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VATESOL Together

  • 02 Oct 2020 5:17 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Happy October! This month, our theme at Virginia TESOL is advocacy. Jessica Klein, our Advocacy and Legislative Liaison, will be publishing content all month long related to advocacy at various levels, including local, state, and federal. You won't want to miss out!

    For now, check out Jessica's Intro to Advocacy video below:

  • 31 Aug 2020 12:54 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As part of our August blog series, VATESOL sent out a survey to teachers of English learners (ELs) about their perspectives on the reopening of schools in Virginia amid the pandemic. Fifteen teachers, who represented elementary, middle, and high school, responded to this survey. We compile their responses here as a way to articulate shared values and concerns among EL teachers across the state.

    This fall, all teachers are faced with a variety of challenges related to many aspects of teaching in a virtual, hybrid, or modified in-person setting. When asked about their top priorities in planning for instruction this fall, teachers’ responses included:

    1. Helping students and families access technology and hotspots

    2. Creating assignments that are both accessible and meaningful

    3. Ensuring staff and student safety

    4. Having adequate resources for effective planning 

    This back-to-school season is undoubtedly filled with more fear and anxiety than ever before. Teachers noted many personal and professional concerns, including:

    1. Health and safety of teachers and students

    2. Communication with families and student engagement

    3. Students’ academic progress

    4. Technology access

    EL teachers have a special expertise in both the instruction of ELs and outreach to multilingual families. This expertise should be consulted as administrators and leaders make decisions for the fall. When asked what issues they feel their administration should consider this school year, EL teachers most frequently provided the following responses:

    1. Technology access

    2. Communication

    3. Resources and information available in multiple languages

    Beyond question, COVID-19 has and will change teachers’ professional roles. When asked how this pandemic has already changed their role as an EL teacher, our survey participants responded:

    1. Providing more wraparound support for families such as finding community services, including food banks

    2. Facilitating more direct interaction with families

    3. Learning how to teach through online platforms

    This fall, teachers will need to learn how to engage all families with critical information and updates. EL teachers noted how they are planning to communicate with EL families this fall:

    1. Phone calls

    2. Texts

    3. Technology platforms such as TalkingPoints, Canvas, Zoom

    4. Face to face

    When asked if they had the option, which reopening plan would they choose for ELs, seven out of fifteen teachers answered “hybrid,” six teachers answered “fully virtual,” and two teachers answered “face to face.” Even on a small scale, these responses show that teachers across the state have mixed feelings about reopening plans, especially when considering the many unique needs of ELs and their families.

    As teachers gear up for a new school year, albeit different from years past, valid concerns about keeping safe, ELs falling through the cracks and not having access to technology were admittedly expressed. However, fellow EL teachers are optimistic with these comments: 

    This is an exciting time for us to try new things that normally would take years to get approved!  I hope I am up to the challenge”

    “I’m grateful we have each other to collaborate with each other!”

    “I have learned just how resilient my students are and that they and the communities where they live are continuing to support each other.”

    We would love to hear from you. How is your division considering ELs and their families in their reopening plans? What other considerations and concerns would you add to the responses above? Comment below or on our social media platforms to continue the conversation.

  • 17 Aug 2020 10:48 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    This summer, our organization launched its first ever book club. The group, led by VATESOL Secretary Laura Lewis, met in July and discussed The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez.

    VATESOL member and ESL teacher in Virginia Beach Public Schools, Kay Fedor, wrote this ref
    lection after participating in the book club. We are grateful that she has allowed us to share her words on our blog:

    Thanks so much for arranging the summer book club as I thoroughly enjoyed reading and sharing with like-minded colleagues. It is obvious that we are all drawn to our chosen profession by our love for our students, or "kiddos" (as coined by WendySue Clausson).

    The text we read just demonstrated to me that we all have the desire to belong to the human race with inclusivity. I believe that if we continue to act with kindness and listen with two ears to the story of others with empathy and without judgement, our world will heal. WendySue shared that she has witnessed the positive cultural change at her school because of her advocacy and patient kindness toward others. It took time, but it has happened. For me, as a visual learner, I see our role as the pebble that is being skipped across a pond. It begins with us, one pebble at a time, creating a ripple effect across our small group, classroom, school building, district, and beyond.

    Together we can do this...

    "Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects." - Dalai Lama

    Thank you to all of our members who participated in this summer's book club. VATESOL is hoping to organize another book club in the future. Stay tuned!

  • 13 Aug 2020 8:40 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In March of this year, schools began to transition from in-person to virtual instruction district by district, state by state. Emergency teaching plans were designed and put into place, with many believing that if we could just get through the end of the school year, education would be all right come fall. However, we now know that to not be true. COVID-19 is still here, and education might remain virtual for a bit longer. 

