Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Flooded" with questions about my ESL students

Rodriguez's chapter stood out to me much more than Collier's for a few reasons, but mostly because it related the most to my classroom and experiences this year. I was at first struck by the nuns visiting Richard's home. Not only was school coming into the home, but the dominant religion was also entering by sending nuns who were teachers. I thought Rodriguez's reflection on initially seeing this was profound, especially because he was so young. At an early age, he noted, "From the doorway of another room, spying the visitors, I noted the incongruity - the clash of two worlds, the faces and voices of school intruding up the familiar setting of home" (Santa Ana 35).

This stood out to me mostly because of the story I shared last week about the student's mom who wanted to come to school and have a meeting on the spot when I called about her son's deficiency. She had looked up this foreign word and knew it was bad and wanted to fix is so that he could succeed. I remember feeling so panicked as to what to do during this situation. Here I usually am complaining that parent's don't care, because more often than not, they seem not to when I call; but this woman cared deeply, but she also didn't understand the system she so wanted her son to succeed in. What is ironic, is in an assignment we completed during the quarter her son chose a song named "Successful" by a popular rapper as the song that most reflected his life. He spoke of how he wanted to be a doctor, he wanted the expensive car, he wanted money. However, I wonder if this is his goal, or if his parents want these goals. I know he wants to be successful, but what defines success in his household. When I told this particular student I spoke to his mother, he immediately tensed up. We discussed how she wanted to come to school and that she probably didn't understand my message. Only one word can describe this student's body language and demeanor: uncomfortable. I felt bad for him, I felt bad for her, and I even felt a little bad for me. None of us were really communicating with each other, yet we all share a common goal, wanting the student to succeed. The student has learned code-switching, he speaks English fluently, assimilates to the dominant culture; but, at the same time, has come to school wearing Egyptian clothing to showcase his heritage and clearly has a close relationship with his parents. What both articles did for me was point out that it is easier for children to learn a language and to code switch, as teachers, many individuals are unwilling to code-switch, they are unwilling to let student's home culture guide their literacy, and that is not fair or productive to the learning environment. We need more Zeke's in the world, who are willing to use student's culture to guide instruction.

I know that none of these issues were even apparent to me until I really paid attention to my students. I have lived a life with one language and one culture which I am proud of, how can anyone take an other's culture away, not just the culture of their ethnicity, but the culture of their family. I know I would never sacrifice the culture of my family, it is unique and special, and so much a part of how I react to and interpret the world.


  1. Jill, I also thought that the statement made by the author as he looked back at his childhood-- the clashing of two worlds-- was powerful. I thought it was interesting how the child looked at it as an intrusion on his family life. It felt like Rodriguez had already seen how this visit was going to change his life.

    I loved your story about your student's mother who was so unsure of your conversation, but so concerned about her child and his success. I think it is a great connection to "Aria" and I thought of you often while reading it. I am glad that your student still shows the connection to his culture and the closeness to his parents at the same time.

  2. Jill,

    I too had a similar experience in regards to success. My first year of teaching, I had a horribly behaved group of 8th graders. They were so bad that each day before I went into school that first year, I would sit in the parking lot for like 10 minutes and run this thought through my brain: Thousands of dollars were spent for me to go to college, I worked my butt off in college, I'm getting crappy pay, and I have to actually get out of my vehicle and deal with their crap!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So with this in mind, I decided to do a super duper awesome "goal" lesson-a lot like the whole "white teacher goes into crappy school and changes it all" movies. We talked about success and what goals we had for the future. I asked them what they considered to be good jobs for when they were finished with school. I got a wide range of answers, but mostly all seemed to fit the "paper or plastic" or "would you like fries with that" type of jobs. I'll never forget that lesson. Their idea vs. my idea of success was like night and day. Is it bad? No. I think that is what some of them thought was okay. "Dad runs the gas station, and I'll take it over when I'm ready." I feel bad now reflecting about how I left school thinking poorly of them.

  3. Jill,

    I thought of you when I read the first article and your story last week. I also agree with your blog statement, students should feel proud of their culture and family. I think we as educators and the school as a whole need to put more emphasis on their cultures and background.

    I remember in high school, my social studies told us to think of America not as a melting pot, but more of a cornucopia. I always think of that statement when I read stories like this. Students should be proud of their family and their history.

  4. I completely agree, we need more Zeke's in the world, who are willing to use student's culture to guide instruction." I guess my question is how can we become well-versed in all the cultures of the students that we teach? I have such a variety of student culture and I think if I always tried to use culture in my teaching and use teachable moments I would never have time to teach my required curriculm. So overall, How as educators can we find the right balance?