Building a Bridge: Connecting ESL Teachers, Mainstream Teachers and Students
Written By: Robyn Shulman
Mainstream teachers and ESL teachers must come together to provide the highest level of support for the ESL/Bilingual student population. The commitment between all teachers also must focus on best practices not only from an ESL pedagogy perspective, but also from a cultural, social, emotional and developmental lens.
Over the course of my 15 years in education, and having been so privileged to be both a mainstream and ESL teacher, it has come to my attention that there is a quiet, unspoken problem: Rather than working in collaboration, in many cases, mainstream teachers and ESL teachers work separately. There may be various reasons contributing to this issue, however, it is imperative that teachers work together, for the benefit and success of the ESL population.
The purpose of this article is to provide tips on how this sometimes seemingly daunting task can be overcome.
ESL and mainstream teacher tips:
1. Welcome ESL Teachers: Mainstream teachers should welcome and share their classroom, while providing support to the ESL teacher. This support can simply be a welcoming smile. Let the ESL teacher know he/she is welcome in the classroom. Supporting this relationship in a simple manner may make all the difference for the entire school year, and also, will provide a better comfort zone for the ESL student.
2. Maintain an Ongoing Open Door Policy: Mainstream teachers and ESL teachers should provide an ‘open door policy’ in regard to communication. It is important that both teachers are comfortable in approaching and discussing any content, academic, and/or social, emotional, cultural and developmental concerns.
3. ESL Teachers Must Be Proactive: ESL Support staff must make an effort to show their support for the mainstream team. Some examples would be: attending team meetings, reaching out to mainstream teachers for collaboration, participating in parent conferences, and expressing a strong commitment to working together.
4. Ask Questions About Culture: These questions can and will come from both the ESL and mainstream teacher. The United States is highly diverse, and it is imperative that everyone has a sense of cultural awareness. There is no manual in regard to gestures, behaviors and/or traditions. Students come from all around the world. Show cultural sensitivity by asking questions, learning and growing. Teachers may be surprised to find out just how much they have in common with their students.
5. Compassion: Be compassionate, understanding and discuss concerns with each other. ESL students may go through cultural shock, experience anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed. Teachers must respect the silent period. Sooner or later, the student will find his/her comfort zone.
6. Support Each Other: ESL and mainstream teachers must support each other, even if they disagree. Talk any situations through, share opinions and best practices, and remain student centered.
7. ESL/Bilingual Students Are Part of the Entire School Community: An ESL student does not only spend time with the ESL teacher. All teachers must share in the growth and development of the ESL student.
8. Acknowledge mistakes and move forward: All teachers make mistakes. Look back, reflect, and make changes for next time.
9. Never Stop Learning and Sharing: Learn, listen, share, and always maintain an open mind.
10. Celebrate! ESL teachers and mainstream teachers should celebrate the joy and accomplishments of observing student success together.