    One group in particular, English Learners (ELs), has been hit extremely hard. There have been numerous stories about the struggles teachers have faced while trying to work with a population that has been heavily hit by COVID-19, as well as oftentimes suffering from a lack of equity in virtual learning. States and school districts planning out a return to school need a strategy that will be safe, but equitable. 

    Administrators, those persons in between the federal- and state-level leaders and the teachers, have been tasked with the unenviable job of translating mandates and guidelines to the everyday practical aspects of how to make education work during a pandemic. It is these people who must come up with a plan to help our ELs overcome obstacles. In response to this, VATESOL asked some administrators from Virginia, as well as outside this state, to give us their perspective of the decision-making process specifically in regards to our ELs.

    (A quick note to our readers: It was agreed between VATESOL and the administrators that the responses would be kept anonymous and published in a blog format. The contributors were shown a copy of the final blog and agreed that VATESOL had done its best to portray their responses as written.)

    To begin, it should be noted that when asked if the COVID-19 pandemic had changed their role as administrators, all responses were affirmative. Administrators noted that they needed to:

    1. increase their flexibility

    2. be as transparent as possible with others

    3. provide clear communication, which can be especially tricky in a virtual setting 

    4. focus on underrepresented groups to ensure that their voices are heard

    In thinking about reopening schools face-to-face versus in a virtual environment, administrators have been confronted with some difficult decisions. The administrators we spoke with listed the following as their top priorities in the decision-making process: 

    1. Student and teacher safety 

    2. Following the guidelines set forth by local governments and school districts

    3. Ensuring that teachers have the tools they need in order to provide quality instruction that is equitable for all students

    Specific considerations for ELs and their families must be taken into consideration, but the debate still remains whether it would be better for them to be back in person or virtual. Part of this decision may be dependent upon the student’s proficiency level and educational background. The voice of the family is also very important. While in some districts EL families have been invited to work on task forces that are a part of the return-to-school plans, most administrators agree that family input has been limited overall, but that the final decision on whether ELs will return will be dictated by the family.

    There is no question that we are currently faced with an historically difficult time in regards to public health and education. How administrators will balance student and staff safety with meeting the educational needs of special populations such as English learners may look different in each division across the state. VDOE’s guidance related to English learners and distance learning can be found on the English Learner page of its website.

  • 29 Jul 2020 9:04 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by Tammy Wik, Outreach Representative for ESL Library

    VATESOL and ESL Library are working together to provide a free one-hour professional development webinar, “Teaching Flexibly with ESL Library, on Wednesday, August 5 from 2-3pm EST. Click here to pre-register.

    Individuals who attend this webinar will receive a professional development certificate and, as a reminder, all active VATESOL Members also have a membership benefit of two months of free access to ESL Library's Plus plan!

    ESL Library is a subscription service for English language teachers used in over 10,000 schools around the world. They provide digital and printable materials that work together seamlessly. Take a look at their site to find relevant, engaging lesson plans, flashcards, and other resources for your students of all ages and levels. Their goal is to help create great teaching moments in your classroom, regardless of what "classroom" means to you today.

    The webinar will cover how you can use your free access to ESL Library to assign digital homework and get student results in real time, create custom digital or printable flashcard sets, and how to print or use ready-made PDFs.

    Have questions? No problem! The webinar will feature an active Q&A chat box where you can type your questions to the ESL Library team or swap ideas with other educators in our community.

    Register here to join the webinar and increase your teaching flexibility!

    Get 2 Months Free Access

    Looking to start your free access to ESL Library before the webinar? You must be an active VATESOL member to receive this benefit. Please contact to receive your code and the activation link, or to join/reactivate your VATESOL membership.

  • 07 Jul 2020 4:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by Jessica Klein, VATESOL Advocacy and Legislative Liaison

    Advocacy can be big or small and the big parts can feel really intimidating, just like this building. We spend most of our K-12 education learning about and revering American symbols and landmarks like Capitol Hill. In Civics, we learn how to participate in our communities and local government, and in Government we learn the intricacies of our U. S. legislative system. Despite all our understanding of Congress, it can feel intangible. It’s like we’re watching ants at work in an ant farm, only our glass window is C-Span. Through participating in TESOL’s annual Advocacy and Policy Summit, I have realized that Congress is not meant for display; it is an elaborately constructed office complex made up of people who have a responsibility to listen when we have something to say.

