Recently, I interviewed ELA teacher Sarah Bilbao about her love of English and how she is using technology to inspire Challenge Prep middle school scholars to go deeper in their learning. Mrs. Bilbao has regular contact with her student’s parents and guardians. It’s important to her to communicate with parents about how a scholar is succeeding and not only what needs to be improved. Bilbao brings the skills she developed as a corporate trainer for a credit union into the classroom to impact students beyond their hours at school.
Messer: What or who inspired you most to teach?
Bilbao: The majority of my teachers throughout my schooling were role models. My 3rd grade teacher went beyond being a teacher especially when my mother passed that year. We still keep in touch to this day.
Messer: How did you fall in love with English/Language Arts?
Bilbao: As a student, English was my outlet. To be able to write and release my feelings was wonderful, and that’s why I came to love writing so much. I want my students to feel the same and to have that same outlet. I want them to know that literature has a place in real life.
Messer: Why is ELA so important in an age of truncated communication where people and students are using hashtags, soundbites, and 140-character updates?
Bilbao: It’s a challenge. There is a time and place for those things, and I do incorporate that style of communication in the classroom. Hashtags, raps, and poetic devices—the boys especially love to use these in conjunction with what we have learned. By middle school, many students are used to texting, and we have to break bad habits and emphasize correct grammar. Incorporating the fun communication styles is great, but they know what the expectation is and how they should be writing and communicating verbally.
They need to know how to have a proper communication; they are looking for shortcuts at times, but there is a rigor to what we teach.
Messer: What is it like from your perspective being a part of the new Middle School this year?
Bilbao: We all started with a new slate—a new building, a new environment, longer classes, changing classes. For some subjects, scholars are in one room for 80 minutes and as 6th graders they are still transitioning to that long period of focus. It is a long day for our students, so I love creating a warm place for them to walk into. As a staff, we are learning and growing together every day.
Messer: What have been your main goals for scholars this year?
Bilbao: My main goal for scholars this year has been to help them grow academically and as an individual. It is important they maintain self-confidence and continuous support and it is imperative that they are engaged during the lessons. I incorporate blended learning as much as possible. Incorporating blended learning and small group differentiation into their day makes it seem a lot faster, because they are engaged and focused. Our scholars love the use of technology, and they get even more excited when they have a challenge before them. I find they like structure.
I’m also teaching math currently, and we use some great tools to assist our scholars in the learning process. For instance in honor of black history month, I had the students use Google Classroom to submit a black mathematician project. They had to create a timeline for that person using Google slides or Google docs to pull it all together. Many students went above and beyond my expectations.
Messer: Who are your favorite writers?
Bilbao: My favorite modern writer is Nicholas Sparks. A couple of my favorite books are To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.
Messer: With the inaugural year being finished at the Middle School in a few short months, what do you look forward to for the 2016-17 academic year?
Bilbao: I’m enjoying every minute of teaching, and I’m already excited about next year. My ultimate goal is to be able to help the students not only in the classroom but also in life. I want to make an impact that they can take with them.
- Kim Messer, Executive Communications Director