Loving Our Emergent Bilingual Students – A Valentine’s Day Analysis

As Valentine’s Day approaches, the stores fill with cards and chocolates in an attempt to convince us that we need to demonstrate our undying devotion to our special someone by emptying our pockets.  And, as a whole, we comply.  Last year, in the United States, we spent $21.8 billion to acknowledge this most romantic day of the year although we, as a whole, know that economically hard-hitting expressions of love are not always the best ways to express this emotion. 


Similarly, I often hear educators try and prove how much they “love” their students, especially their low-income, Emergent Bilingual students of color, by declaring how they, as teachers, could have easily taken higher paying jobs nearby, largely White districts. But is that economic xmalon sacrifice enough to prove our love?  What should love really look like when it comes to the affection we have for our students?   


Here are five ways we, as Dual Language educators, can truly demonstrate our love for our Emergent Bilingual, minority students: 


  1. Keep Our Expectations High.  Believing our students can conquer the world is the first step in loving our students.  However, as teachers, we often exhibit what I call a pobrecito mentality, a term that I use to refer to teachers feeling sorry for their students and consequently, reducing expectations.  (Pobrecito means “poor thing” in Spanish.) Teachers who have a pobrecito mentality believe that their Emergent Bilingual students cannot do as well as White, high-income students, and therefore, try to protect their students from experiencing failure.  For example, the pobrecito mentality may manifest itself as a reduction of classroom rigor or the funneling of low-income, minority students into non-honors and non-AP classes. It can manifest itself as educators not believing that a minority language speaker is capable of success in a Dual Language classroom or believing that a student should give up their home language rather than pursue multilingualism. In stark contrast to the pobrecito mentality, Carol Dweck’s research demonstrates that our students can do anything when they believe in themselves. Therefore, for us to truly love our students, we must first, believe in them and then help build their self-efficacy. 


  1. Follow The Research.  Aligning our programs and instruction with research is imperative if we claim to love our students.  While Dual Language Education is the only program for Emergent Bilinguals that is research-proven to close the opportunity gap, it can only succeed when the research is carefully followed. This means teaching students grade-level standards, following a defined language allocation plan where at least 50% of content instruction at the elementary level is in the target language, ensuring separation of language, and engaging in bridging activities.  And when we can’t provide our Emergent Bilinguals with a Dual Language program, we must find other ways for them to maintain and grow their skills in their home languages. After all, we can’t claim to love our students and give them a subpar education.  


  1. Disaggregate Data.  Monitoring our data with an equity lens and adjusting our practice in accordance with what the data tells us is a powerful way to truly love our students.  Data often makes us, as educators, uncomfortable.  However, as Dual Language educators, we need to make sure that our programs are in fact closing the opportunity gap for our speakers of Languages Other Than English (LOTE).  One way to do this is by matching our Emergent Bilingual students’ scores to Thomas and Collier’s bilingual trajectory. If our data is not measuring up, we need to determine how to tweak our instruction, potentially going back to the research and seeing how we can better our programs.  After all, how can we claim to love our students if we don’t lead them to success? 


  1. Keep Learning About Social Justice.  If we really love our low-income, minority students, we need to engage in ongoing personal development in the field of social justice.  This includes constant engagement in workshops and classes, reading books and articles about race and equity, and being willing to listen to people of color when they choose to talk about their perceptions or experiences.  Because we are all constantly exposed to the societal biases around us, we, regardless of our own race, religion, or any other identity factor, should never consider ourselves done with this internal work.  Only by constantly learning and battling our own biases can we better service our minority students and their families in a loving, compassionate way. 


  1. Place Minority Educators in Positions of Power.  Finally, loving our students means helping ensure that they have representative role models.  Students need to see teachers and administrators who not only speak their home languages but who also look like them. That is the only way they will ever know that such positions of power, both in education and in other fields, are viable goals for them. Representation matters.  While this ask may seem irrelevant to those whose official roles do not include recruitment and hiring, we actually all have a role to play.  We all can encourage minority staff members/colleagues who may not yet be in positions of power to grow in their careers (even if that means that they end up at different schools).  We all can talk to minority members in the community about becoming educators.  And we all can volunteer for interview committees and advocate for minority candidates.  Anything we do to help students of color picture themselves in positions of power is an act of love. 


So this Valentine’s Day, let’s take a look at our own practices to ensure that the love we profess to have for our students is reflected in our actions.  What else could you do to demonstrate your love for our Emergent Bilingual students? 

Aradhana Mudambi
Author: Aradhana Mudambi

Dr. Aradhana Mudambi is an accomplished, multilingual educator and social justice activist. She is the proud owner of Social Justice and Education. She is currently the Director of Multilingual Education at Framingham Public Schools, Adjunct Professor of Intercultural Communications at Eastern Connecticut State University, and President of the Multistate Association for Bilingual Education. She has extensive experience writing grants for language acquisition programs. She is also an experienced advocate for Dual Language Education and World Languages, having been invited recently to speak at institutions such as Harvard University and the National Association of Bilingual Education. You can learn more about her and her work at www.socialjusticeandeducation.org.

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