The reason I chose to become a bilingual teacher is because there’s a great need to – for – to teach language minority students here in the state I live in, California. Um, I grew up here in Los Angeles, and I learned Spanish in high school and college, and found that there was, like I said, a great need for bilingual teachers and such a shortage of people who could address the needs of language minority students that I felt sort of it was like my obligation as a Spanish speaker to come in and teach these kids.
Okay, this is my second year teaching and last year I was uh a bilingual teacher. I had a full bilingual classroom, which meant that all language arts, all content areas were taught in Spanish. Because of a recent policy change, a state-wide initiative process, I’ve had to sort of bifurcate my class and I’ve had half of my students been placed – they’ve been placed in what is called a “Model B” program where they receive all of their language arts instructions in English, and then I have my other half who are continuing on with the bilingual program. Um you know, the difficulty in that is that last year I had kids who were really coming up – as a 2nd grade teacher I could see them really progressing and getting ready to go on to the next level, 3rd grade, and this year I see as I’m coming to the close of my school year, the children who have been placed in “Model B” are very – they’re very challenged, a lot of them are very frustrated, and finding that they’re not – they’re not ready and it’s – it’s – I don’t know how you say this. It’s sort of like you can see the frustration in them and it’s spilling over into the other areas where they’re aloud to use their home language or L1. It’s spilling over into that and I’m seeing them getting frustrated in areas where they’ve been successful, for example, math or science. So (Interruption)
So what I’ve noticed this year as I’m coming to the end of my school year is that my students whose – who have been – who’s parents have elected to put them in a “Model B” program, which means that all of their language arts is in English, I see the frustration in them and what I’ve noticed has been the – the worst effect, actually, of it is that in areas where they’ve been successful in the past, for example, in science or math, or social science, where they’re aloud to use home language to access the curriculum, they’re getting frustrated and just thinking, “I can’t do anything. I can’t do anything right.” And I know that these kids can do all kinds of things right, and so for me that’s the most frustrating part of this policy change.
Um on an intellectual level, my response to the recent, you know, legislation is one of frustration as – as my children are experiencing because in my credentialing process I’ve learned about different modalities, right, and how kids can transfer skills learned in L1 into L2, but what I’m seeing is that my kids aren’t even getting the chance to learn in L1 so they can’t make that transfer, and I’m seeing that I’m going to have students leave my classroom as partial bilinguals. And to me that’s a very frightening thought because if they’re not getting concepts in L1, L2 is just going to make it that much more difficult for them. So intellectually – I mean, also there is no research that supports a change of this magnitude. Right? There’s never been any research or – on language acquisition that says legislation works and I’m seeing in my classroom that indeed it doesn’t.
Um in terms of the practical day-to-day basis for my teaching how has it changed? Um if you notice in my room, everything is in English and Spanish, which in and of itself is not a problem except that another part of the – the legislation is that all of the homework for my students who are in “Model B” has to be in English. So I have to do basically two classes. I prep twice. I have homework in English; I have homework in Spanish. I have language arts in English; I have language arts in Spanish. And for me, in terms of my time, it’s very, very difficult to a, find the resources because we just don’t have them available and b, find the time to make up assignments for my kids at a level where they can access the curriculum so they don’t get frustrated and just give up. I saw a dramatic fall off in homework immediately following “Model B” students being, you know, placed in that program. Immediately following it. Kids who had never missed a day, never lost a homework assignment suddenly came in and said, “I don’t have it. My little sister ate it. It got thrown away.” I mean crazy excuses that were completely unrealistic. So – and – and then the other part of it is that my students who are still in bilingual will say to me things like “But I want the homework in English too.” And how do you address that? And for me it’s very, very difficult. I find I’m walking a thin line to say, “Well, this is a choice that Jose’s parents have made and your parents haven’t.” You know, and that’s – that’s really the only way I can address it.
