I ended last school year with a new practice I’ve come to love–cleaning my classroom while reflecting on the year and creating a goals board for the next one.  I left the last two summers feeling ready to leave, disconnect and return to work refreshed with goals and ideas in place.  This fall, the goals board again came through and helped me to get my footing right away, and I got really excited about what I wanted to improve on this school year.

But this week, something threw a wrench in those plans: the children.

It was exciting to see them again after summer and I was elated by how much Spanish they spoke and understood. While some were ready to jump right in again, I have one group that just isn’t jibing with what I had in mind. They think my awesome Shakira song is dumb. They don’t care who Gerard Piqué is. They’re speaking in English the whole time, over each other and me. And I found myself a little knocked back on my heels.

I’ll pause here to inject something about working in an elementary and middle school. I’m in a K-8 program, which means, these children are not new to me. We’ve known each other since they were 6 years old.  This is a gift, allowing me to build on a long-term relationship in which we can focus on having fun and learning together because we’ve been building rapport over so many years and developmental stages.  I often rely on that relationship as the children enter adolescence and no longer argue over who gets to sit next to me(or on me) in class.  But every once and awhile, I am reminded that I shouldn’t take that all for granted, and that building rapport with the children must be an on-going effort.

This year’s middle schoolers remind me that I have to pause and meet the students where they are, not where I planned on going. This may seem obvious, but most years I start knowing pretty well where they are already. So while I am continuing to work on building my CI toolbox, incorporating art, building connections with the main classrooms and seeking cultural lessons that foster critical thinking, I will be pursuing activities that get at the core of what I do.

The students are reminding me of some the most important parts of my job: supporting what we in Montessori call grace and courtesy–or thoughtfulness and kindness in our community, providing accessible, comprehensible Spanish input and bringing in lessons and experiences that are of high interest to the students.

My plan is to do more listening and observing so I can meet the students where they are and hopefully get them what they need.


Published by Valerie Shull

Valerie Shull teaches Spanish for elementary and middle school children at Rogers Park Montessori School, where she's been on staff for twenty years.  During her time at RPMS she’s worked with children age four to fourteen. The rubber hits the road in her proficiency-focused program during her school’s annual 8th grade travel/homestay trip to Costa Rica, which is recognized by ACTFL’s Global Engagement Initiative.  Valerie is passionate about working toward language proficiency with children, improving her own practice and supporting teachers in their journey. She is a regular conference presenter on the topic of language proficiency in the early years and is a member of NNELL, AATSP, and ACTFL,  where she currently serves on the Global Engagement Committee. Valerie works and lives in Chicago with her daughter, a young global-citizen-in-training. 

3 replies on “Where They’re At.”

  1. I do agree that it is essential to modify material and listen to the needs of our students to get them where they need to be.

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