SYW: Musicals, Memories, & Other Musings

Here is my take on Melanie’s Share Your World this week.


When you were a kid, did you eat the crusts on your sandwich or not?
Always, I love the crusts!

Are you a fan of musicals—why or why not?
Yes and no. It seems like every time I turn around, there’s a new musical out (What is Six?!). Some of the topics they take on are not necessarily good as musicals, but might make great plays or movies. (Believe it or not, I actually saw a production of Jane Eyre: The Musical. Not one of my favorites.) I prefer musicals that are written as musicals, not adaptations of books, like Jane Austen novels – a few of them have been made into musicals, and I didn’t like that at all. The songs can be a distraction.

When I’m watching a musical, I often get impatient when the characters break into song, because I want the story to continue. But some musicals are really great and a lot of fun. I enjoy some of the classics, like The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, or West Side Story. I also enjoy singing along to the familiar songs while listening to a CD. I have not seen Hamilton yet, mainly because I don’t want to pay $200 for a ticket, but also I’ve heard that it’s best to “preview” the songs, to have time to understand the lyrics. I probably wouldn’t do that, and as a result, I wouldn’t “get” the songs. But I’d still like to see it. However, I don’t rush out to see every single musical or remake of a musical. Really, I’m not sure politicians or historical figures are good subjects for musicals.

The thing is, I do really like opera, although some are more interesting than others. But in opera, they sing all the time and there are usually subtitles, even when it’s sung in English. I guess I see opera as a whole “experience” while going to a musical is like going to a play or a movie. But now, I’ve taken to watching operas from the Met on a movie screen. The seats are far more comfortable and the theatre is a short, easy drive in my car!

Is it difficult to do what you do? (for a living, hobby etc.).  If you’re retired, what you ‘did’ previously for a job can be substituted.
Yes, at least my second career – teaching – was very difficult. Some situations were easier for me than others. I didn’t really like or succeed at being a regular classroom teacher because there were too many things to remember, especially non-teaching things, like checking my email every morning and taking attendance. I really loved, and I think excelled at, being a resource teacher – that is, taking kids out of their classrooms and working with them in small groups. I think the kids liked it too. Being a bilingual teacher, sometimes the foreign-born kids were overwhelmed in the classroom with all their American peers, and my classroom was more culture-affirming and comfortable for them. For me, it was more relaxed, less rigid. My groups were usually 4-10 students, that I would have during literacy block – about an hour and a half per grade level. So I was their reading and language arts teacher, one with knowledge of their native language and culture and trained in teaching English as a Second Language. I was also a resource for classroom teachers who did not know how to teach English as a Second Language. I enjoyed the collaborative and reflective aspects of teaching.

But I really struggled being a classroom teacher. Classroom management, for a person with ADHD, can be very difficult. I was always misplacing things, so I didn’t have them when I needed them. Although I wrote detailed lesson plans, I didn’t always follow them as I should have. I spent hours every night preparing for my classes or grading papers. I would say I worked about 70 hours a week! (Which is worth a couple of summer months off, don’t you think so?)

My 4th grade students (2009) performing a Reader’s Theatre play for their peers

Besides the difficulties keeping up in the classroom, there were always school politics. If your principal was a jerk or didn’t like you, your school year could be hell. Some principals have favorites among the teachers, who then would form a little clique and act superior to other teachers. I even had one principal use my classroom aide to spy on me. Administrators are under a lot of pressure these days, due to their schools having to perform well on standardized tests. And of course, the special ed and bilingual students always were at a disadvantage taking those tests. The principals were also under scrutiny and beholden to superintendents and school boards. Not an easy task, and these days I wouldn’t want to go up against a school board! Some of the parents are crazy! Anyway, I tried to understand what principals were up against, but some principals were just terrible. A few were very good and sympathetic, and those teaching years were the best – at least I was less stressed.

It takes a certain type of person, one who is organized and doesn’t get flustered easily, to be a good teacher. I think I was good, as I said, with small groups, but not as a classroom teacher. And I’m sure it has gotten worse for teachers since I retired seven years ago, not better.

What’s the best concert you’ve ever been to?  (Doesn’t have to be a rock concert either).

That’s a hard one! I’ve been to many great concerts, so it’s difficult to say which was the best. I do remember rock/popular music concerts better than classical concerts; I went to very few actual rock concerts. Classical concerts? There are too many to remember. The best popular music concerts were those at which I could hear the music and liked it, and where there were no disturbances like drunk people throwing up near me. I liked seeing Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie, and some of the Celtic bands made me want to get up and dance!


Looking back over your life, what is one thing you’re grateful for?  One thing you really regret?
I’ll do the regret first – I regret not getting into a profession earlier or even preparing for one during my years ass an undergraduate in college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, except that I really liked writing and drawing. The work I did for 20 plus years I put in the category of “a job” – not a profession. Teaching was the one profession I went into, when I was a lot older and more mature. I went to grad school and got my MA in teaching, and did further coursework to become a bilingual/ESL teacher. I wish I had done something like speech pathology – I never really understood what that was and if I had, I might have taken that path. Anyway, it’s all water under the bridge!

