Living in a foreign country has been challenging in so many ways, but at the same time, it has helped me walk in the shoes of second language students and parents. We recently enrolled our 3-year-old daughter in a local preschool here in Panama, and the only language spoken by all the teachers is Spanish. I have taken years of Spanish and should be fluent, but I still mess up verb conjugations or use feminine when I should use masculine, and so communicating with other adults in Spanish in a more formal setting makes me extremely nervous. All this to say, it's given me a new perspective into the struggles parents of our second language learners face when they come into the classroom, so I wanted to share with you five ways to help them feel more comfortable and welcomed!
1. Set the right tone at the beginning. Depending on how many second language students you have, try to sit down with those families that you know speak very little English and try to get to know them. This will create a secure connection that they are welcome and an essential part of the classroom, and that you will take the time to communicate with them.
2. Find opportunities for them to come in and teach about their language/culture. Maybe you have a mystery reader or student of the week, whatever opportunity you have for second language parents to participate in their native language take advantage of it! Kids love hearing about other cultures and hearing different languages. It also will help the student of those parents feel proud of their native language.
3. Make sure any work or projects sent home have clear guidelines or an example of what is expected. Keep in mind that just like ELL students, the parents probably get nervous about at home projects, due dates, homework, etc. The directions might seem clear and basic, but try to put yourself in their shoes and think through ways you can make sure the student and parents understand what is expected. I know for myself when my daughter was the student of the week, I read over the instructions and guidelines, but still doubted and worried that I didn't completely understand it. I confirmed with the teacher, but when you are not entirely confident in a language, it is easy to always second guess yourself.
4. Translate documents sent home if you are able. Google Translate has gotten a lot more accurate so if you have no other way to translate documents, try it! Or show parents at back to school night how they can use Google Translate and reaffirm that if they have any questions to talk to you about it!
5. Learn about their culture so you know what to expect. When I first moved to Panama, I was caught off guard by the way people greeted each other. In the culture, it is very common to greet each with a kiss on the cheek, and so even though this was uncomfortable to me at first, I soon learned this was respectful to greet parents this way. Learning little things like this can help you not feel offended by other cultures, and also learning things that might be offensive to other cultures can help you avoid doing that.
We all know that a strong home-school connection is one of the most significant factors to student success, so let's do what we can to welcome our second language families and the unique and beautiful cultures they bring into our classroom!