    Each year, the TESOL International Advocacy and Policy Summit begins with a few days of advocacy training including updates on Federal budgets and policy briefings on pending legislation that affect English language professionals and learners. In recent years, the Summit culminated in a day of a hundred or more English language teachers descending upon the Capitol to meet with their Representatives and Senators. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Day of Action included attendees and their colleagues writing letters to their Members of Congress using TESOL’s Advocacy Action Center. Some attendees scheduled Zoom meetings or phone calls in addition to the letter writing campaign. I was able to snag a 15 minute phone call with a staffer from my Representative’s office and it turned out to be a success. 

    In 15 minutes or less (no this is NOT a GEICO commercial-I swear), the staffer and I were able to get introduced, go over a few of TESOL’s policy recommendations, and review our action items for after the meeting. In addition to asking Congress to reject the White House’s proposal to combine 29 funding streams within ESSA, I asked for my Rep. to support two bills in the House, the SPELL Act and the Reaching English Learners Act. The SPELL Act moves to amend the Higher Education Act to include English language teachers to the list of teaching positions that qualify for higher student loan debt forgiveness, joining math, science, and Special Education teachers. The Reaching English Learners Act proposes creating grants for teacher preparation programs at higher education institutions to prepare the next generation of teachers to meet the needs of English language learners. I followed up the next day to thank the staffer for his time and he had great news. Within 24 hours, the Representative gave his formal support by becoming a co-sponsor for both bills. I was obviously thrilled to hear how one small phone call led to a noticeable change so quickly. 

    The staffer ended our call with a request that I’d like to share. His message was that advocates do a really great job keeping them informed about trends in data like changing demographics and test scores, but what they really need from advocates is to act as their ears on the ground.  He asked for students’ stories and our anecdotes about how current policies affect their daily lives. He specifically wanted to know more about immigrant students and students living in poverty - two groups whose voices are often underrepresented. As EL teachers and teacher trainers, we are in a unique position to advocate for some of the most vulnerable students in our nation, and really what teacher doesn’t love telling story after story about their students? If you have a story to tell, call up one of your Members of Congress; I’m sure they would love to hear it. If they don’t, maybe they aren’t meeting their responsibility to listen to what you have to say. So remember, Capitol Hill is just an office, and each elected official has to earn their spot there. 

  • 26 Jun 2020 11:38 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    VATESOL teachers and board members shared their reflections of 2020 so far. We will be highlighting their stories on our social media platforms over the next few days.

    Be sure to stay in touch with VATESOL on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to participate in our exciting upcoming events!

  • 10 Apr 2020 10:56 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by Dr. Jana Moore, ESOL teacher in Prince William County and VATESOL 2nd Vice President.

    In the new (and hopefully temporary) norm I wake up sometime before my kids and gulp down coffee while trying to structure out a plan for the day. Things to take into consideration? My husband, also on telework, will need to make a few conference calls: the kids and I will have to be super quiet during those times. I need my 5-year-old to keep working on letter and sight word recognition, and his awesome pre-school keeps sending me activities that he is used to doing on a daily basis. Some of these are reading activities, some math, and some even in Spanish! My 8-year-old is supposed to be working on his math. Reading is not a problem, because he has taken after his parents and inhales books. I can use that to my advantage to work on social studies. I still need to come up with some science or art activities. Then there is the house, which still needs to be cleaned, meals to be made (21 a week...ack!), dog to be walked, garden to be planted, the never-ending pile of laundry. I have to think about my job. I am a teacher. I am not “done with the school year,” but quite the opposite. I have to learn how to teach online, how to build a website, upload work and videos, and find ways to communicate with students that do not have technology or regular WiFi. There are virtual meetings to attend, and administrative tasks that still have to be handled. Is there time to exercise sometime in the day? I really need to lose a few pounds, and I did sign up for a race later in the year. 

    Working parents have been tasked with a lot right now, and many of us have dug in our heels. We are going to do this. As a teacher, it feels even more poignant, because we will not let our students down. But we are entering new territory, foreign territory, and we need to learn to shift our priorities and re-set our standards. 

    I am now on my fourth week of trying to juggle everything, and have gone through a metamorphosis. It has taken time to understand what my family needs, what my job needs from me, and what I need in order to thrive during this. I needed to get my kids on a schedule, and I use this term very loosely. They know that when they wake up, both parents will be there to help them get through the day. Some days we will be great at multitasking and get school lessons tackled, while others we will be grateful that our boys like books and have fantastic imaginations. They both have journals and sketch pads, which they have made good use of: the 5-year-old draws leaves and birds, while the 8-year-old has started his own superhero comic series. Is that art? It’s creative, whatever it is. 

