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WIDA's Featured Educator is a monthly interview with a classroom, district, or state-level educator on how he or she is making a difference for language learners. You can honor an exceptional colleague by emailing info@wida.us with "Featured Educator Nomination" in the subject line.

Briefly tell us why you think he or she is doing an amazing job. Please include the person's name, what they do, and contact information we can use to set up an interview. Thank you for helping us feature amazing educators of language learners.

Carla Picard: Featured Educator

June 2016

Carla Picard teaches in the "Crown of Maine" where she supports ELLs in Aroostook County.

photo of Carla Picard
Carla Picard

Where do you teach? What grade(s)? How long have you been a teacher and how long have you been at your current school?

CP: I teach at Eastern Aroostook RSU 39 School District which serves Caribou, Limestone, and Stockholm, Maine. I am responsible for five schools spanning PreK-12. I have my general education degree, my ESL endorsement and a masters in content literacy 6-12. I have been teaching for 20 years.

What is your class, school and district like? Can you tell me a little about its location, size and about the composition of the student body?

CP: RSU 39 is rural in location, with our closest big city being Bangor, that is still three hours south. We are in what people refer to as the "Crown of Maine," the northern part of the state.

We have about 1,466 students in the district and on average 35 ELL students that come from various linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Our ELL students range from Proficiency Level 1-6 in English. We are also blessed with migrant students whose families are involved in the broccoli industry. Most of our migrant students arrive from Texas in mid April and stay through October. I collaborate with the schools in Texas and the students to gauge their proficiency when they come back to us, which allows for a smoother transition.

Why are you an educator? What do you love about your job? What frustrates you?

CP: I love my job and have been told that I care too much. Although it wasn’t meant as a compliment, I took it as one. They need an advocate! At the end of the day, I am not here for the administration. I am here for the students and that often means going beyond the classroom and curriculum support their needs.

I love the closeness I have with students. I know when they don't understand something and I know where they need the help. I love working with the families and learning about their languages and cultures. I love getting a new student with a new language or those coming from a new place. I try to learn as much about their background as I can. It allows me to connect to the world through them.

The biggest frustration is knowing that my students need more support and I can't provide it all. Time is always an issue. I wish we could have more teachers trained in ESL who have that foundation of knowledge and who understand what it takes to effectively support ELLs. I wish more teachers and administrators were knowledgeable about effective programming for ELLs because you constantly need to be improving and revising your program. ESL Education isn't stagnant and our programs can't be either. Being one person who serves five schools can be overwhelming, but you do your best and meet students individual needs. I would like to see regional trainings to ensure the success for our ELL students here in Aroostook County. As an advocate, I try to support both the teachers and the students helping them move forward without becoming too frustrated.

What is your approach in your classroom/school towards ELLs? What techniques/strategies have you found to be most effective in teaching ELLs?

CP: Visuals, visuals, visuals! Thankfully, I am quite the drama queen (laughs) and I use a lot of gestures and act things out. I articulate clearly so kids can hear the sounds of English. We are constantly using iPads, computers, and audio books because our ELL students depend highly on visual and auditory learning. I try to get their text books on CD so they can hear it as well as see it in print. I stress to all my students, to ask questions and to listen specially to details.

You always have to try to stay ahead of the game, be ready for the individual needs of your students and support the teachers by providing additional resources for their upcoming lessons or units. Hence, I am constantly looking ahead gathering materials to support our ELL students. I try to touch base with classroom teachers, often through email, or on the fly walking down the hall. Having been in the district for so long, I have had a chance to really learn the content but I always try to make sure the work I am doing with ELLs will connect to the work they are doing in all their classes.

You have to connect the learning to students' lives. For example, one of my students comes from a rich Chinese background and I wanted to find a book that she could connect to, enjoy, and challenge her. I found the book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. She was able to make such amazing connections with this story. We talked about her culture and her knowledge about Chinese folklore, which enhanced our learning to another level. One of my favorite quotes from the book is, "when the listener truly understands, he can hear what others cannot." This clarifies the importance of listening especially for details. We discussed that listening is more than the spoken word. When you use literature to tap into a student's culture, connections are made that reinforces their learning.

Someday, I hope to travel to Texas with my students to experience their customary transitions and make a personal connection with their various schools. It is extremely important that our ELL students and their families know how much we care about their success hoping it motivates them to do their best. One year a couple of girls were missing too many classes due to their morning responsibilities. I would call them and say "Hey, you have 5 minutes to get ready. I am on my way over to pick you up!" They have thanked me for having high expectations; they know that I am here to help them every step of the way. Ultimately, they are responsible for their education, I just help facilitate the content.

What benefits or strengths do English language learners bring to your classroom/school?

CP: Our student population is mostly Caucasian with a few traces of diversity. Up here in the “great white north" our students welcome and learn from our English language learners. This cultural experience needs to come from more than just a textbook. The diversity our ELL students bring their experiences, culture, and language which provides all our students to notice and embrace diversity. I would like to see students, parents, and educators realize that language is not a disability or something to be ashamed of; it is an advantage for a better future in our diverse world.

Do you and your colleagues have the resources you need to teach ELLs adequately? What would you most like to add to your available resources or training?

CP: I would like to see Maine mandate that all teacher training programs require an ESL undergraduate course, so when educators have an ELL student in their classroom they would have the knowledge to support their needs. Remember, what is good for the ESL student is good for all. This population is such a blessing and they add so much to our schools. I would love to see teachers be able to expand their ELL philosophy and our schools thrive to support our ELLs.

We are completely and utterly grateful to have Nancy Mullins, our SEA, on our side in Maine. She is always pushing our state forward and she is always available when I am feeling overwhelmed or frustrated. It is makes you feel good when you have the backing of the state and once in awhile I have to call Nancy and she reaffirms the work we are doing.