Cool for School: New ‘EL’ teachers are eager for the first day

Published 9:00 am Saturday, September 2, 2017

The I.J. Holton classroom signs says, “We all smile in the same language” — and both Janna Akkerman and Katy McGrane are more than ready to prove the point.

Despite the fact both look as if they could still be in high school, they are first-year teachers, eager to begin their new duties working with a diverse student population when school begins Tuesday.

Akkerman and McGrane are EL teachers. “EL” refers to English as a second language, and it is their job to work with students who have relocated to American schools from other countries.

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Both will work in their own classroom, as well as support students in the classrooms of Kaia Kossman, a fifth-grade reaching instructor; and Kelly Tapp, a sixth-grade language arts teacher.

“It’s a bit overwhelming,” admitted McGrane. “But we have a lot of new teachers this year, so that’s comforting, we aren’t alone.”

Janna Akkermann, left, and Katy McGrane are two of I.J. Holton Intermediate School’s newest teachers and will be starting their first-ever school years this Tuesday. Eric Johnson/

According to school officials, McGrane and Akkerman will be two of 51 new instructors this fall in classrooms throughout the district.

McGrane and Ackerman are also two of several EL teachers who will support Austin’s increasingly diverse student population. During the 2016-2017 school year, there were 23 teachers who provided EL instruction to 820 students in the district.

McGrane, 25, is a graduate of the local teacher prep program, created through a partnership with Austin Public Schools, Riverland Community College and Winona State University. The program provided two years of instruction at Riverland, then two years at WSU whose classes were taught exclusively in Austin. Much of the last two years were spent in practicums and trainings in the classrooms of Austin schools. McGrane had time at both Woodson Kindergarten Center and Southgate Elementary School.

The experience ignited her wish to teach EL students. She found “that these were the kids who tried the hardest,” in their classwork.

“My EL kids were fantastic — and they wanted to learn so badly; they never gave up,” McGrane said.

A banner proclaims Learn, Inspire, Create across the home room of I.J. Holton Intermediate School teachers Janna Ackermann and Katy McGrane. Eric Johnson/

Akkerman, 22, began on a different career path altogether. The Austin High School graduate who earned her degree from Luther College had her eye on being a veterinarian.

“I was going for a biology major my first year, but after awhile, I found it really wasn’t relatable — I kept thinking, ‘I’m not doing eight years of this,’” she said with a laugh.

So, she took a practicum in her first year over the January break, where she worked in a third grade classroom — and almost immediately recognized a new passion: Teaching.

“I loved it — I thought, ‘Who doesn’t want to do this every day?’”

She also loves learning and understanding new cultures, which she discovered when she worked with an immigrant population during a trip to New Mexico while in college. So, finding a hometown job in the diversity-rich Austin was a double boon to her.

Both said they found the staff at I. J. Holton welcoming — if a little flustered at times.

“I think there are so many new teachers, they’re trying to keep everyone straight,” McGrane said with a chuckle.

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In coming sixth-graders get a tour of I.J. Holton Intermediate School Thursday afternoon as they visit the main office. Eric Johnson/

Students from Austin Public Schools and Pacelli Catholic Schools begin school on Sept. 5.

Enrollment numbers are not yet known until after the first day of school. Public school numbers last year were 4,746, while Pacelli last year welcomed 341 students.