    My kids are adapting well to the new routine, but there are meltdowns (not always from the kids) for not being able to play with friends, from the new schedule, from me trying to keep the kids from being online and in front of a screen all day, to insisting everyone eats at least half a banana for breakfast and five carrot sticks at lunch.

    In terms of teaching, there are a few new realities that I need to accept:

    • I am not designed to be an online teacher, so I will do my best but there will be other websites or teacher stations that are flashier.

    • Many of my students do not have access to technology, so unless we deliver the assignments on paper, they will not do them.

    • Many of my students have checked out until next fall, and no matter how many ways I try to communicate with them, they are finished for the year.

    • I will have to put myself on mute during conference calls from time to time to deal with temper tantrums.

    The bottom line is that not everything is going to be perfect, and that is going to be all right. We will get through this, and we will be ok.

  • 07 Apr 2020 4:20 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by Laura Lewis, ESOL teacher in Albemarle County and VATESOL Secretary.

    Albemarle County Public Schools

    We closed abruptly Friday, March 13th. The principal got on the loudspeaker and told everyone that school was closed for the next two weeks. Our spring break is April 6 to 10.

    By the end of the next week, we had our first Zoom faculty meeting at which our principal shared the county plan: check and connect, a program based out of Wisconsin. Each teacher took their homeroom as their "case load." We contacted each family to check on their status - how were they, did they have enough food, did their student have a charger and school computer, do they have Internet access, etc. We were told that the two weeks leading up to spring break would be a time to post enrichment and review activities that could be downloaded or worked on offline. Some teachers had the foresight to send home packets with students.

    Last week, the Superintendent revealed the instructional support plan for after our spring break. We will have "online" school for 6 weeks from April 13 to May 22. During this time, teachers are to create learning modules and choose two to five key concepts to build these modules around. All work will be pass/fail. The idea is to look at what standards you have covered and what standards you have not covered and then choose two to five of these standards. All work will be posted on Schoology. Content area teachers are to create two hours of instruction per week. This should be reflected in the modules so that students can work at their own pace and schedule to take into consideration family constraints. Exploratory teachers (art, music, drama, technology, Spanish, band) can post one hour of work per week.

    We are now pulling into PLC (professional learning community) groups and using Zoom to meet weekly as a PLC to build these modules in addition to a weekly faculty meeting to check-in. We are responsible for contacting our homeroom families once a week via email, text, or phone call as part of the continuation of the check and connect program.

    What is your district doing to support students, especially English learners, during this unprecedented time? 

    Join us for our weekly VATESOL Town Hall every Wednesday at 3 PM, or email us to be published on our blog.

  • 03 Mar 2020 11:56 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Authored by Cammie Wilson, Adult Ed Special Interest Group leader for the VATESOL Board of Directors.

    For me, 2019 was a year of many goodbyes and many endings, some painful, some hopeful, and I welcome 2020 as a year of beginnings, open doors, new paths, and new opportunities.

    Three years ago, when I accepted the position of daytime ESOL instructor, I was hopeful that our program might be able to buck the trend of employing mostly part-time, mostly K-12-certified instructors.The field of Adult ESOL is full of highly-skilled, highly-qualified, passionate, enthusiastic, inadequately-compensated instructors.

    Over the years, I've been told time and time again how lucky I am to have work that I love, for which I have a passion, for which I felt a calling, and from which I have gained deep satisfaction. Unfortunately, as those of you know who have struggled as adjuncts to find enough teaching credits, as part-time employees to rely on a spouse for benefits, as underpaid K-12 teachers who've agreed to teach night classes for additional income... the satisfaction that comes with student success can be overshadowed by growing workloads, income instability, and the general demands of life and family.

    We are good at our jobs, and we deserve to be fairly compensated for our work. We deserve sick time, holidays, and snow days without worrying about how we're going to make up that income because we're in a don't-work-don't-get-paid situation. We deserve opportunities for advancement, professional development, and at the very minimum, cost-of-living pay increases.

    This was the year I realized that my Adult Ed program was in no better situation than others across the state. In December, after a year of watching our program struggle with cuts to local funding, including the reduction of our staff by over 40% and the potential dissolution of the ESOL program entirely, I made the difficult and painful decision to leave my position. I initially balked at the idea of having to leave the field of Adult Education to find a permanent full-time job with benefits, but now I find myself in a position where my schedule and salary allow me the freedom to volunteer with a local literacy organization, keeping me connected to the ELL community and continuing to support adult learners in my region and beyond.

    I am hopeful that in 2020, my colleagues in Adult Ed will be able to find meaning in their work while also being fairly compensated for their time and skill; that the adult ELLs of Virginia will find growing opportunities for education and employment; and that VATESOL can provide additional avenues to connect practitioners and learners across the state.

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