Conversations from the Classroom: Revisiting Marisa Militello’s student teaching experience

In the fall, we looked at TESOL student Marisa Militello’s experience as a student teacher in an elementary ESL classroom. Now in her final semester at TC, Ms. Militello has been student teaching at the secondary level. We checked in with her to find out how it’s going and in what ways this placement compares to her time at the elementary level.

Can you describe your student teaching placement this semester?

I’m currently student teaching at the International School for Liberal Arts (ISLA) in the Bronx.  I work with 7th grade middle school students, and both classes I work with have close to thirty students.  The vast majority of the students at ISLA are English Language Learners (ELLs) while the remainder are former ELLs. I work with an advanced/intermediate class, as well as a class of mostly beginners.  All of the students speak Spanish as a native language, and most of them are from the Dominican Republic.

What have you learned since your first semester of student teaching?

I learned so many different things in my first semester of student teaching, and there is no way I could possibly talk about them all.  One of the most important things I learned was how to have a better presence in the classroom by doing things like speaking loudly and clearly without yelling, projecting my voice, and having good posture.  I also realized that the more confident and enthusiastic I am about my lesson, the more engaged and active the students are.  Finally, I realized that making personal connections with my students and then making the content relevant to their lives is truly essential to having a successful classroom.

What do you do differently now that you’re teaching middle school instead of elementary school?

To be honest, I don’t do that many things differently.  I still find that having a genuine relationship with my students is key to my success as a teacher, and although they are six years older than the students I taught last semester, these students still enjoy being thanked for listening and still love having a silly teacher who isn’t afraid to laugh at herself.  Of course, I do speak to them almost as if they’re adults and give them more independence, but aside from that, I can’t think of too much else that has changed.

Overall, how do you like teaching at your placement site?

I have really enjoyed the experience of working with both the students and staff there.  I love the fact that ISLA encourages native language fluency in addition to English fluency because I think it’s really important for students to be proud of their culture and bilingualism.  In addition, first language literacy skills transfer to second language literacy.  I also enjoy the fact that the majority of the students at the middle school are genuinely good kids who truly want to learn.

Plus, middle school is my favorite age to teach because at that age, students are just beginning to become independent thinkers.  Middle school is a transition time in life and a critical age in learning and growth where children really could go either way: becoming more motivated to succeed or becoming completely discouraged with school.  Because it is such a significant time in their lives, it is also a time where I feel I can make the biggest difference in their lives.  In sum, I’m really glad that I’m here and working with such an amazing group of young people.

Congratulations and best of luck to Marisa as she graduates in May and moves forward into her exciting and rewarding career as an ESL teacher.