A Fourth-Generation Teacher’s Reflections of Teaching

caroline hazelton teach abroad writerWho is Caroline Hazelton? Ever since I met Caroline, she has evolved into much more than just a great teacher. From our initial introduction in class, I knew she was one of a kind. Caroline is more than just a teacher. In addition, she is a colleague, a classmate, a daughter, a mother, and a wife. Caroline is that person you meet who uplifts you when you think you can’t do something but really deep down — you can. This interview reveals her reflections on teaching.

Caroline is the guardian angel who once looked at me and smiled as I could barely say two words in Spanish, and encouraged me to pursue my passion. She is what every student deserves in a teacher. Although she’s too humble to admit it, teaching is in her DNA. There are specific individuals in your life who have the innate ability to see potential in others and encourage them to fulfill their dreams. Caroline is that professional and mentor. 

Who is Caroline Hazelton?

When she’s not teaching adult ESOL learners in the evening, she’s a non-stop, can’t-stop, won’t-stop, busy-on-the-go mom and wife. Caroline is a biological mother to two young girls and a foster parent to a special population called unaccompanied refugee minors. As we spoke on the phone, it became more apparent that years later, she’s a teacher at home to her beautiful children and from six to nine in the evening she dedicates her time to her profession of teaching too. Caroline will continue to build a legacy so her children see a world where we all have access to equal education and diversity is considered something meaningful and beautiful. 

Caroline discusses her educational background in a candid interview, revealing her reflections on teaching. Her responses are measured and thoughtful. Caroline continues to inspire from afar and serve as a role model for future generations in the classroom.  

Reflections of Teaching From a Fourth-Generation Teacher

How much did having teachers as parents and grandparents influence your thoughts regarding what you wanted to be when you grew up?”

I don’t know that it influenced what I wanted to be. Instead, I wanted to be something different. Teaching seemed to be an ordinary thing to do for someone with an education, especially for a woman. All of the women in my family are teachers, except for my sister who escaped to law school!

Now I definitely saw the downsides. I saw my mom come home exhausted, cook dinner, deal with us kids, and then dive straight into grading papers before getting ready for the next day. She cautioned me with the honest challenges teachers face, although she did tell me “you’ll be a very good one and it scares me.” 

reflections of teaching photo of modern classroom desk

But when I took Spanish and fell in love with learning second languages, I realized I wanted to devote my life to helping people acquire language and discover new cultures. I spent a summer in Houston serving immigrant families and teaching ESL to stay-at-home moms. After that, I knew that my fascination with language acquisition was meant to help immigrants and others pave a new life for themselves and escape poverty. But yet, this belief that education can help one escape all kinds of hardship, including poverty does stem from my grandmother and great-grandmother, both teachers.

In Our Blood

See, my grandmother’s mother was a teacher. Even though she dropped out of school as a little girl during the Great Depression to perform child labor to pay the family taxes, her mom insisted she had to keep up with her education so she wouldn’t fall behind. So when she had the chance to go to college, it was to teach — so other kids could find their way out of the kind of poverty she knew. My grandfather had a similar story. And they spent their lives teaching children in our rural, low-income community. 

I think it hit me on lunch duty. One of my co-workers found out who my grandmother was and started crying. Apparently, he had grown up very poor. But my grandmother (his teacher) made sure he and his whole family had Christmas presents. She also taught him to love to learn — and that he could do things through learning. Through her inspiration, this little boy worked hard in school, put himself through college, and ended up becoming a teacher himself. He now inspires other kids and helps them out of poverty through his passion for teaching carpentry.

I have since left my hometown and now live in urban South Florida. Right now I teach English to adult immigrants and refugees. They are full of hope and dreams for a better life for themselves and their children. And just like my grandmother, I firmly believe education is the way to this.

What direct experience do you have of your parents’ and grandparents’ teaching style?”

They grew up in the days where corporal punishment, aka “paddling” was allowed in school! Can you imagine?? The town I was raised in wasn’t far from this. So you can picture my surprise when my first teaching assignment was in a progressive independent school that taught mindfulness and meditation! But as I’ve started thinking about some reflections on teaching, I’ve come to respect all styles of teaching children the way they should go.

I teach different ages and subjects than my family did. Nonetheless, I pass on the same love of learning down to my own children. I read to them daily and choose educational toys and activities over electronics, plus getting outside and exploring nature.

How much advice did you receive from teacher relatives when you announced you wanted to work in education?”

Caroline Hazelton's mom

My mom warned me that I was going to enter an emotionally-draining, never-ending “to-do” lists career. On year eight, while I’m sharing some of my reflections on teaching, I have to agree that she’s right. But, it is so worth it. My grandmother, on the other hand, would have cheered on anything that I did! 

My mom encouraged me and told me I had the “teaching gift” and “all of the traits to be a good one.” She was a huge source of support my first year when I had such a learning curve — I could call her up and we would “talk teacher.” I even enjoy talking to my aunt, a retired teacher about parent/teacher challenges that she dealt with and how they could best be solved. When “teacher talk” begins… my husband and dad go running.

