Educate, advocate, elevate: Principles for investing in English learners

Guest Blog: MinneTESOL President, Sambath Ouk:

MinneTESOL is a professional association of teachers of English as a Second Language in Minnesota and neighboring states dedicated to the education and support of students acquiring English at all levels of public and private education. Observing all the heart and passion educators put in on behalf of students is how we come up with our slogan – “Educate, Advocate, Elevate.” Below is some of the ways MinneTESOL and its members are working together to invest in our English language learners. 

Educate: On February 1st, the Newcomer ESL teacher and the 7th grade ESL teacher along with other teachers from Faribault middle school organized a winter experience for our new to country ELs. They took a group of around 50 students skiing at Welch Village. Anyi and her friend Griselda, a new to country student, who only just saw snow when they arrived in Faribault stated that they love going on the ski lift. Anyi said, “We were nervous at first but after a few times, we didn’t want to get off the lift. It was more fun going up the hill than down!”

Our jobs consist of so much more than just language instruction. As our students come to us with various backgrounds and experiences; helping them integrate into our culture and community by offering them opportunities to experience things that they won’t get a chance to do on their own is so important. This is particularly true for our refugee students who come to us with so much trauma and loss.

Advocate: The St. Paul Federation of Teachers wanted a better experience for their ELs when negotiating with the district over a possible strike. They advocated for more teachers to support EL and Special Education students. As educators and district administrators, we all want what’s best for our students. However, barriers in finance and resources often make us settle for far less than what is best. I commend The St. Paul School District and the St. Paul Federation of Teachers for being able to work out a solution to get more resources for our ELs.  Thank you St. Paul teachers for standing up for our students!

Elevate: English Learners are very diverse, not just in ethnicity, but also in prior educational experiences.  We have ELs that are born in country. We have ELs that immigrated here with an extensive educational background. Then we have our students who come to us not only without English language proficiency, but also both they and their parents have never gone to school before. Therefore, it is quite an injustice to look at our ELs all in the same way. 

For example, one district might have 40 percent of ELs graduate in 4 years while another district has close to 75 percent. What do these numbers tell us? Really, not much. For ELs who were born in country or have previous education, it is not hard to expect them to graduate in four years. However, if a student comes in with no English and no previous education at all, shouldn’t we celebrate the fact that they can graduate in six or seven years? And when we allow native-born English-speaking students to take 13 years (kindergarten – 12th grade) to graduate high school, is it really fair to expect ELs who recently arrived from a refugee camp, don’t know the language and have never gone to school before to graduate in four years?

Having high expectations is investing the time and energy to develop the students’ abilities and providing them an opportunity to grow regardless of how long it takes for them to graduate high school – 4, 5, or 6 years. It’s important that we educate, advocate, and elevate students at every stage.

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