Introduction: Making Sure English Learners Receive the Education They Deserve
I am sitting at this desk trying to find the right way to open this blog about English Learners. I mean, after twenty-five-plus years of teaching ELL (which sounds strange since I am only 29, wink wink), there is so much about teaching English that has evolved, been solved, dissolved, and other aspects that have never been resolved.
For one, the acronym itself: ELL. In the 1980s, it was ESOL and TESOL, and for international students, EFL. In the 90s, we dropped the T for ESOL, eventually dropped the O for ESL, and kept the EFL, but also added EAP (English for Academic Purposes) in colleges, among many other academia acronyms for courses. Sheesh!
From the early 2000s on, it was ELL, up until more recently, when the art and gift of teaching English to students who have a heritage language other than English became a truth, a movement, a mission, a belief. There emerged a collective commitment by ELL teachers to ensure the teaching of English was a beautiful dance of empowering students with the spoken and written language of their new country while honoring and preserving the language (and yes, languages) of their beloved home country.
From this commitment and movement came an acronym explosion across the United States: EL, ENL, EFL, EOL, EB, MLL, ML, OMG! English Learner, English as a New Language, English as an Other Language, Emergent Bilingual, Multilingual Learner with two Ls and Multilingual Learner with one L, respectively. From New York to North Dakota to California to Texas, these newer acronyms are used to SAY SOMETHING: English is not the end result; it is the enhancement of brilliant children from across the globe who already have a language but will thrive, shine, have a voice, and be the change learning another.
These new acronyms all stem from the same thought: Honor thy students’ languages and, by doing so, preserve their cultures. After all, language is culture. Sure, it may be confusing going from state to state with varying ways of saying English Learner. However, the beauty is that each state has their own stage of growth in this field of education. Long Island, New York teachers, for example, say ENL; Newton, Iowa teachers call it EL; Aldine, Texas teachers say EB; and Panama City, Florida teachers still use ELL.
So, how do we stay aligned with all these different acronyms? The OELA of course! According to OELA (Office of English Language Acquisition), where one can obtain “official information” in the US on English language acquisition, EL and ML are used interchangeably in graphics, blogs, and notices, but official documents and official documents submitted by school districts use ELL.
For the purpose of continuity and clarity for any individual new to the world of English language teaching reading this (welcome, by the way) English Learner (EL) will be used as I share the rest of my experiences and reflections with you here. I will share through the lens of appreciative inquiry and one more acronym: B.E.L.I.E.V.E.—Be the Educators who Lead to Inspire and Empower Via Empathy. However, a forewarning! I do not sugar coat anything. It is time to get real by being real, so EL children receive the quality equitable education they deserve.
In my experience, I have found three key challenges – and three key solutions — in providing excellent and appropriate education for Els. In this first of two blogs on this important topic, we’ll consider the first Challenge/Solution pair. We’ll take a look at what happens when well-intended teachers create long-term difficulties for English Learners. I call this…
Challenge #1: Tandinho Syndrome & TLC2
I have seen wonderful and well-intentioned content area teachers do their best to help their new ELs. They reach out and ask for help from the EL coaches, ask paraeducators for assistance, use Google Translate like no one’s business and show genuine love, care, and respect for their EL students. Often, these educators are “innocently ignorant” to the strategies needed to ensure an equitable and efficient learning environment for ELs (holy alliteration!). Although well-intended, their kindness can lead to what I have called “tandinho syndrome.” Tandinho is a Brazilian Portuguese term which, when used with a caring, exaggerated cadence, sounds like and is interpreted as “Bless your heart”—but meant truly, not like the passive- aggressive “Bless your heart” a South Georgia Grandma might give a transplanted New Yorker (not that I have ANY experience in hearing that tone … eye twitch eye twitch). Although kind, tandinho syndrome can be a detriment to the EL because the teacher cares but does not know what to do. So, the teacher gives the student a grade for being kind or respectful, though no work was given or completed. Tadinho syndrome can lead to Long Term English Learners (LTELs)—students who did not receive the correct scaffolds, accommodations, modifications, and communications to help them succeed academically. These students may overcompensate by using their speaking and listening skills over their reading and writing skills, which can confuse the ear, eye, and heart of a busy teacher with little EL training or strategy vault to tap into. So, they THINK the child is excelling when they are simply surviving.
Solution #1: The Best Teachers to Have!
Knowing you have kind, caring teachers in school is the greatest thing for an EL. Tap into these compassionate teacher-leaders and empower them with EL strategies. Invite them to attend conference and PDs, and to plan and co-teach with the EL teacher. Put paraeducators in their rooms for added assistance as a true testament to their efforts. Create EL leadership cohorts and other forms of appreciative inquiry to form a bond and a team of teachers where, with great EL PD and reflective practice, their TLC (tender loving care), becomes balanced with TLC (tough love culture), leading to a classroom anyone could walk into and see a GREAT teacher of EL—and of ALL students.
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By Dorina Sackman-Ebuwa