Hamline News

Life on the Linoleum

linoleum article

They’re the ones helping a child who’s just immigrated learn English.
They’re the ones using music to help a child learn math.
They’re the ones teaching your child to read.

They’re teachers. Leaders in their communities, they were trained by the state’s leader in education: Hamline University’s Graduate School of Education.

Every year more than 8,000 teachers choose Hamline for licensure, certificates, and continuing education. More than 1,000 enroll in a degree program.

We’re helping Minnesota and the Midwest combat some of the problems that keep our youth from being successful, both the well-known—helping our newest immigrants learn English—and the hidden—illiteracy, even among junior high and high school students.

If your family at one time came from another country, if you have a child in school, if you’ve ever considered trading it all for a career in the classroom… read the following stories of these courageous people who live—and love: Life on the linoleum.

Seventh-grade teacher encounters an unexpected issue: Students who can't read
As a seventh-grade English teacher entering his first class eighteen years ago, Jon Kahle felt prepared and excited to be teaching his students all about interpretation and the symbolism of language. What he didn’t expect to find was that many students weren’t even able to read the material, let alone interpret it.

Kahle, who now teaches at Central Middle School in Eden Prairie, said he’s learned over the years that just because kids have reached seventh grade, doesn’t necessarily mean they are reading and writing well enough to comprehend what’s in a textbook or novel.

“Each year I’m teaching I’m finding a growing number of students are having trouble with just the basics,” Kahle said. “More and more kids who come into our classrooms just don’t have the same experiences or backgrounds in reading or writing. People have real misconceptions. You think, ‘Oh, Eden Prairie,’ but there are a lot of kids in all of our districts who come from other cultures and other countries and they may not have any school experience in their home country, so they are dealing with that in addition to the language barrier.” Other cases include students who may not have had exposure to reading as a young child, or may have moved around so much they haven’t had the chance to feel grounded.

Kahle’s experience is not uncommon.

“There are still some students leaving school in Minnesota who struggle with reading and writing,” said Deirdre Kramer, dean of the Graduate School of Education. “That limits their potential to become contributing members of our society. We can’t give up on these kids. It all starts with literacy education.”

Many teachers, like Kahle, are embracing that concept and engaging in opportunities to learn about teaching literacy itself, and the Center for Literacy and Learning offers coursework specifically focused on literacy. The center offers graduate education courses, a variety of literacy-related certificates, and special seminars geared at individual school districts’ needs.

“Literacy, as we view it, is every aspect of learning. It’s reading, writing, speaking, listening—all facets of communication,” explained Marcia Rockwood, director of the center. “It’s a foundation for everything we do in school, and really, in life. It crosses all content areas, and we feel that teachers of all disciplines, from English to chemistry, need to understand the components at play.”

According to the most recent Minnesota Department of Education data, 84.8 percent of eighth-grade students have passed their basic skills test in reading and 91.2 percent of tenth graders have passed the basic skills writing test. While the numbers sound high, Rockwood said that still means about one in five eighth graders and one in ten tenth graders have not yet achieved the basic level of literacy needed to graduate.

Kahle, who had already completed his master’s in education, started taking continuing education classes that focused specifically on teaching reading and said the results were immediate.

“It already has helped me,” said Kahle, who received his reading licensure in May. “I learned strategies in all my classes for working with the kids.” Kahle set up a morning study group for his students. Every Tuesday morning he invited kids to come and work on reading comprehension, using the tips he’d learned in class.

“One tactic I used with the small group was to have them read a short passage of text, and then I had them use Post-it notes to ask questions or make statements about what we’d just read. They had different color Post-it notes depending on whether they had a question, a connection they could make to something else in their life, or whether what they’d just learned was new to them. And then we talked about the passage again as we sifted through their Post-its. As you can imagine our discussion was much richer.”

In addition to traditional coursework, Hamline also holds the Summer Literacy Institute, a week filled with intense and diverse instruction and exposure to national experts in the field of literacy. Now in its sixteenth year, the institute has made a name for itself with educators throughout the Midwest, with more than 5,000 teachers participating over the years. Sarah Kantola, who is making the leap from fourth grade to first grade at Moreland Elementary School in West Saint Paul, looks forward to using what she learned last summer at Hamline.

“I have so many English as a Second Language students, and we don’t have anyone who really specializes in that. I took one of the classes on how to target vocabulary instruction that was really helpful. It focused on using gestures and physical responses as well as showing the written word to really help children capture the essence of the words and what they mean. It’s just one more way to teach words.” Deb Obey, a second-grade teacher at Parkview Center School in Roseville, has attended the institute every summer for the past ten years.

“The summer institute just regenerates me,” Obey said. “I will be heading back to my classes next week, and now I’m going in with all of these new ideas.” Obey, who holds her master’s in education from Hamline, said the most valuable part of the institute is learning innovative yet practical tactics that she can use in her classroom.

“It’s critical to get kids to write all day in different ways for different subjects. So for example if you’re trying to teach them shapes…ask the kids to write a poem about a square. Getting them to stop and pay attention to their environment and to work from that can really be an effective teaching tool,” Obey said. “A lot of kids are completely gifted in math. But they can’t explain it—or write about what they know. They would be so much more successful down the line if we can intervene early and teach them to do that.”