I am grateful for many things, but the most important one is my family. Although my siblings and I bickered sometimes, in the most important things we supported each other. We never fought over money or our inheritance as some families do. No one tried to take more than was due to them. When I was in my first marriage, and especially when I separated from my ex-husband, my family really supported and helped me with their love and understanding. They have been so welcoming to my stepdaughter and her husband, integrating them into the family as full members, not adjuncts. My stepdaughter, who was an only child, suddenly gained a whole lot of cousins, aunts and uncles! She really appreciates that and knows a lot more about what’s going on with my nieces and nephews than I do!

I have been very lucky to have the family I do!

A family gathering in my #2 sister’s dining room

WPC: Partners

There are different types of partnerships throughout life. As children, we pair up with a “best friend” or two. In school, we are taught to work with others and often are assigned to work with partners. As adults, we may have partners at work (such as law firms, where the name of the firm consists of the last names of all the partners) and we may find a “life partner” – i.e. a spouse. All sorts of endeavors are accomplished by partnering with others; it’s called “teamwork.”

I have chosen pictures for this challenge that involve two people in different stages of life.


As a former teacher of bilingual students, I often used Reader’s Theater, which the kids loved, to improve their reading and speaking fluency. Here are two second grade boys who worked on one short play together to perform in front of other classes.


These boys (cousins) in my class were the only ones to memorize their play! It was such a natural fit for them!

Children do a lot of things quite naturally with a partner. Here are two kindergartners who are proud to show off the scene they made out of blocks. (Another partnership creates their own structures behind them.)


These bilingual kindergartners were sweet & cute and I loved their buildings!

I was in charge of an ecology club one year, and we had a paper drive competition between the classrooms. The students in the club partnered up to do different tasks during the drive. Here are two boys helping each other with taking the recycling bins full of paper out to the container behind the school.

Chris and Stratos unload the cart.

5th grade boys unload the cart.


In my home town, Christmas trees are set up in a downtown plaza, and different groups of school kids decorate a tree with ornaments they’ve made, as a competition between schools.



Recently we hired two young men to paint several rooms in our house as well as our front porch. One of them is semi-professional and the other is his apprentice. Their partnership works well and they did a professional job!



At my niece’s wedding, her brother and his father-in-law paired up to play music at the ceremony.

Tom on sax & Alicia's dad on guitar for Amazing Grace

Sax and guitar duet “Amazing Grace”


Friends of mine recently got married, forming a new partnership in mid-life.

Bride & groom gaze at each other with love.

Bride & groom gaze at each other with love.


Finally, here is a funny picture to illustrate a different sort of partnership: Another niece at a wedding, holding, in one hand, an “adult” cup, which contained an alcoholic beverage, and in the other, the sippy cup of her toddler son, half-filled with milk. It’s an illustration of her life: the competing interests of being an adult and caring for a child.


Jen says, “This sums up my life – a gin & tonic in one hand and a sippy cup in the other!”




ABC COUNTDOWN: B is for bilingual

English Espanol

Most of the students I have worked with over the last 14 years have been classified as “bilingual.” These are children whose first language is not English and that are learning English along with their native language. In the metropolitan Chicago area, there are large populations of Spanish and Polish speaking immigrants, as well as significant populations of speakers of Russian, Korean, Chinese, Arabic, and different languages of India. I didn’t originally intend to be a bilingual teacher, but when I finished my student teaching and began working as a substitute, other teachers heard me speaking to students in Spanish in bilingual classrooms, and they urged me to get my bilingual certification.

I really didn’t think my Spanish was good enough to be considered “bilingual” but I followed their advice and took the required Spanish proficiency test, getting a score of 89%. (70% is passing). By that time, I was already being considered for a position at a school with a large population of Spanish-speaking students and once I passed the test, it was only a matter of time before I was given a contract to teach bilingual 3rd graders the following year. I went on to complete classes for an endorsement to teach ESL and Spanish bilingual students on my elementary teaching certificate.

bilingual girlsBeing a bilingual teacher carries with it certain added responsibility and less support in general than “regular” ed teachers. We are constantly trying to fit everything in as we increase students’ proficiency in English without losing their native language – it feels like we are always playing “catch up.” We have to teach the same curriculum yet do not always have sufficient materials to do so in Spanish. Many districts buy reading or math curricula in Spanish, but these consist mainly in a direct translation into Spanish of the English materials. Therefore, the reading level of a particular story or a particular set of books may be quite different in Spanish than it is in English.

