Monday, February 29, 2016

Extraordinary Learning

by TLC Nielsen
February 29, 2016

Caroline Ebeling is a Chicago-area bilingual teacher I met a few years ago. She lives an hour away from work and has written a trilingual book she hopes to publish one day. Her enthusiasm and upbeat nature continue to impress me when I visit her school while her love of learning and chipper attitude impact her students as she co-teaches 1st grade. She has the extraordinary job of teaching in several languages.

Welcome Caroline!

Q) I have to ask - why did you want to become a teacher?
A) I went into the field of education for one reason:  to inspire children.  Every single day, my goal is to show my students that they are capable of doing amazing things in their lives.  I am proud of my students every day, and they constantly surprise me.  I teach first grade, and what these six and seven-year-olds are capable of doing is truly incredible.  In addition, I lead the environmental club at my school for third, fourth, and fifth graders.  Seeing these children's passion and dedication to making the world a better place encompasses exactly why I wanted to be a teacher.

Q) At what point in time did you realize you wanted to follow this dream?
A) Although I always loved playing "teacher" as a child, I knew for sure that I wanted to be a teacher in high school.  I was a babysitter for many years and always loved children.  I felt like relating to children was a strength of mine, and I knew I could make a difference as a teacher.  I first realized that I wanted to work with students acquiring a second language when I was completing my student teaching experience.  In my assigned classroom, we welcomed a new student from Haiti who only spoke French.  Neither my cooperating teacher nor I knew the language, but it was my responsibility to teach this little girl to the best of my ability.  Through this experience, I realized that I had a passion for teaching English as a second language (ESL), and the rest is history!

Q) What are some challenges you face as a bilingual educator?
A) There are many challenges that I face as a bilingual educator.  First and foremost, I hold the responsibility of teaching my students to be fluent in two languages, Spanish and English.  This is an extremely important and intimidating goal.  Bilingual education can be compared to a flower garden; it is a beautiful thing, but requires much effort, dedication, and care in order to keep it going. Therefore, my lesson plans need to "pack more punch" than monolingual classroom lessons.  For example, I often try to unify themes and topics across content areas in order to aid language and vocabulary acquisition.  Therefore, utilizing thematic units is an amazing strategy for bilingual educators.  Lastly, the time challenge:  time to accomplish all that you had planned for one day is a struggle that EVERY teacher faces daily.

Q) How do you share the work-load as a bilingual co-teacher?
A) Some people might think that being a co-teacher means doing half the work since you have a partner, but in many ways, it requires you to work even harder!  My colleague and I make great efforts to plan our lessons together and split the instructional time evenly throughout the day.  If she leads the whole group lesson, I pull students for extra instructional support, and vice versa.  Also, we often team-teach, teaching the topic together.  It is so easy to fall into a pattern of teaching the way that you always have.  Therefore, being a co-teacher has allowed me to step outside my comfort zone and challenge myself to adapt to a shared teaching environment.  I think being a co-teacher in an elementary classroom has taught me how to be more collaborative.

Q) Do you live in the community in which you teach?
A) I do not live in the community where I teach. I teach in Berwyn, Illinois.

Q) How would you describe your school’s community?
A) My school's community is vibrant, culturally diverse, and inviting.  Every morning as I walk outside to get my students, I am greeted by parents and students who have smiling faces, incredible stories, and uplifting attitudes.  In my last five years teaching in this district, I have felt so welcomed by the community and lucky to be surrounded by such positive and fascinating people. 

Q) What is something you found unexpected in teaching?
A) One unexpected thing that surprised me was how much the students have taught me. I learn something new from each group of students, especially new, fun ways to teach. You go into teaching thinking that you are going to affect the children's lives. And you do. But no one ever talks about the impact the children have on us. I'm more creative because of my students. My Spanish improved since I speak it everyday to my class. I'm more patient and understanding. For me, the students' impact has been extraordinary.