A Chat With Ashaun English, Grade 4 English Curriculum Teacher at FASPS
This interview was recorded on October 2, 2019.

Kyle: Ashaun, tell us a little bit about your role here, what you teach at FASPS, if you’ve always taught the same grade, and how long you’ve been here.

Ashaun: I have been at FASPS for 16 years; this is my 16th year. I currently teach fourth grade, but I’ve taught third grade, fourth grade, and fifth grade at FASPS. When I first started, I did one class of fifth grade, one class of fourth grade, and then I switched to third grade, and then back to fourth, and then back to fifth, but for the last five years or so I’ve been in fourth grade.

Kyle: And what were you doing 16 years ago?

Ashaun: Sixteen years ago I was teaching in Canada at an inner-city school on Vancouver. We had students from Vietnam, Thailand, Croatia, and Russia. When we did parent-teacher conferences, we would have interpreters at the school who would come in and interpret in four different languages. We would also send out our parent newsletter in different languages. It was quite an international community.

Kyle: Are you from Vancouver?

Ashaun: Well, one of my parents is American, and one of my parents is Canadian, so at birth I had dual citizenship. I lived in Spokane as a small child, did some schooling there, and then kind of went back and forth. When I’m in Canada, my Canadian friends no longer see me as Canadian, and when I’m in the U.S., my U.S. friends always see me as an immigrant. I feel that I am a North American, and I can live and work successfully in either country.

Kyle: How did you end up at the school on Vancouver Island?

Ashaun: That’s where my parents were living at the time, so when I graduated from university, I applied for a job there and got it. That was one of my first jobs. I taught at a variety of schools in the area.

Kyle: How did you get down here then?

Ashaun: I ended up getting married to a Canadian. He was working in the States, and we met, strangely, at a wedding in Vancouver. At the time, my husband was already working down here in engineering, and we just decided, eventually, after going back and forth and dating for several years, to get married and move down here.

Kyle: At that school on Vancouver Island, did you have students who did not speak English?

Ashaun: Yes, I did, quite a few. We had a full-time ELL teacher who did a lot with kids in Vietnamese, Thai languages, Mandarin, Cantonese as well. The school was well funded. It had a full-time counselor. There was also a police liaison and social workers who worked at the school. Breakfast was provided for the kids, snacks, free lunch for most of the kids, lots of after-school and summer programs as well. The teachers that worked there all worked hard and wanted to make a difference, and I think we did.

Kyle: So coming to FASPS wasn’t a difficult transition?

Ashaun: Not at all. In fact, when I was looking for a job here, after I got certified, I saw in the paper that FASPS was an international school, a small school, and that really attracted me.

Kyle: Do you speak French?

Ashaun: Not well. I took French for a very long time in school, and I couldn’t figure out why I was never very good at it. I tried and tried, and finally, when I was teaching in Canada, I had a student in my class who was hearing impaired, and he had a full-time teacher’s assistant, and she said, after working with me for several months, “I think we need your hearing tested.” Sure enough, I had my hearing tested, and I have a major hearing loss where I don’t hear vowels and blends very well, so it made it very difficult to distinguish especially the homophones in French. Many sounds and the blends all sound the same to me. In English I’ve learned well enough how to hear them and understand from context, but learning a second language was always going to be difficult.

Kyle: So why third, fourth, and fifth grade?

Ashaun: I love third, fourth, and fifth because they have a lot of skills at this age; they still love you; they want to give you hugs; they think you’re pretty cool; they laugh at all my corny jokes, which is great. They also grow and mature so much at this age. It’s amazing to see the two languages really become strong.

Kyle: You’re certified to teach elementary school?

Ashaun: K to eight, yes.

Kyle: FASPS will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2020. Talk about some of the big changes that really stand out in your mind from when you first started here 16 years ago.

Ashaun: When I first started, our classrooms were actually at Herzl; they were below the synagogue, and they were very small.

Kyle: This is before the portables?

Ashaun: Well, there were portables here, and the third, fourth, and fifth grade teachers had classrooms at Herzl. We were kind of a separate entity, really, from the school at that time. We didn’t have recess or lunches together. It was interesting. It was tiny. When we first started, we shared a classroom with the Jewish teachers, and at four o’clock we basically had two vacate the classroom. Most people took their stuff home. It was an interesting way of working; we came very early and left at 4:00pm.

Kyle: When you first got here, what grades were taught?

Ashaun: It was YPK all the way up to fifth grade.

Kyle: And you taught third, fourth, and fifth?

Ashaun: I taught fourth and fifth for the first few years.

Kyle: How many students did you have?

Ashaun: I think my first class, I had maybe 13 kids. The most was 15. My very first year here I ended up taking, I think, 12 students to France.

Kyle: Wow.

Ashaun: When we got there, they had lost all our luggage, two weeks in France with fifth graders with no luggage. It showed up quite a few days later, but that was kind of a challenge for everybody.

Kyle: Was that one of the first years they went to France?

Ashaun: They had been going for a few years, but it was one of those years where there were just lots of interesting changes. I remember one student had a visa issue at the last minute, and my French partner teacher had to stay behind, and I had to take 12 kids on my own through the airport and customs. It was when madcow was going rampant, so we all had to have screenings. There were dogs smelling our bags, and we all had suitcases full of brioche to take home to our families.

