Learning lessons in life, English

Eliot Elementary School teacher Gloria Habing is surrounded by

Gloria Habing admits her kindergarten classroom can get a little
loud. The 31-year teaching veteran will also tell you that as long
as her class of mostly non-native English speakers is making the
noise in English, a few extra decibels are a good thing.
Habing calls it

constructive noise.

Gloria Habing admits her kindergarten classroom can get a little loud. The 31-year teaching veteran will also tell you that as long as her class of mostly non-native English speakers is making the noise in English, a few extra decibels are a good thing.

Habing calls it “constructive noise.”

It’s noise because it’s generated by energetic 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds. It’s constructive because Habing believes it contributes to the children’s marked improvement in English fluency.

“I have a laid-back style. I let them talk if it’s in English, and I think that’s a big reason they’ve picked up the language as well as they have,” Habing says. “This has been one of my most successful teaching years of my career.”

In her fourth year at Eliot Elementary School, Habing is teaching her first kindergarten class for the school. It’s not surprising that an experienced first- and second-grade teacher like Habing could successfully make such a move. But events taking place before the school year began make it remarkable she did.

Prior to the 2002-03 school year Eliot did not house kindergartners, instead specializing in the Slingerland method for older elementary students with language learning disabilities. When Gilroy Unified School District switched from a magnet school system to enrollment based on where students live, the southeast Gilroy campus not only opened kindergarten classes, it saw a dramatic increase in the amount of non-English-speaking students, too.

Challenging Habing and other teachers even more, GUSD ended bilingual education in favor of full-time instruction in English, also known as English immersion.

“My class had 14 Spanish speaking children (out of 20 total students) and only two of them knew a little bit of English,” Habing said.

Today, with more than two full months of instruction left in the school year, Habing says her Spanish-speaking students have jumped from the lowest fluency ranking to the intermediate and second-highest ranking on a five-level Houghton Mifflin language arts program the district is using.

“The first few weeks were difficult. I couldn’t have gotten through them without the support of my classroom aide (bilingual pre-school teacher Martha Centeno) and literacy coach (Kathy Yeager),” Habing said.

“She has brought those kids a long, long way,” Eliot Principal Diane Elia said of Habing. “She’s a great model, and she’s a teacher that I’d love to clone.”

Policy and population changes were not the only challenge Habing faced this year. A crisis in her personal life also makes Habing’s successful school year more remarkable.

In July, when teachers typically are getting some rest and relaxation before they gear up for the next school year, Habing’s husband Bill got into a life-threatening vehicle accident.

Bill Habing inadvertently drove his motorcycle head on into a truck while riding along Watsonville Road. The accident put the former Baptist pastor and general contractor into a coma, on kidney dialysis for two weeks and into the surgery room 15 times.

Today, Bill Habing is recovering well. He is off dialysis and can stand, but will be in a wheelchair for another six months as he heals from multiple bone graph operations.

“Over the summer, Gloria still participated in staff development (necessary because of GUSD’s switch to English immersion),” Elia said. “That’s how dedicated a teacher she is.”

Habing is stepmother to four adult children she and Bill raised. They have five grandchildren, ages 2 to 8 years old, she calls “the light of our life.”

A teacher for her entire professional career, Habing said she chose the profession because she loves “to see those little wheels turning” in the minds of students, “especially the younger ones.” She said her teaching philosophy is based on the virtue of respect.

“I believe you need to have respect for your students and you have to teach them to respect a fun, safe learning environment,” Habing said.

Leave your comments