Kaitlyn Datzman discovered her passion for teaching children learning English as a second language through McKinney ISD’s Ready, Set, Teach program.
As a high school senior, she interned in a fourth grade bilingual classroom helping children prepare for taking the TAKS exam in English. “Being in that class where you’ve got kids who entered school only speaking Spanish and then seeing them get ready to take the test in English and seeing their growth made me want to be a bilingual teacher,” she said. “It helped solidify what I really wanted to do. I’m very fortunate because at 17, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”
Datzman, a 2007 graduate of McKinney North High School, is studying for a master’s degree in education at the University of Arkansas while student teaching in the Springdale Public Schools. Last year, she earned a bachelor’s degree in childhood education with minors in Spanish and Latin American Studies from Arkansas.
McKinney ISD’s Ready, Set, Teach program prepared her well for studying education in college. As part of the program, high school student interns assist teachers in classrooms several days a week and take an education course at their home campus. Students who complete the program are guaranteed an interview with McKinney ISD upon graduating from college and meeting other criteria.
“I think it would be fantastic to come back to the district that I’ve graduated from and see what I could contribute,” said Datzman, 23. “That’s my dream.”
When she was a senior at McKinney North, she interned in a fourth-grade bilingual classroom at McKinney ISD’s Caldwell Elementary School under the guidance of teacher Kelly Flowers, who is now assistant principal at the school. Datzman always knew she wanted to be a teacher and that she loved Spanish. But her internship sparked her desire to use Spanish to work with English language learners.
She was impressed that her mentor learned Spanish as a second language and spoke it fluently. “It kind of showed me that even though I’m not a native Spanish speaker this is something that’s possible,” she said.
Flowers recalls that Datzman tutored five of her students for the TAKS writing exam and that all of them passed, including four who earned commended scores. “I thought that was really impressive,” Flowers recalled. “I remember her going above and beyond, coming in more than she had to.”
Datzman focused on strengthening her Spanish skills in college, and studied abroad for six months in 2010 at the Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires, Argentina. While abroad, she took college-level courses in Spanish alongside native speakers.
When she returned to Arkansas, she conducted a research project for her honors thesis on using dialogue journals to improve the writing of English language learners.
As part of the project, she tutored four fourth-graders. She wrote letters back and forth with each student several times a week. One boy had recently moved from Mexico to Arkansas. She wrote to him in Spanish and English. He responded initially only in Spanish, but then gradually used more English in his writing.
“I started emphasizing trying to get him to write as much as he could in English using the vocabulary he did have,” she said. “By the end of twelve weeks, he still needed help on translating words, but you could see full English sentences. Getting to see him grow made a big impact on me.”
Through his writing, he shared how difficult it was for him to adjust to a new country. The other students completed projects that included writing letters to their favorite authors. “It was really cool to see their writing progress,” she said. “Writing is an excellent way to get to know students. A lot of times kids won’t tell you, but they’ll write it.”
She presented her findings last year at the Arkansas Reading Association conference and the Arkansas Undergraduate Research conference. Datzman is currently conducting another research study on using data-driven instruction to teach writing. She crafts personalized lessons for children based on their performance on writing prompts.
In her current student teaching assignment at an elementary school in Springdale, Arkansas, she works with many children from low-income homes who speak Spanish as a first language.
“What I want to be is that teacher who shows them that they can be successful,” she said. “I just want to instill in them that they can overcome their situation. That’s something I really have a heart for.”
Her mother, Sheila Datzman, a fifth-grade teacher at McKinney ISD’s Reuben Johnson Elementary School, is happy to see her daughter go into teaching. “I still love to go to work every day and I think she has that same passion,” Sheila Datzman said. “I’d be thrilled for her to go into the profession.”
You can read Datzman’s study on English language learners here: http://arareading.org/doc/Kaitlyn_Datzman_Second_Language_Writing_Action_Research.pdf
Written by Katherine Leal Unmuth. This story is the third in a series of profiles on McKinney ISD graduates making a difference at home and around the world.