Posts Tagged 'students'

Welcome to America (when cultures and classrooms collide)

United Earth

As an ELL teacher I encounter students from all over the world. I love it. It keeps me from living in my own little “USA” bubble. I’m forced to remember that I’m a global citizen and I have a responsibility beyond my own zip code!

But I digress…

This is not a political post. I’m not aiming to discuss anything that has to do with immigration, foreign aid, or any other politically-driven hot topic. At this point, I can’t do much about those issues so I’m focused on my current reality: a classroom filled with various religions, skin colors, languages and immigration statuses.

And ya know what’s really great? NONE of those things matter to me…

These are MY kids, MY students and it’s MY job to ensure they are prepared to make this world better – regardless of where they are from or where they are going. So what spurred this random post? I’ll tell you…

A new student came to our school 2 days before Spring Break. His family had arrived in the US from the Dominican Republic on a Tuesday and Thursday they were in the front office signing their children up for school. There was some discrepancy because they claimed their son had finished 9th grade in their home country. However, his birth certificate places him in 8th grade here in the states.

They were a bit upset he couldn’t begin his education at the high school level but they understood and we assured them that the next 9 weeks would be a great time of language acquisition and preparation for high school.

So Carlos (that’s not his real name) enrolled as an 8th grader at our school and for the 2 days before Spring Break we were careful to pair him with a student that would make sure he felt safe, secure, and informed.

Upon returning from Spring Break, Carlos showed how incredibly intelligent and capable he truly was. His cursive is the most beautiful penmanship you’ve EVER seen. I could sense his frustration with not knowing the language but being familiar with the content – he’s had all this before! I was watching him closely.

By Friday of the first full week back it was clear the “honeymoon” period had worn off. Most students go through the same phases when it comes to accepting and adjusting to their new life in the US. However, the speed and severity of each phase can differ.

Suddenly, Carlos was going behind my desk, sitting in my chair, touching things on my desk, writing on the board, talking while I was talking, repeatedly chewing gum in class, etc…

After using Google Translate, asking other students to translate the expectations, being compassionate and kind in my reminders – I’d had enough.

We went to our amazing school interpreter and had a little chat. First I asked, “Carlos, how are you feeling here at school? Do you feel like you know what is expected of you and how everything works?”

The interpreter communicated his response: “I just feel like I’ve lost a lot of my freedom.”

Without even thinking I quipped, “Welcome to America”. The interpreter giggled and I realized I was being a bit snarky and trying to be funny but my statement had some dark truth to it.

I realized I had never asked him what school was like where HE came from. We do that at the beginning of the year to help students understand behaviors and expectations – but the kids who come the last quarter of school – well, it’s easy to forget that their “new” is just as real as our “old” and we have to meet in the middle.

Here’s the thing. I’m not apologizing for, nor softening the expectations and rules in my classroom. However, I needed this reminder that even though my year is ending, his is just beginning – in this new land with this new language and new these new surroundings.

Compassion is not my greatest strength, I’m a type-A, task-oriented person…

But my students continually challenge my heart and my spirit to remember that their culture is rich, alive, and precious to them. As I develop their language skills and help them navigate their new reality I need to also appreciate and recognize what they bring to my room.

So if you know someone from another country. If your neighbor believes something different – reach out, listen, and discover. This isn’t about agreeing or conceding – this is about recognition and appreciation.

The stories I hear from students truly rock my world. They face a reality and uncertainty I’ve never known. I guess that’s why I’m so committed to ALWAYS being a safe, solid place where they can land. My classroom will provide structure, consistency, and encouragement – it has to – no options here. I’m tough, but it’s because I believe in them, not because I don’t care and they know that to be true (at least I hope they do!)

Update on Carlos…

We’re calling home tomorrow because he’s starting to bother some girls and he keeps breaking rules he clearly understands are in place. Does this mean he’s a bad kid or a difficult case?


He’s just a kid. No matter where they came from or are going – they are mine right now and I will do everything in my power to show them they are worth the effort and investment.

Carlos – get ready. It’ll be tough at first, but nothing worth having comes easily. We’re in this together.

For everyone else reading this. Please be the compassion and kindness this world so desperately needs right now. Make your kindergarten teacher proud and teach others as you’d like to be treated, share what you have, and never fuss about being the first in line – we’re all on the same journey, just enjoy the person walking with you –


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