Although the summer institute takes place on Hamline’s Saint Paul campus, many of Hamline’s year-round literacy courses are now offered off-site in partnership with school districts across the state, as well as online. Kahle, who did a good deal of his Hamline course work at a site in Plymouth, said he hopes more teachers take advantage of the program, even if they aren’t reading or English teachers. “Literacy goes across content areas. A lot of teachers tend to think ‘Oh that’s for English teachers to deal with’ but kids are reading textbooks in all subject areas and a lot of times they are not comprehending what they’re learning in classes.

We’re all in this together.”

Turning Teacher: Making the mid-career switch
The children in Michael Deppe’s second-grade math class have an advantage over their peers in other schools. They haven’t simply memorized equations or learned mathematical rules.

They’ve written a song about the pluses and minuses of the numerical world titled “Even Math Can Be Odd.”

As Deppe, a gentle man in his mid-forties, strums along on a guitar, the kids chant “math-math-math” until it’s time for the first verse:

An even plus an even will always equal even An odd plus an odd will also equal even but when you take an even and add it to an odd The number in the answer will be odd (how odd!) However, there’s nothing odd about the fact that Deppe, now in his fourth year of teaching the students under age ten at Harambee Community Cultures/ Environmental Science School in suburban Saint Paul, is using music to help students learn.

It’s a skill he learned in the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Hamline University. The director of the program, Kathy Paden, encourages the approximately 450 students to bring relevant life experiences into the classroom.

“Use what you are and what you have and bring it to what you do,” Paden told Deppe.

So Deppe, a musician who once earned a living repairing violins and guitars, spices up math with bouncy tunes that serve an educational purpose. As an undergraduate majoring in German and English two decades ago, Deppe pondered a career in teaching, but pursued music instead. When his daughter began attending school, Deppe headed to the classroom too—as a volunteer. He’d sing Raffi songs to the children. And soon, the idea of teaching re-emerged.

When Deppe asked his wife what she thought about his returning to graduate school to prepare for a career switch, she said, “Oh, my God.”

“I had a comfortable, but low-paying gig repairing instruments,” he said. “It was a big change.” Now that he’s worked as a teacher for several years, there’s little he misses about his old job. Deppe labored alone before, bringing new life to beautiful, but broken stringed instruments. Now he’s surrounded by people—short, noisy ones mostly—and the improvements he sees aren’t as immediate. Sometimes it’s not until a parent tells him a child loved a particular lesson that he knows he’s made a difference.

“It’s a different, deeper impact,” he said. Graduate students in the program can acquire teaching licenses in any of twenty-six specialties through a series of evening classes, which typically meet once per week. With an emphasis on urban, multicultural schoolchildren, students can begin teaching after earning certification in a subject area or they can continue studying to earn a master’s degree.

According to the American Association for Employment in Education, the need for new teachers is likely to increase in the next decade. That’s because about one-third of existing teachers are fifty-five or older and may soon retire.

Still, it’s not simply jobs that are attracting people to the profession. Paden says most students want to become a teacher out of a sense of altruism.

“They want to do something meaningful with their lives,” she said. “This is a job that goes along with that value.”

That’s certainly the case for two other Master’s of Art in Teaching students.

A native New Yorker, Nick Ardito spent most of his twenties working as a trader at the NASDAQ, a stock exchange specializing in technology companies. Buying and selling shares of Microsoft and Dell was exciting, but it wasn’t personally rewarding. When he learned about a nonprofit organization called Ice Hockey in Harlem, Ardito jumped at the chance to share his knowledge about a sport he loved with inner-city kids. While he taught kids about centering passes and slap shots, the most important lessons were in the classroom.

That’s because Ice Hockey in Harlem is primarily about improving the academic performance of ten to fourteen-year-olds enrolled in the program.

“That’s where I made the switch,” Ardito said. “I worked with kids who made a complete turnaround in their education.”

Upon moving to Minnesota, Ardito enrolled in the Hamline program. He graduated in 2004 and quickly landed a job teaching fifth graders at a Columbia Heights elementary school.

The Master’s of Art in Teaching program prepared Ardito for the classroom by teaching him how to prepare lesson plans, understand child development, manage a classroom and speak in front of a classroom full of people.

“There’s a lot of peer teaching and presentations right away,” Ardito said of the program. “They get you out of your comfort zone.”

But that doesn’t mean the transition was seamless. “I struggled a bit in my first year,” he says. “I was a bit naive with classroom management.”

Now that he’s more experienced, it’s easier for Ardito to appreciate the small joys the occupation can bring.

“Every day a child does something that makes you smile or laugh,” he said.

Jenny Johnson was already familiar with classrooms when she enrolled at Hamline University. A former Peace Corps volunteer who taught for two years in Malawi, a nation in southern Africa, Johnson majored in Spanish as an undergraduate, worked as a substitute teacher in the Minneapolis Public Schools and taught full time in the district for two years.

