Lessons Learned from Immigrant Families

Families in Maryland schools represent 182 countries and speak 179 languages. These families contribute a wide, rich variety of cultures to our schools. Since 1990, I have worked closely with over 3000 immigrants and refugees. As schools welcome students throughout the year, here are some lessons learned from immigrant families.

1. Infant Car Seat

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A young woman from Mexico gave birth to a healthy boy. As the father was filling out the hospital discharge papers, the nurse realized that the family did not bring a car seat for the newborn. She showed the father a picture of a car seat and told him that in order for her to sign the discharge papers allowing him to take the baby home, he needed a car seat. In less than an hour, the father returned to the hospital with a brand new infant car seat, ready to take his new family home. The discharge papers were signed. Mom and Dad, with the new baby securely fastened in the car seat, left the hospital and happily began their walk home.

Lesson Learned: Make no assumptions. We assume that couples leaving the hospital after giving birth will have a car, or at least a ride home. This couple had neither, and without the ability to ask the right questions, they spent valuable time and money on something that at that point they didn't need. We often assume that everyone knows about American rules whether we are talking about car seats or school rules — and that they always apply to every situation. Rather than make assumptions, provide information, no matter how basic the rules may seem to us. Consider workshops, small groups, and one-on-one conversations to communicate rules and regulations.

2. Carlos' First Day of School: January 8

Carlos arrived from El Salvador in January and enrolled in 9th grade. On his first day, his Dad drove him to school and dropped him off at the main entrance. It was 7:10 and school was scheduled to start at 7:30, but the door was locked. He could not get inside, so he waited for someone to come and open the door. It was a cold winter morning with some snow on the ground and there was no one in sight. After about an hour of waiting, a man in a uniform appeared at the front door, unlocked it, and pointed to the clock on the wall. Carlos couldn't understand what the man was saying, but he was glad that he could come into a warm building. Soon after, teachers and students began arriving at the school. There had been a two-hour late opening due to the weather. Carlos and his family did not know about school delays.

Lesson Learned: Newcomers may not understand long-standing policies, procedures, and rules. When a new family registers in schools, the staff should provide basic information regarding school policies and regulations. Topics such as late openings, early closings, professional development days for teachers, keeping sick children at home, attendance etc. should be communicated. Many of the rules are unfamiliar to new families and schools should not assume that our rules make sense to the new immigrant families as well as the newcomers to a geographic area.

3. School Bus Transportation

An elementary school held an orientation for eight new families from five countries before school started. School bus rules and regulations were an agenda topic. I asked the parents if their child has ever ridden on a school bus. The answer was unanimous — "No!" One of the parents asked, "What is a school bus?" "Can we ride it too?" These questions helped us realize that the families need the most basic information — in this case, about school bus transportation. We explained that school buses are free for public school students, about bus stops and times, and where to find bus information. We also explained that the bus is available for children only. The orientation took longer than expected, but in the end, everyone knew the location and time for bus stops. That was a huge accomplishment for both parents and educators which potentially reduced chaos on the first day of school.

Lesson Learned: Provide basic information! In many countries, school buses are not available. Educators must realize that new immigrants and refugees are not familiar with programs and services that are available.

4. Free and Reduced Meal Forms

Over 35 Burmese refugees enrolled at the district's registration office. During the first week of school, these families received numerous forms and documents. The families didn't know what to do with the forms, including the Free and Reduced Meals (FARMs) form.

The ESOL teachers realized that this would be a challenge for their families and designated two days during the first week of school to assist families with filling out forms to ensure that all children receive timely services.

Lesson Learned: What good are programs and services if our families don't know about them? Schools may have great after school homework clubs, extra-curricular activities, free vision screening, free breakfast, etc. These programs and services are meaningful only if families know about them and can access them. Make sure information is communicated in a format that is friendly to immigrants/refugees. The best communication method is to talk to families in person. Request an interpreter to come in before or after school to share information about programs. This can take place weekly, monthly, or as needed.

5. Pizza: Most Loved Snack?

Back in the 70s, during my first month in America, neighbors brought two large pizzas to our home to welcome us. The five of us eagerly opened the pizza box. The unfamiliar smell of the cheese made us feel sick — we could not eat it. It took me the next five years to adjust to the smell and taste of America's favorite snack food. This type of food is not common in Korean culture.

I observed a similar reaction to pizza recently at a school orientation for Burmese students and their parents at an area high school. One dozen pizzas had been ordered to serve to the families at the orientation for dinner. The students and their parents all had a slice of pizza on their plates, but were struggling to eat. A few took one or two bites. At the end of the evening, more than ten pizzas remained uneaten. As with my own family thirty years earlier, the Burmese refugees were unaccustomed to eating dairy products, especially cheese.

