Occasional Paper Series #39

Rethinking Parent Involvement: Perspectives of Immigrant and Refugee Parents

Zeynep Isik-Ercan

I arrived in the U.S. 15 years ago as a master’s student in early childhood education after teaching in elementary schools in Turkey. Becoming a permanent resident in my new country and parenting my two Turkish-American boys fueled my scholarly interest in the experiences of immigrant communities with their children’s early school years, specifically the ways they negotiate cultural and linguistic identities in educational settings. Among many encounters with my children’s teachers, one is particularly memorable.

Shortly after Enis, my older son, began attending the campus preschool at age two, his teacher asked me to speak only English at home to help with his transition into preschool. I was informed that my speaking to him in Turkish was the reason he scored low in the language development section of the Ages and Stages Questionnaire. Of course, as a doctoral student in early childhood/elementary education, I did not agree but thanked his teacher for the well-intended suggestion. Nevertheless, I do not remember being asked to be part of his classroom community or to bring in any expertise during that year.

Despite my experience and social capital as a scholar and teacher, I felt quite illiterate and vulnerable in my immigrant parent identity, dealing with a teacher who invalidated my cultural experiences and lacked interest in my family. Many memories later, my son, now a sixth grader, is a strong reader and writer and can write book chapters in both English and Turkish. Over time, I have learned to better advocate for my children, although my participation in school events has vanished over the years; admittedly, I still do not feel I belong, despite my perceived socioeconomic status.

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About the Author

Dr. Zeynep Isik-Ercan is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education. She also co-leads Early Childhood Leadership Institute, an initiative to support the region’s early childhood workforce in professional development and coaching. Previously, she served as an elementary education teacher, field coach for pre- and in-service early childhood teachers, liaison for university-early childhood center partnerships, and program director for teacher preparation program in early childhood. Her research focuses on culturally and linguistically diverse children and families, best practices in curriculum and instruction of young children such as science and technology integration, and professional development of practitioners and leaders in the field of early childhood education. Her research regularly appears in national and international scholarly publications and conferences. She holds a doctoral degree Early Childhood and Elementary Education from Ohio State University.