Faculty Blog Post - Seeing the Wind: English in ClassroomsPosted by Cristian Solorza in Graduate Admissions on Jan 19, 2017
Although you cannot see the wind you know it’s there. You feel it. It’s seemingly everywhere and nowhere. When you think you see it, you’re not seeing it at all, but detecting what it carries.
My mother often complains about viento zonda engulfing her home. Strong winds travel down the Andes Mountains and form into opaque walls of dust. It finds its way behind every closed door and behind seemingly impenetrable panes of glass. Even after recruiting the finest team to clean every square centimeter of my parent’s Mendocino home, the sunlight always finds dust hiding in the shadows.
The English language is much like the wind.
English permeates every teaching experience, even those unspoken. It carries our national politics effortlessly into school buildings, our homes, across oceans, and stealthily into our hearts. It affects every student’s learning experience as well.
Our students are both graced and burdened by the wind.
The politics of using a language other than English in a U.S. classroom matters the most to our language learners. It matters to educators too, but I’ve come to realize that the privilege of speaking English dissipates urgency and provokes amnesia. When the curriculum asks for critical thinking skills, close reading, or academic language, and when policymakers talk of closing the achievement gap, teachers must remember that we teach students not practices. Ironically, in the name of what’s “good for them,” we require students to leave behind integral parts of who they are before entering a classroom. Instead of valuing their entirety we inspire silences. Unlike the dust, their journeys, religions, lost relationships, and distinct beliefs fail to find their way into school buildings.
When our very own viento zonda approaches…
- Consider allowing students to use their language(s) instead of English.
- Consider assessing them in a language they know best in addition to English.
- Consider reinvigorating scripted lessons to make room for who they are as people.
- Consider creating interventions for curriculum, not for students.
Deciding to pursue a career as an ENL or bilingual teacher cannot be taken lightly. You enter a field that immediately forces you to define your beliefs regarding language use in schools. Confront any biases and boldly move forward; the bruising heals gracefully through conversation, patience, reflection, bravery, and humility. We must navigate uncertainty by making deliberate instructional decisions based on students first, not the voices in the wind. We must honor students’ experiences by preserving all that English cannot communicate while protecting the languages that can. To do any less would be negligent.
When you can’t feel or see the wind, pause.
Like the sun, we must feel the invisible and see what is suspended in the shadows.
Cristian Solorza is the program director for both the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and Dual Language/Bilingual Education programs.