Research/tech assistance org
Maria Portuondo responds
In the video Student Voices English Language Learner students identify some ways in which schools and teachers indicate their low expectations of culturally and linguistically diverse students. Some indicators of low expectations are:
a. The location assigned to the bilingual or ESL programs (e.g., the basement, portable classrooms, previous storage rooms)
b. A lack of sufficient numbers of bilingual specialists, diminishing student access to appropriate guidance or counseling services
c. A lack of knowledge on the part of teachers and other school personnel in regard to the various cultures that make up the student body of the school and community.
Garcia (1994) describes teachers who have high expectations to be ones that believe and communicate that all children can learn ("I know they can learn even though they come from poor families….). Such teachers believe it is within their power to find a way to address the students’ difficulties ("I can have them do their homework here and I can get them a tutor-an older student-if they need it."). These teachers also have a strong affinity for their students ("These students are like my very own children"), and they see themselves as advocates for these students.
Teachers, principals and program directors that accept retention as an ongoing and viable educational choice for a large number of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse students are indicating their belief that these children can not really learn like other children. Research has shown a correlation between retention and a kind of internal dropping out. Thus, retention without questioning the curriculum, support services, or the transition process, etc., sends a message of low expectations. It reflects a belief that these students can not really make it in the long run, or that they are not worth the extra time and effort it may take to help them succeed in school.
An ongoing focus on factors which educators cannot control or change (i.e., poverty, parent’s education background, violence, etc.) allows us to give up on these students. We are indicating low expectations by failing to integrate into our educational philosophy and practice research-based findings on resiliency. The research on resiliency offers teachers and students hope that even though there are barriers to overcome, there is a chance that a teacher can make a difference and that students can succeed. A caring adult can make a big difference in the educational outcome of any child that is at risk of experiencing educational failure.
Comments such as, "I can’t even pronounce their names," or "Those kids" do not express an affinity with a given population or a desire to advocate on their behalf. Though many Culturally and Linguistically Diverse students may have academic or linguistic skills too weak to communicate effectively in English, they are keen observers. They quickly learn to read the body language of their teachers and peers. A look, the tone of voice, the distance we keep, etc., can be very powerful ways of communicating expectations.
When schools do not encourage and offer teachers the opportunity to explore some background information about the students, once again schools communicate that the students’ uniqueness is not of interest or value. For example, Hispanics are not a homogenous group, but often the only thing teachers may know about their Hispanic students is that they may all speak Spanish or come from Spanish-speaking homes. If the school staff is to understand the composition and dynamics of the classrooms, playgrounds, cafeteria, etc., they need to know the various countries these Hispanic students represent, the rich history of each country, and the conflicts or animosities that sometimes exist among these groups. When teachers, principals or other administrators are satisfied just knowing that students are Asian, Hispanic or Native American, they are giving a clear message as to their lack of interest in who these students are as individuals and what they may be able to contribute to enrich the learning environment.
When looked at individually or in isolation, some may argue that several of the above examples may not have a strong or lasting negative effect on students. But for too many students these events do not happen as single, isolated events, and it is the combination and pervasiveness of the events that have an eroding and negative impact on student self-esteem and motivation.
García, Eugene, Understanding and Meeting the Challenge of Student Cultural Diversity,
Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
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