Before this school year, there were many days that left me smiling in appreciation for a career where I got to spend time with hundreds of precious teens and work with them to achieve their potential and much more. The days where corruption and deception tried to take hold of the youth in my care were few and far between. What a blessing! This school year has brought out the worst in most of us at one time or another. The mountain of problems in education that needs attention is so high that we feel like we are scraping ice from our windshield with a toothpick.
Today was a much needed relief to my very soul! I could still find plenty of things to be grumpy about, if I tried; my dog eating yet another piece of my couch when I wasn’t looking, finding out that the only cookies left were the burnt ones that nobody wanted, many students still not wanting to do assignments no matter how easy we have made it, change number 532 in our school procedures…etc. But today I saw success, at least in my eyes. We are trying out a new messaging system that will allow for easy translation when getting important messages to parents. This is huge! Bridging the language gap is something I beg for on every end of year survey for the district. Don’t misunderstand, there are efforts being made to strengthen connections with our students and parents who don’t speak English. However, I find that we are still in desperate need of help in that area.
When I am delivering science instruction, I know that some will find it challenging to absorb, even if English is their first language. I can only imagine how it must feel to sit in a science class and be one of only a few who have no idea what the teacher is saying. After my first year of teaching and seeing my English Language Learner (ELL) students watch the clock in agony, I teamed up with two loving teachers to try offering some alternative instruction that included more pictures, was easier to translate, or was written in Spanish (that is the primary second language I encounter, but I am sure we could also have success with other languages too). Right away, we experienced a positive change. Some students were making more effort to understand and even attempting to talk more in class (just like we tend to be nervous about trying to say new words we have learned, they are too).
This inspired me to work toward meeting them part of the way by learning some Spanish. I know I am not expected to, but I see it as a skill that would serve me well in all of life. Sometimes it is easy to forget how many different and beautiful languages there are on this planet because we only hear or use one most of the time. But why wouldn’t I just stick with the text with pictures and translations? Three words…Parent Teacher Conference. My students will find a way to fit in and adjust because that’s what kids do. But when a caring parent comes in and truly wants to be a part of their child’s education, I do not want language to defeat them. We need those kinds of parents so badly. Well, after two years of sporadic lessons in my spare time, I have made little progress. Perhaps this year the Spanish conversation will start flowing. I have attempted some phrases that made for some entertainment with my ELL students. They just politely giggle and shake their heads. I may not have said it right, but the respect I earned opened the door to willingness to try these new and difficult science concepts. I call that a success!
My hope is that my district will start to see so much success with this new message translating service that they will be encouraged to offer language training to their teachers and other staff. They have, in fact, offered Spanish classes in the past, but there were only a few short sessions and there wasn’t near enough time to learn it well. I can see two immediate benefits to teaching language to the staff. First, the district would spend less money hiring a few teachers to teach many teachers (we are good at learning in large groups) than they spend on this messaging service. Yay, more money for learning enrichment for our students. Second, they would be increasing the knowledge, skills, and confidence of their staff. When every student can be reached, it is truly a blessing! Oh wait…I just thought of one more reason. The students would know that even though they are new in town they are loved, valued, and respected.
In Mark 10:17, Jesus said, “…let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Jesus didn’t put any conditions on this command. He didn’t say, “…but only if they speak proper English.” ALL the little children are precious to Jesus. They all deserve the chance to learn and discover their purpose. We, the teachers, have the position and ability to carry out this important task for God. Are you ready? Time to roll up our sleeves and do better. The children are counting on us. We CAN reach them all!