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Education’s Stepchild: English Language Learners

“Don’t let him fool you; he’s been here since 2nd grade.”  “Administration doesn’t want us to translate in their L1.”  Those statements were made to me when I asked about what strategies were being used to help a particular ELL student.  I left that school but was left with scars which revealed themselves in the form of tears at a job interview.  The question was, “Why do you want to work with this population?”  I answered, “I am that population.”  Although I have an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Endorsement, the term Long Term English Language Learner is brand new to me.  I am a Long Term English Language Learner.

English is my third language.  In elementary school, I was briefly placed in the ESOL program.  I remember being given some exams in the fourth grade and after some time I wasn’t being pulled out of class.  They showed me pictures of animals and other mundane items which I had to name.  I don’t know if staying in the program would have made a difference to mastering the English language but I often feel as if I haven’t quite mastered the language.

As a special education teacher, I always gave my English Language Learners special education accommodations. As one of my Professional Developments, I decided to take an ESOL class at the district. It was completely ineffective.  There was no classroom management. We watched two movies and the teacher’s accent was completely incomprehensible. That training had no impact on my ability to teach ELLs.  As one teacher expressed in one study, I used to feel inadequate around Level 1 students. Because of where I taught, I was able to use my students’ L1 but I never felt effective.  Being able to speak a common language has nothing to do with teaching educational concepts.

As I reflect on what I have learned in this class, I realize that my past schools have missed the mark.  The objectives in this book have not been addressed at my one of previous schools.  After earning my ESOL Endorsement, I was able to help a Pakistani student who neither spoke nor understood a word of English. I do support communicating in a students’ L1 however it isn’t always possible. One approach in Hite, C. E., & Evans, L. S. article that is worth mentioning is to have a student centered environment rather than a teacher centered one. This helps to lower the affective filters. By doing this the students don’t feel like their actions are punitive. Contrary to Simmons, Ronald D., Jr. and O’Brien, J. articles where the participants found it useless to focus on cultural awareness, I believe that being aware of a person’s culture is most important. We often make jokes that we view as innocent but can misconstrued by people who aren’t in our same culture. Furthermore, respect is one of the key elements to succeeding with one’s students.

References

Hite, C. E., & Evans, L. S. (2006). Mainstream first-grade teachers understanding of strategies for accommodating the needs of english language learners. Teacher Education Quarterly, 33(2), 89-110.

O’Brien, J. (2011). The system is broken and it’s failing these kids: High school social studies teachers’ attitudes towards training for ELLs. Journal of Social Studies Research, 35(1), 22-38.

Simmons, Ronald D., Jr. (2009). The efficacy of Florida’s approach to in-service english speakers of other languages (ESOL) teacher training programs. Florida Journal of Educational Administration & Policy, 2(2), 112-126.

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3 Comments

  1. jeanniesc says:

    I agree with your assessment of English Language Learner education, and I don’t know if it is just that, as a country, we weren’t prepared to handle the majority of second language learners, or just that it was expected that students would just “keep up” with learning English. In either case, it has created a problem in our diverse communities, and an even bigger financial burden on the school districts. Students who aren’t prepared in English aren’t ready for academic work, and don’t succeed in school. (Freeman et al 156) I usually get these students and struggling English learners in my alternative program, and work to train them in core subjects to earn their GEDs instead of going back for their high school diplomas. It is a shame that their experiences over the years in their classrooms have left them with such a sour taste that they have absolutely no interest in school whatsoever. The high school allows for rolling admissions, so I find myself getting new students on a monthly basis. And they do have to do double the work just to learn their core areas.I am not a Special Ed Teacher, but I can tell that many of them have learning disabilities which have never been addressed. This is in reverse to Cummins’ study which notes that ELL students are placed in special education because they are assumed to have learning deficiencies rather than just not having enough exposure to the material. I think most districts equate the two as being similar. My problem is in the alternative school, but is funding by the ever diminishing adult education program.

    • missbee75 says:

      You are absolutely right. Even though I was never faced with the GED route I feel for my students. I have more experience at alternative centers and I believe that we are doing a disservice to the special needs population. In reference to your comment about our readiness to deal with immigration we know that the statisticians are doing their jobs. Years ago, they predicted that the mental health industry would see an influx of patients due to 9/11 and the war and sure enough it came to pass. The point is, this isn’t the first influx of immigrants to hit our country. I will say this even though I am one of them, non-education majors are part of the problem. The other part of the problem is the state. When the State of Florida accepted my Business Degree they should have made ESOL(English for Speakers of Other Languages) a requirement. As far as them maybe being special education candidates, we will never really know what came first the chicken or the egg unless of course if they have an obvious defect. There is such a thing as environmental special ed. The brain needs to be fed and if our students have been in non-progressive environments then they will have learning difficulties.

  2. missbee75 says:

    So my professor admonished me to change my blog title because it seems too targeted. After reading these chapters, I stand behind my title! Chapter 7, which is titled Discourse Analysis, highlights ELLs or better yet their exclusion. Discourse analysis focuses on people and their community. Thus, to understand sense-making in language it is necessary to understand the ways in which language is embedded in society and social institutions such as families and schools (Gee, 2012). Although my brother had taken English in Haiti, he felt that he could benefit from night classes at the high school. I remember seeing an assignment which called for writing sentences. He had used the correct grammar however he had not used some words in the appropriate context. He came home upset and could not understand why the teacher had marked the sentences wrong. True, I know the grammar and the words, but yet I know not how to speak them (Gee, 2012). That statement was made by Dracula who realizes that words alone aren’t enough to be part of a social circle.

    It took me so long to speak English with confidence. I knew the words but I did not know how to really put them together. I stayed silent for a long time. Dracula says, “…a stranger in a strange land,” I was in a strange land with strange primary Discourses. When I look at our little African-American girl Leona from Chapter 8, I’m reminded of Alex Haley’s Roots. She comes from a rich culture that influenced her to the point that she can take it to school. She talks about her family’s tales in the same way that Alex Haley got to know his history. Yes, my title is still appropriate because Leona would be considered SEL and we see how her story is swept under the rug. She is made to feel insignificant because her primary Discourse is different and therefore makes her secondary Discourse different. ELLs and SELs are society’s stepchild. There is an apparent movement that is on the prowl to wipe out anything that is different. Leona doesn’t fit in mainstream culture. Mainstream culture was established by the very people who perpetuate it and there are only a handful of people that can really fit in that culture. Leona-though only seven years old-is very much part of a specific cultural tradition of sense-making, a tradition rooted in African-American history in the United States and Africa (Gee, 2012).

    I remember being interviewed for my first teaching position in 2005. The interviewer asked me about Differentiated Instruction. I had no clue. She was nice enough to explain it to me; I still didn’t get it. I wasn’t an Education major. Today, I know what Differentiated Instruction is as well as Multicultural Education. However, too often teachers aren’t prepared to teach the students who sit in their classes. Other times, they may not care because their trainer didn’t care. In the readings from Chapters 7 through 10, I heard a loud voice telling me that any primary Discourse that is contrary to the mainstream primary Discourse is not accepted. There are some of us that were raised to not look into our elders eyes. There are some of us that were raised to not be heard and only seen. I realize that we are the transplants, however there should be some allowances made for our diversity.

    References

    Gee, J. P. (2012). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses. New York: Routledge.

    Simmons, Ronald D., Jr. (2009). The efficacy of Florida’s approach to in-service english speakers of other languages (ESOL) teacher training programs. Florida Journal of Educational Administration & Policy, 2(2), 112-126.

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