Welcome back! We’re here again together, considering the challenges to and solutions for ensuring that EL children receive the quality equitable education they deserve.
In Part 1, we considered the Tandinho Syndrome & TLC2. If you didn’t get a chance to read the first part of my blog, please do that now. We have two more challenges – and solutions – to consider:
Challenge #2: The Arrogantly Ignorant & the Law
In contrast to the innocently ignorant compassionate teachers with Els on their roster (as we considered in Part 1), there are, unfortunately, content area teachers who are instead “arrogantly ignorant” to teaching EL. The teachers who say, “I don’t speak Spanish,” “It is not my job to teach English in a math class,” “I don’t have time to teach EL; I have a science scope and sequence I need to follow and I already have regular kids who are behind!” and the famous, “That’s your job, not mine. The “You are the EL teacher so all I will do is Google Translate!” teachers.
If you squinted your eyes on the “regular kids” term like you just got a paper cut, then you feel the pain of the EL advocate on a daily basis. I will tell you, in all my years of traveling to various districts and serving districts, this is more apparent now than ever. This behavior and belief toward ELs in the arrogantly ignorant (AI) teacher’s classroom are why, too often, EL students become withdrawn in class, don’t go to class, are late for class, and act out in class, all while the teacher is putting the blame on the child or the communication barrier they feel exists because English is not front and center. The beauty of knowing and observing the AI educator in one’s school is finding the leaders within once you lay down the law. And by law, I do mean the law of teaching ELs. A teacher, by Supreme Court law, cannot deny an EL an education and must do their best to provide the necessary scaffolds, accommodations, modifications, and communications to help them succeed academically. From Plyler v. Doe to Lau v. Nichols, and even the incredible Castañeda v. Pickard cases and their results, we have so many different laws. All of these are the result of incredible JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) Warriors of EL who, when faced with an AI teacher, know that the law is the first step in empowering the reluctant teacher with ELs on their roster!
Solution #2: It’s the Law, Partner!
I know what you may be thinking. Great, another thing to for teachers to worry about? Sure, there are a lot of things going on right now. Teachers have so much on their plate and so often we want to alleviate that pressure so the teacher can shine and instruct ALL children with their passion for their subject. But when faced with a teacher who believes that they don’t have to or won’t instruct all the children on their roster because they feel it isn’t part of their lessons or their role as a teacher of a content area subject, having the law on your side as an EL advocate is the best Rx for planting the seed of understanding and equity into the heart and mind of that AI teacher.
Prepare a professional development series early on in the year for EL teachers, the new allies mentioned in Challenge #1, the state, district, parents, and community members on the laws of teaching EL and the benefits of knowing the laws. Give the gift of a model lesson for a reluctant teacher to show how just one or two adjustments to their teaching and way of thinking can bring out the best in both teacher and EL student. Give the gift of a fully scaffolded unit of study—an editable version, which can be recycled and reused for the teacher to see the ease of differentiation with intention. Have administrators do “appreciate inquiry walkthroughs” and acknowledge the “glows and grows” of the AI teacher as they begin their journey of abiding by the laws of equitable EL education, while reflecting on their practice and enhancing their teaching arsenal.
Though you cannot win over all the AIs in the school, you will find that with effective strategies, open communication, genuine El equity walkthroughs, and honest dialogue about the laws of teaching ELs and the motto ROSTER = RESPONSIBILITY, a gradual change will come about. However, this change starts from within … which leads to the last challenge:
Challenge #3: Cultural Competence and Teaching EL
As wonderful as it is to offer effective strategies on teaching ELs in the classroom, it is still merely the HOW. No academic strategy can truly stick until there is a much deeper dive into the WHY of teaching EL. Because it is a collective effort to ensure the safe and beautiful educational experience of EL, if we start from within, everyone will win. There is a direct relationship between cultural competence and teaching ELs. It is so much more than the English language, and when teachers see this, they will teach like JEDI Warrior they are!
Solution #3: Lens of Life
The first step on this journey is to truly understand one’s own “lens of life.” As a facilitator of this powerful personal and professional learning experience, I collaborate with teachers to help them find the “lens” or “frame” through which they see they world—not the one the world sees them through. For example, perhaps your religion is of great value to you, and you see the world through your faith. Maybe you grew up in a military family and now you see the world through a military lens. Perhaps your faith, military upbringing, political views, and life as part of a sixth-generation American Midwest family are all how you see the world. Across from you, another educator could be a Bronx-born agnostic from a single parent household who is an avid traveler and sees life through a Gen Z lens. Look at the difference!
Now, place your thoughts about English learners into those lenses. Does it impact how you see an English learner? If a child on your roster is from Mexico, and you have your specific thoughts about border control and immigration, does that impact how you see your student from Mexico? What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Is that fair? Does knowledge of the law impact your lens? Are you willing to take off YOUR lens of life so that you may see your student not as “the Mexican kid,” but as Maria Anita Lupita DeLuca Torres from Hidalgo, Mexico—an innocent child who has every right to be in the classroom to receive high—quality instruction from YOU, the expert?
Perhaps you are a teacher with an agnostic lens: How does it impact how you react to your student in a hijab who practices Islam and excuses herself in your classroom to ensure she completes her prayer times throughout the day? Does it make you stop and say, “Dina from Damascus, Syria, is an innocent child who just wants to learn. Am I putting my own lens on Dina? Is that fair? Can I teach Dina equitably?” These are serious and personal reflective questions that create the greatness of your teams as teachers. Some teachers have asked, “What does this have to do with teaching English?” After going through the first steps of understanding their own cultural competence, I let them answer.
So, dear friends, to conclude:
You’ve planted a seed. The seed is rooted in real. Teaching ELs is more than acronyms, laws, and lessons when you give it a little TLC2, an open mind, heart, and door, and a deeper understanding of yourself as a practitioner and beautiful person in this strange world … That is, if you B.E.L.I.E.V.E.
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By Dorina Sackman-Ebuwa