Bilingual education is a hot topic in the spheres of education. While various camps have questioned the effectiveness of it, most educators I know agree that not only is bilingual education fair and necessary, but bicultural education is a significant part of an English Language Learner's (ELL) life at school. Shannon Longworth discusses the roles educators play as ELL teachers, along with the role of a student in bilingual education class. On a personal level, I know Shannon as both a dedicated and intelligent educator, and a chauffeur from time to time during the school year. If there's one thing that's true about her, it's that she commands respect in her quiet, gentle way of being, not to mention, her admirable skill of navigating her way through ice and snow in 2-3 inch heels! Read her piece that identifies the various roles of educators and what it takes to be inclusive. Enjoy!
During my junior year of college I was asked by a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to write my philosophy of education, which was a challenge at first. Eventually I realized that my philosophy of education was quite simple; it consisted of the belief that all children have the right to a quality education in which they feel valued, their culture is appreciated, their strengths as a student are celebrated, and all of their needs as a student and child are met in order to reach the ultimate goal of education: developing students into productive members of society who can accomplish their personal goals in life, whatever they might be. When I considered what my role as a teacher should be in the educational world, I understood my role to be one of a guide in which I would provide learning opportunities that fit the learning goals and needs of my students, I would provide a classroom filled with a sense of community so that all of my students felt safe and accepted, and I would differentiate my lessons in order to meet the various learning styles of my students. Finally, I saw the role of my students to be one of becoming life-long learners who are committed to their education and their futures.
Now that I am an ESL/Bilingual teacher I find that my basic philosophy of education still applies to how I view bilingual education, however with bilingual education comes an additional set of goals and beliefs. First of all, one of the goals of bilingual education should be to develop and maintain students’ high levels of proficiency and literacy in their native and second language, while learning in the content areas. Bilingual education needs to respect the power of students’ first language and what that means in terms of their relationships with family members, the community, and their home culture. To take away that aspect of their life would not be developing them into productive members of society, but would rather deflate their sense of self and, in the end, ruin their chances of reaching their goals in life. A second goal of bilingual education should be to help students become bicultural. By doing so, more opportunities can open up for these students as they grow into adults who are able to function and maneuver in what often feels like two worlds, their home culture and the majority culture. Finally, bilingual education should encourage family involvement and tap into the funds of knowledge that students and their families bring into the classroom. By utilizing these funds of knowledge, teachers can make school a more inviting place for students and families, and truly empower our students as they learn and work towards their goals.
In bilingual education the role of the teacher is similar to that of the role of the general education teacher in that the teacher should act as a guide and provide differentiated learning experiences for students at all levels. However, often one of the roles a bilingual teacher takes on is that of an activist. General education teachers also act as activists for their students, however in a bilingual setting teachers often face situations that general education teachers do not in terms of the resources they are provided, or the inclusion or exclusion of their students and families in the school community. One way for teachers to help with the inclusion of their students with the rest of the school community is be collaborating with other teachers in the building. By collaborating with other teachers, whether it is with grade level teachers, specials teachers, or support staff, bilingual teachers can help their students feel part of the school community and help other teachers and students see bilingual students as a valuable asset to the school.
As for the role of students, their role in bilingual education is also similar to the “regular” education students. Students in bilingual education needed to be committed to their education; however they needed to be committed to their native and second language as well. In order for students to succeed in the bilingual program they, with the support of their teachers and families, need to be dedicated to the development of their proficiency and literacy in two languages. With the help and guidance of their families, communities, teachers, and schools ELLs can reach their personal goals, as well as the goal of becoming bilingual and bicultural.
Taking on the responsibility of educating our bilingual students should not solely fall on bilingual teachers, students, and parents. In order to utilize this model appropriately there are several key factors that need to be addressed by the district, administration, and staff. One critical component in implementing this model is to have an administration, staff, student body, and community that fully believe in the value of bilingual education and our bilingual/bicultural students. However, actions speak louder than words. We cannot stop at believing, we need to take our beliefs to the next level… making bilingual education a way of life.