F for Foreign, F for Fail
I am a teacher. Not the title I want on my gravestone but a teacher nonetheless. It’s a job, a means to an end, my meager money-making profession of choice. To narrow it down farther, I’m an international quasi-ESL classroom teacher following the American Common Core curriculum, instructing in English, expected to assess ESL learners according to a rather rigorous Westernized standard. Herein lies the problem. And unlike Disney, there is no snap-your-fingers abracadabra sort of solution.
How do we (as a collective commune of international educators) balance grade-level expectations with the fact that student who are non-Native English speakers simply cannot access the curriculum at grade level? The obvious answer is differentiation. And it’s done rigorously in my class and within the school as a whole. In fact, a handful of identified students are taught separately by a Teaching Assistant for ELA (English Language Arts). Within this targeted teaching group of five students, there may still be substantial variation: a child reading 2 grades below grade level, 2 children reading 3 grades below grade level, another 2 children reading 4 grades below grade level.
In isolation, a student lagging behind the norm (as stipulated by the curriculum) can be accommodated for. But when the minority becomes the majority, and according to Common Core standards nearly all students in a given class are not up to snuff, we all deserve a big fat F for failing to understand the most basic of principles: we all struggle sometimes.
Today, I was confronted with the question from a concerned parent, “What does my child’s English problems have to do with his struggles in Math?” I didn’t know quite how to explain it at the time –however with more consideration I guess it boils down to the fact that language is language. A child who has difficulty understanding a comprehension question in English (i.e. “What happened after Humpty Dumpty had a great fall?”) will equally struggle to understand a question along the lines of “Fill in the oval next to each equivalent fraction or mixed number.” Huh? I suspect that this is often what students are thinking in my class. WTF. A quotation bubble with asterisks, a question mark and exclamation point written in it.
And if there miffed, I’m also miffed. What good is it assessing ardent Arabic speakers according to a metric which is known to be ill-suited for conducing positive results?
If I had an answer, I’d offer it now. If I knew which way to turn, I’d take the wheel and steer us to the promised land.
In the meantime: Inhale, exhale, explore, experience.
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