Teaching, in and of itself, has made me an advocate of all my students, and especially, as a Spanish Speaker, an advocate for my Hispanic students and their families.
See, teachers have many names. There are posts all over the internet, and posters plastered on many classroom walls about all the roles that teachers play, including: nurse, counselor, parent, judge, comedian, party planner, etc. But the most powerful role I fill is that of an advocate for my students.
This year I’ve made the strange transition from actively teaching Spanish as a Spanish teacher, to teaching High School English. I have maintained that I am still a Spanish teacher at my core, and this is certainly still true, but being in a core-content area classroom has taught me a lot about what goes on outside of the Foreign Language hallway.
I have always had all types of students in my classroom, but their goals, abilities, and interests were diverse, and the flexible nature of language allowed me to adjust to their needs very fluidly. Teaching a course associated with a State Exam, surrounded with these same students, but with much of the flexibility reduced (not gone) and time constraints imposed, has opened my eyes further to the needs of my students–especially my Hispanic students, Spanish-speakers, and ELLs.
Before, the very culture of my classroom generally meshed with theirs. The assignments we completed were valuable, even if they came with the native speaker and heritage learner “growing pains” many of us language teachers have to overcome with these kids.
Now, I’m faced with a language of instruction that, in itself, imposes dominance. I can throw these kids a cultural bone with relevant readings or topics, but I can’t fundamentally change the elephant in the room.
I spent five years helping English Speakers understand the concept of the other.
Now, I’m reminded that the other still exists, and many of my students are part of it.
This whole issue came to a head for me today during a conversation about English Language Learners with a colleague. We discussed the intricacies and complexities involved in deciding if an English Language Learner is Dyslexic, or even in need of Special Education Services. There are so many issues here that I’d need a whole separate space to write about them. I’ll do my best with some bullet points:
- A test for disabilities given in English to an ELL is inherently flawed, because it would be near impossible to tell if the deficit is cognitive, or linguistic.
- Tests like these given in Spanish to Native Speakers are often flawed as well, especially if: (1) they are written, as many Spanish Speakers were not formally educated in their country, so they are not literate in the language and (2) the test was written in a dialect other than their own (ex. Spain vs. Mexico).
- English tests are often given to ELLs because they “speak English”–which is usually not broken down between their BICS (skills for everyday conversation) and their CALP (academic or technical language skills).
- “Speaking English” is very different from WRITING and READING it. Many student compensate verbally after many years, but remain years behind in writing and writing, which makes them “appear” learning disabled on paper.
- Placing entire generations of ELLs in Special Education and 504 services is institutional racism, because it equates their language deficit with a cognitive deficit.
- These students are often underserved. WAY. Underserved.
- Many students come to school as English Language Learners, but are not able to be identified because their parents are afraid to admit Spanish is spoken in the home.
- Schools exasperate the problem when they do not have the foresight required to provide community liaison support for these families.
I’m going to have to stop there. I really am. I got pretty fired up today, because while I tried to explain all this, the other person understood, but didn’t really understand. The person cares, as much as I do. But the misunderstandings prevail, and kids get lost in the mix.
So, today, and every day, I’m an advocate. The biggest job of an advocate is to educate. Not only do I educate my kids about the content, but I also work to educate them about themselves. I work to educate those around me. And, I keep repeating myself until someone listens.
I am a teacher. I am an advocate.
p.s. If you are reading this, please consider supporting my trip with the Pulsera Project, while I seek to continue learning how to best advocate for my students and community.