Written By: Robyn Shulman
Get the facts about ESL students and bullying. From the 1997-98 school year to the 2008-09 school year, the number of ESL students enrolled in public schools increased from 3.5 million to 5.3 million, or by 51 percent (National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, 2011). The education system in America does not have the bilingual staff, the resources and/or the academic training necessary to support all of these students. As much of a concern this is to the academic requirements of this population, there is even less awareness or training on the social, cultural, and emotional needs of the ESL students. The lack of cultural awareness can have devastating outcomes for an ESL student.
With all of the horrible stories about bullying we see here in the U.S., it is a known fact that we have a major problem on our hands. The amount of useless words, physical and verbal harassment, and never ending online contact through social media has ruined or even taken the lives of American children. As adults, teachers, and parents, it is our responsibility to advocate, watch and help put a stop to this terrible trend.
Most parents and teachers are aware of the signs when children are being bullied. However, there is a new bully in town, and he is looking for partners to support his mission. He is not only bullying kids, he is very quietly recruiting, manipulating and teaching others the tricks of his trade. This bully is targeting some of our most vulnerable children, our ESL students.
He ‘befriends’ those who are new to the country because he knows he has the ability to easily gain their trust. This bully is smart, knows exactly what he is doing and how he plans to indoctrinate and train his newest member. One can only hope that a smart bully uses his street smarts to better the future, rather than continue on such a path.
As teachers, we must be aware of not only the usual signs of bullying, but we also must pay close attention to our newest students. ESL students can very easily be lead into a bad direction. As with any new culture and life change, it can take years to understand and assimilate; what may be acceptable behavior in a prior country, may not be acceptable in the states. It only takes one wrong choice for an ESL student’s life to be quickly ruined, and they may not even know or understand that they have done something wrong.
Some tips that can help teachers and parents to become more aware of this situation:
1. Culture: Take time to know the culture of the ESL student. Have awareness that behaviors and gestures can be completely different from one country to another. Here is a wonderful resource to find out about every country in the world: www.intercultures.ca/cil-cai/countryinsights-apercuspays-eng.asp.
A general list of the possible cultural differences between North America and other countries (the first being North American culture):
Praise is overt.
Praise is embarrassing.
Eye contact is expected.
Eye contact may be seen as rude.
Physical contact is usual, especially with younger children.
Physical contact is not allowed, especially between genders.
A polite or acceptable physical distance between people is 40-70 cm.
Physical distance is either much closer or much further apart.
Silence is never prolonged; an instant answer is expected.
Silence is comfortable and can imply thought.
Most feelings may be displayed but not necessarily acted upon.
Feelings must be hidden, or, in other cases, displayed with gusto.
Some personal topics can be discussed openly.
Many topics are highly variable and culturally defined.
Punctuality is prized.
Time is flexible.
Relative status is not emphasized.
Status is very important.
Roles are loosely defined.
Role expectations are strict.
Competition is desirable.
Group harmony is desired.
Politeness is routine; lapses occur and are forgiven.
Thank you is enough.
Politeness and proper conduct are paramount, especially in children.
Education is for everyone.
Education is for males first.
Girls and boys are educated together.
Girls and boys are educated separately
2. Behavior: A child who comes from another country, will go through many stages. He/she will go through a honeymoon stage, an angry and quiet stage, and finally acceptance. All of these stages are normal and are to be expected. However, as teachers, we must keep a close eye on our ESL kids during all of the stages, as to be aware of sudden and unusual behaviors.
3. Environment: Keep an eye out for students who are known to be bullies. If they are going out of their way to include the ESL student in their activities, take this as a warning sign. They may very well be in the process of becoming the newest recruit.
As teachers and parents, we must all be watching for the signs of bullying. It can be difficult to detect modern day bullying with students who are born and raised in America. As teachers and parents, it is our responsibility to watch, advocate and above all, protect every student. For ESL students, there is more to learn due to the cultural differences. However, it is imperative to take the time to do so. One sign can make all the difference when addressed and caught immediately. We must protect all of our students, especially those most vulnerable
References: British Columbia: The Ministry of Education. (October 2009). Students from refugee backgrounds: A guide for teachers and schools.