Volunteer Spotlight: Ben Umhoefer

Before I began teaching at Amigos de Jesús Bilingual School during the 2013-2014 school year, I spent the summer at BECAs teacher training in Cofradía. We learned teaching techniques, strategies for classroom management, and ideas for creating a positive classroom culture. By the end of the summer, I felt prepared with a flood of good ideas to make my second grade classroom fun, welcoming, and educational. As you might imagine, the visions I had of my classroom functioning like a well-oiled machine quickly disappeared when 23 second graders walked in the door on the first day.

One of the big ideas from summer training that wasnt functioning so well when I got into an actual classroom was a center-based ELA rotation. I envisioned the students rotating throughout the room from independent reading to direct instruction to partner reading and back again. In reality, I spent the majority of my time chasing kids around the room and trying to ensure that books were used for reading, not for playing frisbee.  Just as I was ready to scrap the activity halfway through the year, though, I noticed Monica* and Erin* reading together one afternoon during ELA centers.

Erin and Monica both lived at Amigos de Jesús. Until then, I hadnt noticed that they shared a particularly close friendship.  On that day in January though, I saw them come alive as they read together during partner reading. They flipped through the pages of their book, reacting wildly to the colorful pictures. They sounded out words in English, helping each other when they struggled with the unusual sounds. Through it all, they giggled and laughed and looked like there was nothing they would rather be doing at that moment than reading a book together.  

As quickly as the moment materialized, the 15 minute rotation ended and Erin and Monica moved on to their next station. As the year progressed, ELA centers continued to be hit or miss - some days a lesson about long and short vowels would seem to sink in with the students, other days my carefully crafted worksheets would end up crumpled on the floor as makeshift soccer balls. Seeing Erin and Monica enjoy a book together, though, reminded me how important the school was for them.  In that moment, the girls were developing a love of reading and a deep friendship, which was exactly what I hoped for during my summer of training.