To what extent did you talk about your early teaching career with your parents and grandparents?”

My grandmother passed away during my first year in college, but I talked to my mom constantly during the first year of teaching. She helped me realize how I could nail a lesson, build solid communication with parents, or strengthen a relationship with my students. She taught me how to own being the rookie and take advice from other teachers without doubting myself. Even now, she gives me wisdom.

What would you tell your children if they indicated they wanted to follow in the family footsteps?”

It is underpaid and you’ll need to learn how to manage stress without turning to junk food (my first-year rookie mistake). Despite that, the joy of the classroom, the relationships you build, and the delight in where your teaching will take your students is worth every moment. But you’ll need to do it because you love it, not because it’s what women in our family do. The burnout is real and kids need teachers who love teaching their subject. Otherwise, school will be largely a waste of time. This is probably one of my most important reflections of teaching that I’ve come to.

reflections of teaching, photo of a school library

Describe a childhood memory that has still resonated with you and influences your teaching.”

My mom had this beautiful Barbie house at home when I was about five.  Naturally, my then four-year-old sister and I thought it was for us! But… it wasn’t. It was for her first-graders. The school was in a very poor neighborhood. The chance to play with a nice toy was something the kids would only get in school. We watched that year as she’d collect toy after toy for her kids in need. Through that example, she taught me to be a selfless adult, giving things I don’t really need to those less fortunate. 

reflections of teaching photo of child playing with cars

Who were your heroes and role models growing up as a child?”

My dad, because he loves learning and seems to know something about everything. I could talk to him about any subject. I loved his mother (also a teacher!) and how she managed to teach part-time while also being a mom to her kids. Additionally, I loved my third-grade advanced class teacher Mrs. Sullivan because she pushed me like no other teacher had.

What dreams and goals did you have for your life in high school? And how about after college?”

I wanted to help people and especially those from around the world because I find diversity fascinating. I definitely wanted a family, an intelligent husband, and to see the world. Although I literally had no idea of how things would happen, I assumed by the time that I was 17 that I’d spend a year or so doing Christian, humanitarian, and missionary work overseas, then teach Spanish and ESL. And, yes, my dreams came true!

How do you switch on switched-off learners?”

By involving different types of instruction (large group, small group, one-on-one), different forms of activities for visual and auditory learners and feedback. Asking students to do different tasks that require different levels of thinking. Being willing to go off script and change your plans when a lesson or activity clearly isn’t working out. I also try to plan real-life examples in my language classes and incorporate relaxing activities like music, games or free conversation into my lessons every day.

reflections of teaching, photo of wooden block letters

To what degree do you plan lessons and to what extent do you improvise them?”

What I make sure of is that I always have a plan. I schedule extra activities in case things end shorter than expected or if some sort of technology doesn’t work. I also tend to have a set routine so my time is managed well and students know what to expect. But, if I discover an area that students have a lot of questions about or are really interested in, I’m willing to change my plans so we have more time for these things. 

Caroline has a plethora of ESL teaching resources to utilize in your classroom. Be sure to check them out in our upcoming articles from her. It’s always a pleasure to discover her latest developments. Make sure to catch her first interview with Leesa for more reflections of teaching from a fourth-generation teacher.

Teaching During a Pandemic: A Teacher Abroad

By Amanda WhittenSelfie of Amanda Whitten while abroad teaching during a pandemic.

Catch up on Amanda’s first interview before joining her for the second part of her three-part interview!

This has been one of the weirdest years ever for me, not just for teaching, but in general. I’m sure that the same could be said for everyone else, as well. It’s been transformative in a number of ways, which I’ll get to in a moment. This year has affected my relationships with my students, my co-workers, and even myself. One thing is for sure: the world is changing and we must adapt to it. Read on to find out how I adapted to teaching during a pandemic!

What is a typical day at your school like? 

Pre-coronavirus, I typically arrived 20-30 minutes before class because of the public transportation schedule. As soon as I arrived, I’d head to the English department room, my safe haven, and hideout. Then, I’d check to make sure that I had all my ducks in a row and that I knew what I was supposed to be doing for each of my classes. I’d also make any last-minute necessary lesson plans or preparations and basically mentally prepare myself to go into performance mode. If I had any extra time, I’d go downstairs to the cafeteria to have a coffee and chat with any of the teachers already there.

This year, classes ranged from about 9:25am to 2:00pm, which is a pretty easy schedule, I’d say. Some days, I’d have a planning period, and other days I’d have a constant stream of classes apart from one break from 11:10am to 11:40am.

Afterwards, I’d rush home, eat very quickly, and then rush back into the world to go to my private lessons, academy classes, or whatever else I had going on. Of course, I had to adjust to teaching during a pandemic, so that all changed. I spent more time doing hobbies such as painting, and am really proud of how much I’ve grown as an artist so far! 

