“Language is power, in ways more literal than most people think. When we speak, we exercise the power of language to transform reality. Why don’t more of us realize the connection between language and power?” – Julia Penelope
Living in Mexico and Cuba really opened my eyes to the power of language and also the language barriers of those from different cultures. In writing this blog, I wanted to capture the viewpoint of a teacher who has worked with English language learners; international, refugee and/or mixed raced students, to highlight the impact of culture in American’s educational system.
Cassandra Allen is a veteran Educator who has served the children of Dekalb County for over 29 years. Mrs. Allen has worked with the State’s English Language Learners since 2000 with the hopes of helping this population of students acclimate to our country, it’s language and traditions while retaining their own ethnic identity. Mrs. Allen’s ultimate desire is to significantly contribute to the academic and social success of these learners and all others under her guidance.
As the faces of our nation continue to change, we as Educators must change our view of education. It is no longer enough to say, “All children can learn”; we must embrace and accept the statistical proof that all children do learn. It is time to look at success through the eyes of historians and see all children as a blank slate anticipating all the knowledge, direction and guidance we can offer with the expectation that each child can make a significant contribution to society.
Q1: What role do language barriers play in the achievement gap? In order to bridge the achievement gap with ELL’s (English Language Learners), we must first stop seeing second language as a barrier, but rather as a hurdle which students can jump over given the right training and tools. Barriers impede learning while hurdles accelerate growth.
Q2: How does a culturally diverse learning, environment increase student achievement? A culturally diverse learning environment is a pool of knowledge and experience. The integration and acceptance of these varied cultures fuels the desire to learn and grow.
Q3: In what ways do ELL students find success academically and what do they struggle with the most? International students experience success daily as they acquire new social skills and adopt and master a second language. Their strong desire to thrive in a new land propels them to work hard and make academic strides.
Mrs. Allen shares that the most rewarding experiences she has had as a teacher center around accolades of thanks from former students. This year alone she has run into 3 former students who are currently enrolled in college while working to finance their education and living. These students have the same drive, determination and hope they had in her class over 10 years ago. She is first always thrilled that her former students remember and recognize her as she’s mature over the years; but she is more thrilled and elated when they tell her she inspired them to seek higher education and pursue their dreams. Seeing the joy and excitement in their eyes when they see me speaks volumes and the impact she had on their lives. She is humbled that she’s been gifted with the ability to nurture, inspire and shape the lives of our youth.
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.