A couple of months ago I had a 4th-grade student stand in the middle of class and courageously said, "Mrs. Francis, what do I have to do to place out of ESL?" I went ahead and showed her the data and gave her step-by-step what she needed to do to place out of her ESL status.
Meanwhile, there were so many thoughts going through my head. I started to doubt myself as an educator...Does she not like me? Does she not like my class? What should I be doing differently?
She preceded, "Mrs. Francis, I like you and I really like your class. Even if I place out of ESL, I still want to come to your class"; "Is just that being an ESL student makes me feel like a failure!"
Her words hit me to the core of what I am about! In a matter of seconds, my life flashed before me. Her words made me relive how I felt for so many years as an ESL student and high school dropout.
My students and I started discussing the reasons why being an ESL student would make us feel the way it does. Together we brainstormed the following:
This powerful discussion allowed me to share with my students my own experience as a language learner. My students needed to hear from me that I also felt the way they feel, and that having the sense of failure does not make you a failure. On the contrary, failures we face today are stepping stones and detours to greatness.
Personally, this conversation opened my eyes to what my focus needed to be from that point on...start highlighting my students' strengths! Our ELs enrich our classroom culture with who they are and with the languages they speak. It is our job as educators to honor our students and empower them with tools and resources to shine...even if it's a little bit! Celebrate progress! Inspire them to dream, learn, and do more so they can become more. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs before Blooms!
Reading Sarah Ottow's post: "ELL Achievement Gap or Opportunity Gap" helped me understand that the academic achievement gap that exists among our ELs is not a 'within child' underachievement issue! If our ELs are walking our school hallways repeating to themselves, "I can't", "I don't", "I won't", then it is our job as responsible adults and educators to enlighten them and empower them to aspire for more. We can see the 'big picture'...so why not support them where they are...provide OPPORTUNITIES for students to begin closing their academic achievement gap.
So, inspired by Ms. Ottow's post, I began to look for ways to provide opportunities for my students to grow, and show that they CAN! I shared with them my personal narrative as an immigrant and as a newcomer student. I was transparent with them because I wanted to gain their trust. I wanted them to see me for who I am as a person and not as a teacher.
I encouraged them to begin their own blog and narrate their personal lives. Oh, boy! The stories I learned! One student began writing about the time his mother left him in Mexico with his grandparents...he grew up thinking that his grandparents were his parents. He met his mother when he came to the U.S. at the age of 8.
Another student began to write about being adopted because one day her dad came from Mexico and shot her mom and then shot himself! Her eyes were teary as she shared her story.
Another student wanted to share his story but just couldn't get his thoughts down on paper. When I told him he should write his story in Spanish, his pencil wouldn't go fast enough to write his words!
I am taking the time to get to know my students and at the same time, I am highlighting and valuing who they are. Highlight their strengths and you'll see their weaknesses disappear!
All it takes is to go the extra mile to cultivate a relationship with your students.
When they know you care...they'll do anything for you!
Thank you for reading!