Lesson Learned: Food is culture specific. As educators, we should be sensitive to the types of food we serve to newly arrived students and their families. In many Asian countries, the diet consists mainly of rice, vegetables, chicken and fish. There is little red meat and fried food. Though many may drink some milk, dairy products are not part of the daily diet. As an example, for the newly arrived Burmese families not yet used to standard American food, pizza was not the best choice. Rather, Thai, Chinese or Vietnamese food may have been better option.

6. School Supplies

Many years ago, I was helping a new Korean family register their 8th grade student. They didn't understand the list of school supplies, so I made a poster with cut-out pictures of the required supplies. Understanding the list that schools send out to families before school starts becomes a monumental task for immigrants as they try to figure out what spiral notebooks, No. 2 pencils, marble composition notebooks, etc. are.

Lesson Learned: Be patient! When families are new to this country, even the simplest task can become challenging. Take time to explain what students need. Use visuals. Have extra school supplies available for students. Find out if any community agencies give away back packs filled with school supplies for needy families and solicit their support.

7. Homework assignment

A 3rd grade student's homework assignment became a mystery for a new immigrant family. Each student was asked to create a collage about themself. They were told to cut out pictures from old magazines. What is a collage? What are magazines? The mom had no idea how to help her son. She brought the assignment paper to me for help. I happened to have a collage that my son had done that I showed her. I also brought old magazines and told her that her son could use them.

Lesson Learned: Many assignments require support from adults at home. In this case, a parent provides magazines, purchases a poster board and glue, and even assists in selecting pictures that represent a child. However, for English language learners (ELLs), parents often do not understand this type of assignment. Before an assignment/project is sent home, show a sample to students. Send a visual of previous year's projects for parents. Parents can be involved with learning at home even if they don't speak the language.

Conclusions

  • Be patient: It takes time to learn new things! Take time to explain American school life, programs and services, and school assignments. Use visuals whenever possible.
  • Be sensitive: Learn about the cultures, language, and history of your families. Don't make assumptions about ANYTHING and provide information on the most basic things that we take for granted.
  • Be proactive: Take time to visit where immigrant families gather — ethnic groceries, place of worship, and ethnic organizations. Build relationships with the "experts" who work regularly with these populations. These organizations and experts become invaluable resources for families.

About the author

Young-chan Han is a Family Involvement Specialist for the Maryland State Department of Education. She wrote this article for Colorín Colorado based on her experience working with immigrant families.

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Comments

The short articles were powerful in providing meaningful examples of what immigrants might go through when coming to this country. It is so easy for us as Americans or even people who have been in this country for a long time to forget how difficult it may to start something for the first time. For example, my son started kindergarten this past year. We moved from another state so he was not registered when we moved in August. I did not know what school was his neighborhood school, nor did I know what school supplies he needed. I only was able to find out information by pestering people, but in the beginning I was very afraid my son was going to miss out in opportunities that other children participated in since they started on time. I at least knew what a neighborhood school was and knew the language to speak to many people about where I should sign him up. Many immigrants do not speak the language so it becomes a "mountain" of a task rather than a little "bump" in the road.
I also feel that as teachers we must really balance how we talk to parents, because it can be insulting when we simplify tasks to the point of degrading someone. There is a balance that must be put in place which is the combination of wanting to help and still having respect for the person.

Wow-I really loved reading these short stories and their lessons. Some seem so simple and obvious, yet many Americans could easily make any of these mistakes. I think that these lessons of communicating can be applied to any teaching situation; I teach high school and I have made the mistake of assuming that students know some background information they actually do not. For one allegory assignment, I assumed that students knew the story of Adam and Eve, when none of them did. I ended up having to stop the lesson because none of the students could complete their worksheets and give them the background knowledge. Keeping an open and inquisitive frame of mind is important for teachers of both native English speakers as well as teachers of ELL.

Young-Chan Han brings up some excellent points in her blog. As people who are very comfortable with our cultural norms, we often forget that people that are new to our country may not be aware of things that we often take for granted. Young-Chan Han is right; we should not make assumptions. Instead, we should explain things thoroughly and make sure that the people we are communicating with fully understand what we are saying and why we are saying it. The part about the infant car seat was the most surprising to me. At first when I was reading the blog, I assumed the same thing as the hospital worker, that the new parents didn’t know that they needed a car seat. However, as I read further, I was appalled that they had to go spend the money on an infant car seat that they obviously didn’t need! Young-Chan Han says, “Rather than make assumptions, provide information, no matter how basic the rules may seem to us.” This is advice that I will take and apply to my classroom. I have had a few families in which the parents didn’t speak English very well. To be honest, the thought never even crossed my mind that they may not be familiar with all of the supplies on my supply list. I love the idea of providing pictures of items that may be confusing in order to make things easier for people. Again, this is an example of me assuming that people would have no problem finding our classroom supplies. I am so glad that I read this blog. I will no longer be assuming that everyone understands what I mean!

