How an ENL Teacher Prepares for the New School Year


Kelly O’Connor, ENL Teacher

As the summer winds down and students are getting their school supplies ready, ENL teachers have many duties that require extensive preparation even before the school year starts! This month we interviewed Kelly O’Connor, Elementary ENL teacher at Marcellus CSD, who discussed some of her special plans for making the fall of 2017 successful for English Language Learners.

Q. Please tell me about your background and what led you to become an ENL teacher?

A. I attended Providence College and pursued a degree in Accounting. After graduation, I worked as an auditor for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  During my time with the DEA, I had the opportunity to see more of the world than I ever could have dreamed of including Japan, China, South Korea, Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland, and more.  As a result, I discovered my dream of becoming a teacher, and so I pursued a Master of Arts degree in teaching Elementary Education from Johns Hopkins University.

After my graduation I applied for teaching jobs on The International Educator (TIE) website, a website that lists worldwide teaching jobs.  I randomly applied for jobs in Colombia and Chile, and the school in Chile quickly contacted me.  Teaching in Chile turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life, because my experiences there made me realize that I had a strong passion for teaching English Language Learners.   When my contract ended, I returned to Syracuse and took the additional coursework needed to obtain my English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teaching certification.  I am currently teaching ENL at Marcellus CSD with students whose families come from Iraq, Yemen, Guatemala, Russia, and the Ukraine.  The transition from an auditor to a teacher was a terrifying move, but it was definitely the right one.  There is nothing else that I would rather do in my life but teach English Language Learners!

Q. Can you highlight some of the important activities that need to be done by you before school starts in September?

A. Some of the activities I need to do before school starts are to obtain and analyze NYSESLAT test scores to determine proficiency levels and required minutes for each ELL student to assist with scheduling, review curricula for the grade levels I will be teaching and co-teaching,  speak to classroom teachers to discuss teaching expectations for the grade levels and to let them know background information about our ELL students, review the  Home Language Identification Surveys for any newly entering students to determine eligibility for NYSITELL testing, prepare my classroom and attend all staff and professional development meetings!

Q. Have there been special projects you have done that go “above and beyond” for your ELL students?

A. Yes! This past year, I had two ELL students who struggled with the alphabet.  First I tried various methods which I had used successfully in the past including ABC songs, letter cards, ABC Bingo, and online games, but nothing seemed to help them.  I realized that these students weren’t being exposed to the alphabet enough in other areas of my school to remember their letters.  So I created alphabet posters to put up throughout all of the halls in school.  The posters included spaces for a letter and a picture (all interchangeable using Velcro) and color- coded the posters for each student.  In addition to the posters, I also created individualized, themed game boards for both students to take home, color-coded classroom games focusing on only a few letters at a time, uppercase/lowercase matching game, and themed assessment charts for the students to keep track of their progress.  As a result, the two struggling students learned the alphabet!

Q. What would you consider to be your most successful September teaching activities for ELLs? Why do you think so?

A. My most successful early September teaching activity was that of asking my students to create an ELL “neighborhood” in our classroom using pictures. The ELL students were able to choose a paper cut-out of a child who they felt best represented them. They added clothes and other accessories, and they also colored their houses.  We put all of the children and their houses on a poster of a neighborhood that we created together.  Through our follow-up discussions, students shared that it did not matter what the other students looked like or where they came from.  They learned and expressed that we all belonged to the same community, and all of our differences were what made each of us unique and special! This was my most successful activity because it established a sense of community among all of my students, regardless of their background, which continued throughout the school year!

Q. Will you be including any new ideas for fall 2017? Why will you be adding them?


Medals for positive behavior

A. Yes, I plan to use country flags in a writing and drawing unit about students’ home countries. After introducing a book of flags from around the world, I will ask students to incorporate their country flag and add their own drawings of other symbols and pictures from their home countries which will be followed by sharing their work in a small group.I also plan to teach about positive behavior and corresponding vocabulary in the fall, because I want to teach my students how to be good citizens and friends.  First, I generated a list of positive character traits, and I then put related quotes on actual medals.  The ELL students were then given the appropriate medal to wear when they demonstrated a corresponding positive behavior in class. It was amazing to watch how excitedly the students responded in the short amount of time I used this teaching idea!

Diane Garafalo
ENL Consultant working for RBERN through SupportEd LLC

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