Rosalia showed up in my third period class a few weeks ago. She came from Colima. She speaks no English. (I’m woefully weak on my codings – is she an L1 or an L5?) As a school, our diversity is primarily economic, not racial, leaving very little second-language support for your humble narrator, suddenly pressed into the service of bilingual education.
This hasn’t been a nightmare. This has, in fact, been one of the best parts of teaching for a coupla reasons:
- I speak Spanish. And thank god for that. Not well, mind you. I mean, you’ve met me. Linguistically speaking, I’m the rugby player who was built like an oak table in college but who went to seed after graduation. My Spanish is flabby but my fluency crosses a very particular threshold where she can easily teach me words I don’t know.
- The other students love our new multiculturalism. And I’m so glad that worked out. It blows their mind somehow that I speak Spanish, as if they’d discovered some secret double life I’d been living without them.
For example, they were still chattering and didn’t notice when Rosalia came in, but two words into my instructions (“Cada día en esta clase, empecemos con la opener alla,“) and you could hear the ocean breaking on rocks twelve miles away.
I’ve never had to hassle anyone into being her partner whenever the work has required partners. Other students love learning new words in Spanish, which is kind of an easy stance to take when you’re in the linguistic majority but damn if Rosalia isn’t adventurous also, building her English vocabulary whenever possible.
- Modifications I make for Rosalia make my teaching better for the entire class. I speak slower. I gesture more. I use more pictures. I enunciate better. Etc. Etc.
Her sister sat in on class last week and today swapped in from her old math class (taught by a fella who speaks English and English). Both have started calling out answers during lecture, which is just a cool state of affairs.