Literacy Specialist Assistants: A New Experience at Lincoln High School

By Flor Parma and Majo Correa

Many colleagues or students are wondering who the people sitting at the back of the classroom during Biology or Spanish are. They enter the rooms without asking, sit comfortably, take notes, and leave without being noticed. They rarely talk, but they sometimes ask a question as if they were another student. Teachers don’t seem to be bothered; instead, they greet them with a smile.

Well, let us tell you, we are one of these people. We are not teachers, we don’t specialize in any subject, we don’t have planning time or an advisory group, and we don’t have an office of our own. However, we do know about the students who attend those classes. We know about their strengths and challenges. We know how it feels to having to learn about DNA or cellular reproduction, when we really love Social Studies. We don’t know everything, but we do whatever it takes to learn it and become experts in the subject. We are LITERACY SPECIALIST ASSISTANTS!

This is a new role in the school, so we face the challenge of letting the rest of the Lincoln community know how important our job is. So here are some things everybody should know about us:

  • As we mentioned before, we attend classes in order to learn new content, as most of the material does not have a connection with the subject we studied or have taught previously. By going through the struggles of learning that new content, we can now understand what a student that is not particularly attracted to that subject feels, by having to learn it anyway. So we try to find ways and strategies for students to reach the content in a more enjoyable way.
  • We are Native Spanish Speakers and English Learners, but we speak both languages and sometimes a third one. By being bilingual we can provide students with reassuring concepts in their L1 and L2 and we can learn with and through them, not only new vocabulary, but meaningful ways of using it. We can share not only words, but experiences.
  • But our role not only involves students. We share a lot of time with subject teachers, as we need to adapt to the almost 96 classes taught in high school and to the different pedagogies used by every teacher.  All in all, we collaborate on a daily basis by co-planning, co-teaching, co-assessing, and co-reflecting with more than 30 teachers.
  • What do we do with all the information we collect? Well, we provide ideas or recommendations, as well as we listen to ideas or recommendations from teachers that need to differentiate, so every student is capable of reaching and understanding the lesson. We put all our thoughts together in order to come up with a better idea, resulting in students achieving the learning objectives.
  • We do not hesitate in saying “we don’t know, let’s look it up”. Showing doubt is also necessary, so students can see that even teachers can sometimes feel uncertain about some things. Looking for clarification together can help them learn how to do it next time and to not feel bad about it.

As you can see, there are many things we have to be aware of, but we feel  the most important part of our job as literacy specialist assistants is to empathize with students when they  approach us with feedback about classes, teachers, and personal struggles. We get to know the students as complete people: siblings, friends, peers, club leaders, musicians, athletes, and teenagers. By knowing their passions, we can help them with their struggles, because when we make connections with their personal interests, we are more able to engage them.

We are very fortunate to have this job, as we get to know a lot of different subjects and a lot of our students! This is a PD itself!

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