My emotional reaction uh is – originally was one of shock. I just couldn’t believe that the voters of the state had let these students down in – in such – in such a manner that was to me incomprehensible, but I have had parents come in and I have – members of the general community have – have said to me, “Well, so what’s the problem? You’re in America. Teach in English.” And my response to that is “These students don’t have English language support at home and my students are in school for 6 ½ hours a day, and I could inundate them with English, but that still doesn’t mean they’re going to achieve fluency like they would in their native language because they have the support at home and they’ve spent 5, 6, 7 years immersed in that language. They know so many things in that language.” And I can just say “It’s like this” immediately in Spanish and my kids go “Oh, no problem. I’ve got it.” If I say it in English I get the blank stare, the “What?” And I’ve even had kids say to me in class when we do ESL, which you know I try to really lower the effective filter and say “Let’s look at this story that we know or let’s really do some hands on. Let’s do some TPR,” and – and I’ll have students still who will just freeze. “I don’t understand (speaks Spanish),” and that for me is the worst because there’s never a time that I want any student to come in this classroom and feel like “I can’t” because they can.
My response to a teacher who thinks that policy doesn’t affect them is you need to wake up because policy really does affect you. I mean I went through all of last year thinking “There’s no way that this state could say we will not allow children access to the curriculum,” and I live every day the horror of children who do not have access to the curriculum. It’s important that teacher’s voices are heard. We are on the frontlines. Every day in my classroom I really literally – I hate to employ this kind of language, but it’s like a war, and you have got to get as much into these kids as you can to make them successful because, especially in California, we’re having the total revamping of the state standards and they are not even looking at revisiting from grade 1 to grade 2. So you have to know, and if kids are not allowed to have (Interruption)
How can a teacher really affect change in policy? I think you do start in a classroom. You start actually with yourself first and knowing as much as you can about the content that you’re teaching, being really aware of what it is your students need to know. And then when you see, for example, if the state standards are asking your students to do something that in your experience has never happened, it might be a good time to bring that up. Um on a school wide level, teachers need to b involved with par – things like parent education. They need to be on curriculum committees, be very aware of the kind of materials they are adopting into their school because a lot of textbooks don’t really meet the needs of students. Some parts may and some parts may not and um you really need to be aware of what materials you’re putting out there for your students. On a district level – I mean I work in a very large school district, the second largest urban school district in the country. Teachers have to get out to board meetings. They have to make their voices heard and it’s – you know, I know it can be intimidating, but when I look back and say, “Why am I doing this? What is my mission?” And my mission as an educator is to make my students the most successful they can be. And so if I say, “You know, I’m afraid to get up and speak to the board members,” I look at my mission and I say, “No, I want my kids to be successful,” and if that means that I go downtown and I say, “We can’t adopt these textbooks” or “This is a bad idea,” that means I do it despite my fear because that’s what I’m here for. I’m here for my students.
Well, the decision to come into teaching for me was a long time coming and I took it very seriously and I was very conscious of the fact that when I became a teacher, I would be working in a bilingual environment. Um and when I think about that and what that means to me, especially in light of recent legislation and – and policy changes, is that my students have to have access to the curriculum. My students have to feel good about themselves and about school in order to succeed because we are an increasingly um technologically advanced world. A lot is expected of kids, way more then when I was in school. That’s – you know, that’s for sure. It was a lot different when I was back in school and I just think, “What can I do to improve my practice to make my students better in every way, in every sense of that word?” And that’s pretty much what drives me.
Okay. I mean I guess uh sort of a parting – a parting shot for me is that teachers, and students, and parents really have to work together so that their kids can achieve everything that is possible for them. And um there’s a lot of blame placed on educators and part of me says, you know, okay I can see where some of that blame can go, but we really have to look for what’s right because the job of educating our students, these children that come into my class every day, takes precedence over any kind of politics or pedagogy. It’s just we have to get kids to know what they need to know to be successful. And for me, like I said before, that’s what it’s all about. I’m a teacher to help kids. I’m here to facilitate their learning. I’m not here to put them down, to make them feel bad about themselves. I’m here to say, “Go and do it, and I know you can,” and give them the confidence to be successful.
Mandy Marvel: Fenstermacher, Manning, Ramaro, Oakes, Esquirel PAGE 1