Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Book That Changed My Teaching

It's true when teachers say that no four-year university can teach you all you need to know when entering the education field. When I entered my first teaching position in a predominantly Latino classroom in a middle-school right outside of Chicago, I was not prepared for what teaching is really all about. Unit plans, lesson plans, and state standards were not the only topics we discussed during staff meetings. The education of our students was our priority, but as it goes in all schools across our nation, sometimes figuring out how to help students become decent citizens of our world can consume a lot of teachers' time.

I left Loyola University with solid grades and a love and appreciation for Victorian Literature. I glided through "Teaching Children and Adolescent Literature" but never even thought about where I would find books that these students could relate to. I just figured that my passion for all types of genres would transcend through my whole being and my middle school students would have intelligent discussions on works such as, The Giver, Night, and Romeo and Juliet. In my head, I pictured a different type of classroom setting.

To say that I was wrong about so many things during that first year of teaching is an understatement. I needed to change my methods and dig deep for creative ways to help students who lacked interest in reading and for those reading below their grade level. I needed to find books with characters with whom they could identify. Latino literature was out there, not much, but some good quality reads and I found them. Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan was one of the first books I suggested to some of my students and I found them not only engaged after a few pages, but their eyes shined a little brighter, backs sat up straighter and a hunger for literature such as this was becoming a new request. I also started to see pride in my students when they talked about characters like Esperanza.

Esperanza Rising, recipient of the Pura Belpre Award, covers loss, change and sacrifice as young Esperanza learns that she must flee her wonderful life in Mexico and migrate with her mother to the United States. Completely startling her reality of beautiful dresses and a big home, Esperanza starts a new life in California, during the Great Depression, working in the fields and learning to adjust to a new life, in a new country and in a different social class.

This wonderful book taught me that even 13 year-olds, like Esperanza and my students, will need to find themselves, adjust and rise to the circumstances presented to them. In the beginning of my teaching career, I thought that with my waiting-to-be-tested teaching methods I could inspire just about anyone to pick up any type of book. I learned quickly that I too needed to rise to the occasion.

Disclaimer: All Amazon links are my affiliate links. Thank you!

Betty Galvan, is helping her readers "find the positive and seek the benefits" over at her blog,

She is the mother of three beautiful little boys and a teacher.


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