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Word by Word

Carmen Learns English

Carmen Learns English
A lot of people ask me if I get my story ideas from my experiences as a teacher. Mostly, my answer is no. Most often, my ideas come from my own childhood, recalled to mind by observing and listening to my students.

But in CARMEN LEARNS ENGLISH, I used some of my teaching experiences in a more direct way. Because this book springs from my personal experience, it's particularly dear to my heart.

In 2003, I got a job teaching kindergarten at a school that served a migrant farm-worker population. I was hired two days before school started, with no time to prepare. My class consisted of nineteen kindergartners. Fourteen of my students didn't speak English, and my Spanish (like Ms. Coski's) is muy terrible! Somehow, we muddled through.

To teach my students, I used puppets and stories and songs. I tried to build on familiar knowledge--like colors and numbers and the alphabet. But the single most powerful thing I did was to use my terrible Spanish. It made the kids laugh to hear my horrible accent, my mispronunciations, my wrong words. My students realized that it was okay to make mistakes--okay to try--when I was learning, too.

One day Maria held my hand as we walked to the bus to go home. We'd been singing "The Wheels on the Bus" and she was still singing the song when she caught sight of the school bus. Suddenly, I could tell something clicked for her. "Amarillo!" she shouted. "Chellow!"

I was so impressed with the patience, determination, and persistence of these children as they made their way through the school year, in a foreign country, in a foreign language. I dedicate this book to them.  Read More 
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