How do you effectively teach new concepts in English to such a diverse group of 8th grade students, while managing all of their linguistic and cultural differences at the same time?
DS: It’s not easy. There can be one student on grade level in their native language with experience in English sitting next to a student who stopped school at second grade in their home country who has had no formal education at all. Imagine literally having to teach a 13 year old child how to hold a pencil properly, while at the same time instruct another student on stronger transition words for essay writing.
There are also the cultural and psychological challenges of ELLs. Children are coming from so many unique and wonderful cultural backgrounds, so it’s my job to ensure that they are, in no way, losing their culture, but rather embracing it while learning an American one plus the cultures of his or her peers.
Finally, and most significant, is the reason(s) why my students came to the United States. Did a child come here on political asylum? Natural Disaster? Were they subjected to the increasing threat of child kidnapping? Was there a war? Was there divorce and now they are living with dad? Or are they here for a better life? These are just a few of the incredible silent stories of these children. It is imperative that I know them before I teach so I may be more aware of how to reach each child and his or her unique situation. After all, each child is different, adding another piece to the beautiful mosaic with his or her own unique color and personality.
That must be mentally draining, emotionally challenging and overall stressful. What drives you to do this work at the exemplary level you do it every day?
DS: Passion. A calling. Responsibility. Love. Love for those faces that I see every day. Love for their cultures that fuels me with a strong desire to know more; not for me per se, but for my students. It’s for them that I educate myself… so I have the ammunition to inform the curious or “innocently ignorant” of the various cultures joining our communities.
However, it’s imperative that my mission to raise this kind of awareness be heard by the “arrogantly ignorant”, that unfortunate, increasing number of individuals who choose not to learn about the beauty of diversity, and embracing difference. This drives me. If I educate children to communicate in English while still celebrating EVERY SINGLE ONE of their cultures, they too, will become fueled by knowledge and armed with a voice. No one can take that from them.