Every year at around this time of year, my school gets an influx of ELL students. In the past month I have tested and helped place 3 new students at my school.
Each time a new student comes, I get this weird mixed feeling of excitement and dread. I've thought about this a lot; why dread? Why not all excitement?
For certain, some of this dread comes from the hours of testing and paperwork I will have to do. Blech. But, what's the rest about? Today I tested a new student who speaks very little English, and it dawned on me that the dread comes from putting myself in their place and wondering how they will surmount the challenges ahead.
The future can be daunting for a brand new arrival, even the ones who speak more English and are naturally outgoing. They will enter a new school more than halfway through the year. They might be facing a very, very different kind of educational system and teaching that they are not accustomed to. The language barrier will make many of them feel invisible, or stupid, or both. Our school is big and complicated, and so is our schedule. Some of them come without parents, or with one parent, or to live with a family member they hardly know.
Once they do become accustomed to life here, they will never be the same. They will always be stuck, one foot in each country, or "Ni de aqui ni de alla": neither from here nor there. When they are here, they will miss there and wish to go back. If they go back, they might miss here, their friends, their experience, their teachers. And in my experience, absence makes you idealize the life you left behind and your home.
Often when students who speak little English arrive, they feel invisible for a long time, until they can carry on a conversation in English (and sometimes, even then it's hard). Today I asked my students about how they felt when they first arrived and here's what they said:
"I felt like I am from another planet because the kids were looking at me so weird."
"I felt like you are not a person."
On the first day I felt strange because I was in a school I didn't know. I still feel strange because I don't know a lot of people and most people don't speak Spanish."
Then I asked them what they would like their peers who are not English Language Learners to know about them. They said:
"I would tell them that just because people from other countries don't speak English doesn't mean they are less intelligent."
"I would tell students who are not in ELL that ELL students are so smart, but they don't know English."
And one said, "I would tell them ELL is boring!" - when I asked him what he meant by boring, he said that it is boring because no one talks to you and you are alone most of the time.
When I watch the non-ELL students and even the ELL students who have been here many years, I think they would like to reach out to the ELL students, but don't know how to because of the language barrier - so, they don't.
When I told my students my plan to help address the issue of invisibility of ELL students, which is to interview ELL students and adults in our school and compile their answers into a video to show the school, they groaned, "Nooooooooo!!!!." I tried to entice them by telling them they will be the reporters on this project, but they didn't bite. Finally, I told them they didn't get to decide this time (teacher's prerogative!) - I almost always take surveys and poll them about their interests to help decide the topics we will study. This time, I think they need a little push to help them become more visible to our community.
If we get that project off the ground, I will keep people posted. Have you done video projects with your students? If so, how? Ideas for editing video and easiest cameras to use for such a project? Please let me know in the comments section!