Here’s an example:  In first grade, one of the first non-fiction texts in a particular reading curriculum that students read is about ants. The word “ant” is a simple one in English and appropriate as vocabulary in first grade.  However, the word “ant” translates into Spanish as “hormiga.” This word has three syllables and starts with a silent letter! This is a more difficult word for Spanish speaking children to decode.  So creating a curriculum that is appropriate for beginning readers is more than a simple matter of direct translation. Even many assessments – which school personnel relies on to decide who gets extra help and how much – are directly translated, so that a passage a student is called upon to read at a particular grade level isn’t necessarily appropriate for the same grade level in both languages.  Therefore, even when taking assessments in their native language, Spanish speakers tend to score lower – less words read correctly, for example – than their English speaking counterparts.

However, if they continue to study in both languages and are able to transfer skills learned from one language to the other, they can eventually catch up to their English speaking peers.

Many school administrators are still not well-versed in bilingual education or its best practices, particularly when the increase in the bilingual population in their school is a new phenomenon. There are still many classroom teachers who have no idea how to teach English language learners, and often they feel threatened by the newly hired bilingual teachers, thinking they will soon lose their jobs to us because they’re not bilingual. This can make developing good professional working relationships harder.

One way to get other staff members on board is to bring the students’ culture to the school: a piñata party on Cinco de Mayo,

Breaking a pinata on Cinco de Mayo

Breaking a pinata on Cinco de Mayo

or a Day of the Dead activity involving all the classrooms in a competition to create the best skeleton scene,

Cutting out skeleton templates.

Cutting out skeleton templates.

This restaurant scene created by a 3rd grade class, was the contest winner!

This restaurant scene created by a 3rd grade class, was the contest winner!

Skydiving skeletons (5th grade)

Skydiving skeletons (5th grade)

This class had their skeletons go to the beach!

This class had their skeletons go to the beach!

This 4th grade's class's theme was having fun at the cemetery!

This 4th grade’s class’s theme was having fun at the cemetery!

or a library activity in December where teachers and/or students each day explain how the holidays are celebrated in their culture. An international dinner, of course, is always welcome!!

students in cafeteriaBilingual classrooms in a mostly English speaking school are also rather isolated. Part of this is self-imposed, but not surprising. In the cafeteria, the Spanish speaking kids all sit together and rarely mix with their native English speaking peers. The native English speakers also don’t always feel comfortable with a bunch of kids who speak a language they don’t know and they sometimes think the Spanish speakers are making fun of them (and vice versa). Certain ethnic groups develop animosities (think West Side Story) that lead to misunderstandings and fights on the playground.west-side-story-image-1
How do bilingual teachers get their students to integrate more with their native English speaking peers? One way is having certain integrated classes, such as P.E., art, music and other “specials.” The teachers of these subjects are very often not bilingual so the kids learn quickly to understand what they are telling them. If a schedule can be worked out to have a mix of students from different classrooms, there is more likelihood that friendships will develop between the bilingual and the non-bilingual students. Usually this doesn’t happen, though, because it’s a scheduling nightmare to work it out.

Another way is for teachers to plan to do certain projects together. One year when I was teaching a second grade bilingual class, I teamed up with another teacher who was willing and eager to do joint projects. For our unit on Chicago, we had the students paired up between the two classes to do research on a Chicago landmark. Then they made a model of their landmark together, using boxes, tape, paint, etc. One half worked in my room, the other half worked in hers.

A group of students in my classroom works with various materials to create Chicago landmarks.

A group of students in my classroom works with various materials to create Chicago landmarks.

A group of boys works on the Sears (Willis) Tower in the hallway.

A group of boys works on the Sears (Willis) Tower in the hallway.

Some of my students were scared at first, thinking they wouldn’t be able to communicate with their partners. Some partnerships worked out better than others. But the one I always like to think about is a girl in my class who was a new arrival from Mexico that year, so she spoke less English than most of the other students. She was to be paired with a sweet and friendly girl from the other class. She was very worried the first day, but the second day, when the period for working on the project was over, she came bounding back into my classroom and excitedly told me how her partner was so cool, that they were teaching each other words in their respective languages, and that she now had a new friend!!

Bilingual education and its effectiveness have become my passion during my teaching career. There are moments that every teacher lives for – in spite of the grueling schedule, the heavy work load, and the daily exhaustion – when we are overcome by a feeling of exhilaration that shouts inside us, “I LOVE doing this work!” Sometimes it happens when we are working with one or a few students and suddenly they “get” it – the lightbulb goes on in their heads, they make a leap in their progress and we know we have made a difference in their lives. Sometimes, for me, it would happen when I was writing on the board before class in the morning – usually the schedule for the day or an objective – a feeling of happiness and pride would overcome me as I realized what I was doing: writing in Spanish, teaching in Spanish, the language I had been learning since I myself was in fifth grade – Spanish had been my favorite class from junior high until I finished high school.

A Halloween math lesson

A Halloween math lesson

Here I was, using the skill I had most loved learning and also making connections with English through cognates and Latin root words. Language in general has always been my “thing.” Being a bilingual teacher has been the highlight of my working life.

Bilingual=Life squaredNote: Pictures with captions and the one of me above are my own; the others were downloaded from Google Images.