And then new rules required her to obtain a teaching license. Hamline became her graduate school of choice because they “understand the needs of working adults and they considered my prior experience an asset,” Johnson said. She also liked the program’s flexibility—students can begin classes during any semester—and the sophistication of professors.

“They stayed fresh with the current situation and had very experienced backgrounds,” Johnson said. Since she already has classroom experience in the U.S., Johnson chose to take advantage of the opportunity to teach internationally as a student teacher in Panama. For four months, she didn’t speak a word of English until one day, something surprised her and she uttered an “Oh, darn.”

One of her students overheard her and exclaimed, “I heard you speak English, Ms. Johnson!” Johnson recently landed her first post-Hamline job teaching Spanish to high school students in Lakeville. Interviewed a few weeks before the start of fall classes, she was anxious to get started. “I actually want to be in class right now,” she said. “I miss it.”

This Place Called "Minnesota" - Learning English as a second language
When Jan Voelker was ten years old, she and her brother boarded a plane in their Korean homeland and, many hours later, arrived in an airport in a very strange and confusing place. People called it “Minnesota.”

The year was 1976, and Voelker, her biological brother, Bill, and childhood friend, Peter, were adopted by a family in the small farming community of Scandia. “We didn’t know a word of English. I thought everyone looked the same, and I couldn’t understand even basic sounds,” Voelker recalled of her first impressions. “My brothers and I just held on to each other and said, ‘Don’t let go of me.’”

The next day she was in complete culture shock. At 2 a.m., she woke up hungry. Unable to communicate in words, her brother screamed to get their parents’ attention—and then made a slurping sound and shook his arms out in front of him. Soon, their parents solved the mystery: Jan wanted noodles.

Thirty years later, Voelker, now a teacher in Bloomington, laughs about her first days in her new country. But experiences like hers repeat themselves even today as more immigrants, refugees, and even adoptive children arrive in the United States than ever before.

“The United States is getting more and more immigrants—our country’s economy is especially dependent on immigrant labor,” said Ann Mabbott, who serves as director of the Center for Second Language Teaching and Learning at Hamline University, where Voelker is currently a student. “If you talk to immigrants, one of the things they’ll tell you is that Minnesota is a place where they can get a job and the schools are good. They come here because they want to work and they want their kids to have a good education.”

Across the country, the demand for English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction has reached an all-time high—and along with it, the demand for instructors who are equipped to teach not only children but also adults, and not only in schools but also in workplaces. In Minnesota alone, the most recent census data indicates that the number of children ages five to seventeen who speak another language and do not speak English “very well” increased by 121 percent since 1990. Hamline’s advanced ESL instruction, formally established in 1984 through its Graduate School of Education, was among the first offered. Hamline was one of the first ESL programs in the country to achieve national recognition from Teachers of English as a Second Language (TESOL) and today it is one of the top ESL programs in the country.

Before they had access to ESL coursework, “people just made do with what they had,” Mabbott said. “If teachers don’t know the law [shaped by a 1973 Supreme Court case, Lau v. Nichols, requiring equal access to English instruction for non-English speaking students] or best practices for teaching English as second language, they are less effective professionals.”

As a grade school student in small-town Scandia, Voelker, now an ESL teacher herself, knew her teachers were doing the best they could to help her and her brother adjust. “Our principal loved us so much,” she said. “If someone even looked at us wrong, he was all over them.”

But learning English was a much harder prospect.

“I wouldn’t talk a lot. Instead, I would think in English,” she said. “It was like singing with the radio on: As soon as you turn it off, you realize you don’t really know the words.”

She remembers the day she struggled to finally get the words out: “May…I…use…the…bathroom?” Excited, her teacher burst out: “What did you say?” Voelker was so scared she had said something wrong, she could only repeat: “Me… bathroom.” Even so, Voelker’s teacher called her mom that night to enthusiastically report: “Jan talked for the first time today!”

Her teachers were wonderful, Voelker says. But it would have been an entirely different experience if, back then, they’d had access to a program such as Hamline’s.

“ESL is smart, visual teaching,’ Voelker said. “You don’t use big words. Words are very clear and simple. In Scandia, people just didn’t always understand that.” What makes Hamline’s ESL program unique is that it doesn’t just equip teachers to teach English to immigrants and refugees. It also prepares ESL teachers to partner with children learning English in school and their parents, and helps employers be more effective in the workplace with non-English speaking employees.

Mabbott said that most other ESL programs do one or the other, either focusing on teaching children in the classroom or specifically preparing students to teach abroad. Hamline’s program does both. “One-third of our students seeking an ESL license are people who’ve always wanted to teach,” Mabbott said. “They’re people who are making a career change, who either have an interest in other cultures or maybe they have a connection to the Peace Corps… one of the nice things about our program is that you can incorporate it into anything you do. It’s a field that can draw on other fields.”

With nearly 500 students enrolled from as nearby as Minnesota and as far away as Korea, much of the ESL teacher education curriculum is offered online, as well as in the classroom. “These classes are very demanding,” Mabbott explained, “and offering them online doesn’t change that. But we are trying to take the hassles out of going to school for our students— and especially for those in rural areas who can’t drive for hours just to go to school.”


By: JacQui Getty, Todd Melby, and Jennifer L. Krempin