Teaching During a Pandemic

When the coronavirus pandemic initially began, I’d wake up an hour early, eat breakfast, shower, prepare my headset, laptop, and generally wait attentively to see if any students needed any help or wanted to talk in general. Other than that, I just uploaded their various activities and scheduled them to appear during class time. Kahoot and Educaplay were invaluable online resources for making quizzes about literally anything that the students could complete. 

After a while, other than the occasional video call, I started waking up two minutes before class because I had discovered, much to my lazy side’s delight, that Google classroom could be downloaded on cell phones. Then I could lazily browse and be “present” in class while laying in bed. A difficult and tiresome job, really.  

How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?

I interact frequently with a nucleus of about four to five teachers, but usually there are many more who actually teach at the school. At IES Pablo Neruda, I had sixteen classes and therefore, had sixteen working hours. 

Are you forming working relationships with coworkers?

I considered myself very lucky at what was, until June 30th, my current school. With a good rapport with all of the teachers I worked with, I developed what I would consider actual friendships with at least three of them. I really admire all of the teachers I personally worked with and basically feel that I won the lottery. All I wanted was to feel respected, appreciated, and accepted here in Spain. They did an amazing job of doing that for me. It was and is mutual. Even while teaching during a pandemic, I can honestly say these were the best coworkers I’ve had so far in Spain.

Amanda Whitten and Leganes while Amanda was abroad teaching during a pandemic

What is your favorite part of the day? Why?

I would say that I had a few favorite groups that I really enjoyed working with. A bachillerato group I worked with always reacted enthusiastically to my activities whether an introduction to country music (seeing these kids goofily sing Garth Brooks literally made my year) or getting into heated debates, I had so much fun. I also really enjoyed teaching my 1st eso kids, which are pretty much 6th graders. They are still so full of excitement for learning. They loved telling me about their favorite foods and what they did on the weekends. How could I not adore them? 

I have a few favorite students scattered here and there: naughty ones who could make me laugh as well as academic and friendly ones who enjoyed interacting with me. All of these students made my days more enjoyable. While I can’t say that I had a specific favorite part of each day, I can say that I had certain highlights during the week. It makes leaving this part of my life behind all the more bittersweet.

How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?

It really depends on whichever teacher is in charge. For example, one teacher may prefer to heavily rely on going through the book via a program on the computer. This makes it easy to correct and grade exercises as a group. Others focus on using their book as a guideline, choosing to focus more on activities and conversation. The former may be easier, but it is so much more boring for both me and the students. The latter can be more challenging, but it is so much more fun and engaging, provided the students are interested. 

How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?

Some classes required no preparation whatsoever. One teacher would give me the page numbers and exercises to correct via the computer program, and that was it. Usually, I was told that I had the freedom to come up with extra activities, but since these instructions were usually given right before class or the day before, I rarely ever knew what we were going to be going over. And for those classes, the activities were meant to “complement” the lesson, not detract. 

For other classes, I would be given a topic to make a presentation on or perhaps a topic to practice conversation around. These practice conversations would be easy enough to research a bit, and perhaps make a PowerPoint if necessary. 

Amanda Whitten pointing at a frog while abroad in Madrid teaching during a pandemic

Still, others would have me go over certain pages in the book, but without an answer key. I usually answered the questions myself before class so that I didn’t embarrass myself in front of the kids, teens, or even literal adults. 

Fortunately for me, I never had to worry about teaching actual grammar at this school, thank goodness. The teachers left the listening and conversation practice up to me, for the most part. And if there’s anything that I apparently have a gift for, it is a gift for gab. 

Do you work at a bilingual school? Is English being taught as a subject or throughout all classes?

I have worked at a bilingual school in the past, but I much preferred working at a traditional school. The reason being is that it’s difficult to teach technical concepts such as art theory or, god forbid, science and math, to even the most academically advanced students. Yes, I much prefer the straightforwardness of teaching ESL English in English classes rather than English through a different subject. I can’t imagine the challenges of teaching during a pandemic at a bilingual school. 

What goals or standards are classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?

If the students managed to speak up at all, they would get a point in their favor in the grade book. This would all add up at the end of the year, and it could hurt or help their grade. It was really all about mere participation, with the exception of when students gave rubric graded speeches. I’m sure that the teachers themselves had more extensive ways of measuring progress. However, in my classes, it was all about showing up and speaking up, no matter how quietly or hesitantly. Honestly, it was good enough for me because, concerning foreign languages, it’s not about the destination, but the journey. And that journey is rocky and full of humiliating errors. So if they even dare to take a step, I applaud them. 

Amanda's work station while teaching during a pandemic.
My work station I set up to teach during the pandemic.

 

Looking back at our first interview, what have you learned most about yourself in the classroom this year?

My answer applies not just to our first interview, but also all the way to the beginning of my illustrious teaching career. I have learned to relax, breathe when rattled, not be a hammer, and be a high five. I have learned that having a good time, even if just playing an invigorating game, can be worth fifteen grammar lessons. If a student is laughing and smiling, then they are learning. 

Amanda will share her plans for next year in a follow-up interview. We look forward to hearing what she has to say and where her future will take her, especially considering her success in teaching during a pandemic. Be on the lookout for her third interview.