type work,” even if you feel like you are asking too many questions. On the other hand, do not be afraid to try new things on your own. As a first year teacher I felt pressured to immediately start teaching my curriculum, but I soon realized that spending the first week of school building positive relationships and setting routines in place is incredibly powerful and rewarding. The curriculum can wait a few days and will ultimately save time in the future…I also highly recommend not working during lunch. The twenty minutes I have to eat without work is sometimes the only time during the day I get to relax. If I work through lunch, I am often tired and more stressed. That comes out in my teaching in the afternoon; the work will still be there after lunch, I promise!

Garafalo_Diane_150pxDiane Garafalo is an ENL Consultant on special assignment with Mid-State RBERN through DSF Consulting.

If you are interested in sharing some of your experiences on the Mid-State RBERN blog, please contact Sara Peters at

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