I have worked with many excellent ENL teachers over the course of my 21 year career, and I can say, without a doubt, that Diana is one of the best. She is professional, curious, and thoughtful.
— L. Sabourin, Librarian , Fallsburg JSHS
 
“…because of Ms Méndez’s guidance and encouragement, her students’ behavior and attitude towards school and staff improved considerably.
— / r. Neptune, enl teacher for over a decade /
 

Philosophy of Teaching

 
 
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My philosophy of teaching can be summed up in two words: literacy and empathy.  I am obsessed with making kids into readers. I think this is the greatest gift that we can give them as educators. I will hound kids with books, class libraries, bribery, whatever it takes. I firmly believe that when we improve literacy, analytical and critical thinking follow, as well as empathy. I have tested this. I have seen results.

I was lucky this past summer to have a very small, mixed-level standalone ENL class. I invested in a small class library and practiced sustained silent reading from day one. Initially there were groans (so many groans!). To add insult to injury, I took a few minutes after sustained silent reading to ask each kid individually about their book. At the end of the summer, one student took out the Spanish translation of The Hunger Games from the library. This book is hundreds of pages long—and while it is true that the size of books is no object, kids are often intimidated by long books. My two youngest students discovered graphic novels and loved them. I plied the older kids (14 to 17) with graphic novels and comic books. And one by one, they each found something they liked to read. My gauge for improvements in literacy is enthusiasm for reading—and by those lights my summer class was a great success.

presentation day
It may not look like much, but we were very proud =)

It may not look like much, but we were very proud =)

Regarding empathy specifically, a very clear example of this was while in the process of building our playground (part of exploring sustainability through PBL). I was thinking of how to bring up the topic of ableism naturally and organically. It turns out that one of my students has a sister who uses a wheelchair. The kids learned a lot from her descriptions of what a big deal having accessible swings and other playground equipment was for her and her family.  The kids “redesigned” their playground to be accessible. They were horrified, while researching, to learn that pieces of accessible playground equipment run for tens of thousands of dollars!

Each aspect of my teaching philosophy is equally important. As teachers, we are “on” at all times.  We model behavior for our students: how to treat colleagues and superiors, how to deal with problems or a bad day.  This past summer I remember one of my sixth-graders telling a fellow student who had grabbed something of hers, “You’re not being helpful!” She was reflecting what I always tell them when they are misbehaving, instead of saying “you’re being ‘bad’” or some other value judgment. I laughed, but it struck me how much the old adage about kids being sponges applies even to the stuff you’re not explicitly out to teach them.  

 
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