This article is interesting because it really looks at the ways in which an English Language Learner (ELL) classroom runs, and the ways in which the biases of the teacher are communicated to the students. It deals with all the research that has been done on the topic, exploring how those research studies related to one another, and how they look at the way that students learn. The article also thinks about the idea that some teachers in ELL classrooms might not want to be there, and might actually resent their students as being behind other students who are not learning English. It works with ways to make ELL classrooms friendlier for learners, and without the teachers’ biases interfering with their learning.
According to one of the studies referenced by this article, many teachers of ELL classrooms resent being there, and resent having to teach people they look at as “behind” other students. They assume that because someone does not know English yet, they will be delayed in other aspects. This is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy, because by treating them like they do not know as much, students have a harder time learning English which then causes them to actually be behind in other subjects. This is interesting, because it shows how even the most intelligence ELL students can come across as less intelligent, because they do not know English and cannot communicate their actually understanding of a situation or subject. Teachers that dislike or resent their students are more likely to be of bad quality, and teach ineffectively, because they believe that their students are incapable of learning at a high level.
Next, it was interesting to learn about the potential for different power dynamics between teachers that speak English, and students that do not. There is already a power dynamic between teachers and students, because students are subordinate to teachers, and teachers have authority over students. However, this is even more true when students do not speak English and teachers do. This is so because teachers become the person that can open the door to increased communication. Teachers are able to show the student the way to access the world in English, which, in English-speaking countries is absolutely important. This can also lead to students being incredibly submissive and quiet around their teachers, because those teachers can make their world easier or harder. Students sometimes look at teachers as representative of the world as a whole, so if their teacher does not like them, maybe the world will not either.
This is interesting because it looks at the levels of power between teacher and student. It is already understood that teachers are more powerful than students, but that that power would be increased in ELL students was not clear. Because ELL students have so much more to lose, it becomes much more important that they understand and appreciate their teacher. If their teacher will not teach them, or thinks less of them, they have a much harder situation than an English-speaking student who can either transfer to another class or make a complaint about the teacher. ELL students, because they cannot communicate in the dominant language, have a much harder time responding to their teachers, especially in cases of poor teaching.
When it comes to the study element of the article, it was very interesting to look at the ways in which the teachers themselves approached their students. First, it was interesting because the teacher that had taught the longest had the least “child-friendly” approach, and taught in a very traditional, top-down way. It might be easy to think that a teacher that had so much experience would be good at teaching in a student-centered way, but she actually taught the way she had taught for years with no accommodation for any student, ELL or not. This seems to reflect the idea that some teachers get stuck in their ways and in their patterns and do not break out to see how students really learn. Another teacher called herself a “teacher of children” which is interesting because she looked at all children as worthy of her teaching. She was less critical of her ELL students, but also had less teaching experience. It might be that less experience was actually a good thing because it made her teach more new and fresh, and responsive to new theories in teaching.
The way in which the teachers included (or didn’t include) the ELL students into the classroom community is also very interesting and tells a lot about the teacher. For example, Mrs. Young worked hard to include her ELL students, not just in the learning process but in the culture of the classroom, she asked them how they participated in various holidays, and made them a central feature in the classroom’s life. Mr. Brown, on the other hand, did not include his ELL students at all. He almost actively excluded them, and while it was not really deliberate, it was very effective. He taught so fast, and with no understanding of the ELL student’s cultural position, that it was incredibly difficult for them to be active participants in the classroom. Because of this, his ELL student were left behind, and were not able to keep up. Because they fell behind, they were seen as less intelligent, and that gave the teacher a chance to continue to think less of them.
Overall, it is very clear that both teachers’ attitudes and teachers’ pedagogy shapes the way a classroom works overall, but especially for ELL students. Without a teacher that includes the student in the conversation and educational process, they can easily fall behind, which continues to make things worse. With a teacher that includes them in their own education, however, they become better able to relate to the language, and learn a lot more.