This week’s Bilingual and ESL Teacher of the Year Spotlight is for Ms. Eden Shapiro’s class. She is one of HISD’s finalists for the 2018 HAABE Bilingual and ESL Teacher of the Year award.
On a typical morning, Eden Shapiro welcomes her 25 third-graders to her colorful classroom at Sutton Elementary. Her ESL class —like many others in Houston ISD— gathers students from different countries, eight to be exact (Afghanistan, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan, and Rwanda).
“I understand how hard it must be for them when everything around them is new,” says Shapiro. “When I was in 1st grade my family moved to Israel. I can remember it as being an exciting adventure in a new country, but also very challenging. I was in a classroom with all non-English speakers. This experience, although it was only for a year, helps me better relate to my students because I know what it feels like to be in a school setting where everything is foreign to you.”
This is why, as a 3rd-grade level chairperson in a self-contained class, she keeps finding ways to accelerate the English acquisition in her ESL students. “I do my best to give my newcomers individualized time to help them with the letter sounds, blending and vocabulary,” she explains.
Since she started teaching, three years ago, the nervousness and overwhelming feeling have faded away. “Now I find myself helping the new teachers with those tasks I once struggled with. I try to create all my lessons where students will have an opportunity to get up, share and collaborate with their peers,” Shapiro says.
This dedicated educator, recently selected as Sutton’s Elementary ESL Teacher of the Year, believes that students benefit from a collaborative classroom. “I can really see how much fun they have while still learning.”
For recently arrived students, Ms. Shapiro assigns ‘a buddy’ that helps them understand the classroom rules and routines. “Preferably, it’s someone that speaks the student’s native language. Also, every year I read to them My Name is Yoon.”
In the book, Yoon has no friends and thinks her teacher doesn’t like her, so she insists on going back to South Korea. Further in the reading, a ‘pony-tailed girl’ becomes her friend and everything starts to change. “It’s a story they can all relate to and it helps them feel compassion for other students who come and don’t know English. Sometimes, when I see my non-English speaking students alone at recess, I will ask the other students: ‘who is going to be the pony-tailed girl’. I think making friends and not feeling isolated is something very important for ESL students. When they are happy and comfortable they are going to be in a much better position to learn.”
Evidence of that is the passion her students show while reading, even if they are at different levels of language acquisition. “My newcomers desire to learn, they are very hard workers. This is one of the things that motivates me every day because I see that my students have that same joy for reading and learning.”
“People who love to learn, love to teach,” she says. It’s something Ms. Shapiro learned from her parents, both “teachers and lifelong learners.” They were her first inspiration to follow this path. “Their dedication to teaching and learning really impacted me growing up.”
Shapiro, now walking on her parents’ shoes, understands that “the amount of energy and effort you put in directly correlates with how much your students will get out. I feel very fortunate to work at Sutton, the largest elementary school in the district with students from around 40 countries, and with an extremely supportive staff.”
For this native Houstonian —who completed her elementary and secondary education in HISD— teaching is “a career that can give your life a lot of meaning and purpose; every day you are touching the life of a student who needs you.”