Bridging the Language Gap

I have a journal where I jot down particularly hilarious or horrifying moments of my day. I teach Kindergarten so there are usually a lot to choose from. I always tell myself that I will write a book about it one day, but for now this journal helps keep me grounded in the reality of the good, the bad, and the ugly of teaching.

While I scroll through my notes on this year, what stands out the most are the stories and anecdotes about my English Learner (EL) students. Previously I taught in a rural, mostly white school. This year my classroom looks a lot different – 6 of my 19 students are EL students. These students come from homes where English is not their first language. I have families who speak Somali, Spanish and Arabic. Some students were born in the US and some came here very recently. For some, Kindergarten is their first experience with American schools. This is all a first for me. My second conference in September was a family with very limited English. Do you know many classes I took in college about working with EL families? One. Do you know how often I have used that info? Never. Do you know how many conferences I have previously had with an interpreter? None. Until this year.

Kindergarten is a wild ride no matter where you teach. Despite what people think, it is not all Pinterest projects, cute bulletin boards, and singing the ABC’s all day long. I am a reading teacher, math teacher, science teacher, social studies teacher, kleenex providing, shoe tying, coat zipping, tear wiping, make you think, make you say sorry, make you work together, provide scaffolding, make you move, make you take turns, make you share kind of teacher. When you teach Kindergarten or young elementary you are reminded each day about how a child sees the world – the wonderment of the seasons changing, how engaging a speck of dust can be, that a loose tooth is cause for smiles and one that is lost is reason for celebration. Through the eyes of some EL students this wonderment is magnified tenfold. One of my students always asks, “Is this real?” about everything. Bridging that language gap is incredible to watch, there is so much we take for granted that students understand/know and especially for students who come from different cultures you realize how much of what we say makes no sense (idioms anyone? No, it’s not really raining cats and dogs).

My EL families have been my greatest gift this year. They are so appreciative of everything you do for their child. I get hugs and a kiss on each cheek at the end of every day from one of my moms. I hear, “Thank you teacher, we love you teacher,” at the end of each and every day. It is so motivating and uplifting. Teaching is not a profession that you often feel appreciated.

Recently, one of my students moved away and as a parting gift, mom left me one of her personal scarves to wear to remember them by. I feel overwhelmingly blessed to be the teacher of all my students, but especially to these students. I hope they feel as loved as they make me feel.

They are the joy I didn’t know was missing in teaching.