Kyle: Did the French teacher finally arrive?

Ashaun: Several days later. I was alone with 12 kids going from the Vendée to Paris, to London, Chicago, and finally Seattle. Of course — and it happens — we are late, someone gets sick, we’re running for the airplane, we’re dragging our luggage, and suddenly, a student says, “I don’t feel good.” I say, “That’s okay, you can do it, let’s keep going, we can stop once we check in.” Suddenly there was vomit everywhere and tears. I had to stop, find security to tell them to radio ahead that we were coming, and get a clean-up crew out. They did hold the plane, and we did make it.

Kyle: I learned this morning that there used to be trips to Montreal.

Ashaun: A long time ago. That was when I switched grades to fourth grade. The teacher at the time was also Canadian, and they used to go to Montreal in fifth grade; her husband was French-Canadian and from Quebec. They would go to a camp like a summer camp, and they would stay in dorms.

Kyle: That was in addition to France?

Ashaun: That was a different trip from France. They tried going to Quebec instead of going to France for a few years.

Kyle: On a different topic, do you have any particular professional interests these days that you’re excited about, or anything new in your professional journey that you’re excited to incorporate into your teaching?

Ashaun: I’ve really been embracing social-emotional learning, really trying to incorporate that into not just my everyday teaching but making it a subject so that the students really understand that this is important. This week we’re working a lot on empathy in preparation for our trip to IslandWood. We’ve got Brittany coming in as a guest speaker twice a month, which is fantastic.

Kyle: What else are you doing with respect to social-emotional learning?

Ashaun: The first thing I really like to do is build community within the classroom. I think if the students have a close relationship with you, they understand you, that you make mistakes, you’re human, they understand that everybody does. I’ll give you a good example, when we first got our new laptops this year, their passwords were completely different from last year’s, and they had to figure out how to do the exclamation point, which requires using the shift key and then the exclamation. You can say it so many times and show them, and they still don’t quite get it unless they practice it. So everyone was trying to log in, and there were kids getting frustrated and angry, and tears even. Then I could feel my blood pressure just kind of creeping up, and I kind of started to feel myself get a little snappy, and I said, “Stop, everybody, stop, please. I want to apologize.” I said, “I feel that I’m getting a little worked up, and I know you’re frustrated, and I’m frustrated too. Let’s just take a minute here.” Everybody stopped, and then a little girl put her hand up and she goes, “You know, Ashaun, I think we all really need to do a GoNoodle.” And I’m like, “You’re right.” The GoNoodle is how we take our brain breaks, so we did a couple of GoNoodles, we were dancing and stretching, and then we slowed down our breathing, and then everything went back to normal.

Kyle: Anything else besides SEL that you’re working on?

Ashaun: I am also excited about doing our bilingual projects this year. Our first big one will be making Adobe Spark movies about our experiences at IslandWood. We will incorporate our three goals for the classroom, which are respect, kindness, and perseverance. Kids really need to see and recognize other kids showing perseverance, kindness, and respect, and being away from home and pushing yourself past your comfort zone is what the students do at IslandWood.

Kyle: Are those three goals goals you have, or are all of the teachers in fourth grade working on them?

Ashaun: We’re working on them together; we’re really working on building community.

Kyle: Last question. Talk a little bit about how the French teacher and the English teacher of the same class work together. You work with two different French teachers, correct?

Ashaun: Yes, this year it’s two, Stéphane and Julia. And I’m also teaching ELL with second graders this year.

Kyle: How does the English teacher and the French teacher of one class coordinate their days, their curricula, their activities?

Ashaun: We have team and cycle meetings every Tuesday. After school on Tuesdays, we plan out what we’re going to do.

Kyle: Define a team and a cycle.

Ashaun: A team would be the grade 4s; we have Stéphane, Julia, and then myself, and then when we can we try to include Chris as well, our educational assistant. We work together, we plan out activities. For example, for IslandWood, we’ve been working on how to group the kids; we’ve got that all figured out. And then when we come back, we have a bilingual project we’re going to work on using Adobe Spark. They’re going to take the pictures and create little mini-movies and then narrate and write in French and English. Then we show them to the parents.

Kyle: So the team comprises a particular grade?

Ashaun: Yes, a team is all of a grade’s faculty. And then sometimes we meet as a cycle, and we’re cycle three, which is fourth, fifth, and sixth grade.

Kyle: And during the Tuesday meetings you share what you’re doing during the week?

Ashaun: During the next couple of weeks. We also meet in the mornings frequently to plan out our activities. We have a time where we try to do a harmonized piece together, usually something related to math or language that’s similar. This year Stéphane and Julia are going to be coming into my time for part of the SEL. We do things like community circle where the kids all take time to share or discuss a topic. When Brittany comes in to do her SEL lessons, as well, Stéphane and Julia will be in the classroom taking part in that; that’s part of our harmonized time.

Kyle: And I imagine there is a bigger level of coordination that happens at the beginning of the year.

Ashaun: Yes. I plan my whole year in advance, and then I share it with them; that’s a coordinated thing.

Kyle: Thank you so much for chatting with us today, Ashaun.

Ashaun: You’re more than welcome. Thank you!

Ashaun English