After reading Han's blog entry, which highlights many of the assumptions that we as American educators may make, I was reminded of a few of my own teaching experiences. Although I do not purposely make assumptions or judge individuals, the fact that I was raised in the U.S. automatically means that I am a product of this potential behavior. I not long ago finished up my first year teaching at a charter school, which is home to many students of Hispanic origin. I am an early childhood educator and I attempt to use many hands-on approaches to assist my ELL students, as well as the rest of the students in my class, as this is developmentally appropriate for all children at this age. I have some background in speaking the Spanish language, but as Han mentions, it is not only the language that differs, but the cultural norms. The parents of my students, typically, ask questions, attend conferences (older children help to translate often), and assist with homework assignments. Not too long ago, I had a father come in and ask for some help in understanding his daughter's homework assignment. He seemed a bit embarrassed at first that he was asking for help with his young daughter’s assignment. I gladly helped explain, but realized that the directions were not as clear as I had originally thought, especially for this father who doesn't speak much English. I realize now that spending a bit more time explaining homework to the students, even if I think it is pretty clear, would assist the family in completing the homework and encouraging them to spend time working and learning together at home. Opening my eyes a bit to this issue has helped me to be an advocate for translation services and opportunities in the school that I am currently employed with. Although we have a long way to go, I think that sharing blogs such as Young-Chan Han's will help teachers and administrators understand a bit more about being culturally sensitive and of course patient and proactive.

This was a great blog to read as an educator because most of us have experienced one or more of these situations (or something similar). The story I can relate to the most in Homework Assignment. This was during my first year teaching where I had an ESL student whose parents spoke very little English. He was a bright kid but needed a little more explanation with certain assignments that he wasn't familiar with. I paired him up with another student, who was not only one of my higher students, but one who was very patient, and a great helper, so I knew he would guide him and not just give the answers. I had them work together to get started, and then gave the ESL student the resources needed to complete the assignment at home. Working together allowed the student to learn enough to be able to work independently enough to continue the assignment on his own or be able to show his parents the point of the assignment so they can offer additional support. What all these stories have in common is how we cannot assume anything with our students until we get to know them, and we always need to be flexible with our plans and our time, to be able to accommodate the needs of every student.

This blog was very insightful to the challenges that immigrants face in America—many things that Americans might take for granted daily! Number 7 resonated with me when it talks about how students and families need visuals to help them understand different concepts. When I was doing my internship, I had a first grade student who came in the middle of the year from the Middle East. She did not speak any English upon arrival to our school. I had very little training with ELL students, but my mentor said we needed to start with visuals. We made a little ring of cards that had a picture with the vocabulary. After a couple of days with the cards, she was saying “bathroom” and “lunch”. After 4 months, she was putting together simple sentences, reading, and able to translate things to her parents. It was amazing what a first grader can pick up on! Through the use of visuals, it was much easier for her to understand. As educators, we cannot always assume others know what we are talking about and the author brings home this point.

This blog was very insightful to the challenges that immigrants face in America—many things that Americans might take for granted daily! Number 7 resonated with me when it talks about how students and families need visuals to help them understand different concepts. When I was doing my internship, I had a first grade student who came in the middle of the year from the Middle East. She did not speak any English upon arrival to our school. I had very little training with ELL students, but my mentor said we needed to start with visuals. We made a little ring of cards that had a picture with the vocabulary. After a couple of days with the cards, she was saying “bathroom” and “lunch”. After 4 months, she was putting together simple sentences, reading, and able to translate things to her parents. It was amazing what a first grader can pick up on! Through the use of visuals, it was much easier for her to understand. As educators, we cannot always assume others know what we are talking about and the author brings home this point.

Thank you for sharing this article Young-Chan Han. It really resonated with me as a teacher, especially after the year I had. The part I found most thought provoking was when you wrote “make no assumptions…rather than make assumptions, provide information, no matter how basic the rules may seem to us.” I had a student from Tonga this year who had a tough time following the classroom rules. He often talked out of turn, interrupted and forgot to raise his hand. I could not recognize why he was not able to understand the rules. After I few months in my classroom and getting to know his family it finally made sense. In their culture everyone tends to chat a lot. They are happy, friendly people and they enjoy interacting with others. They do not place a lot of rules or limits on their children. Because I had not taken the time to get to know my students’ culture, I was getting upset with him for something he knew little about. I really will live by the motto now “make no assumptions.” I also thought your idea to help families fill out their forms was amazing. I am sure that being in a new school with the majority of people from a different culture can be extremely stressful. Then on top of it you are a given a load of paperwork that is most likely in a different language and does not make sense. This is just more stress that we unload on our immigrant and bilingual families. I will be contacting my principal in August to suggest offering a service like this. We have a high number of ELLs at our school and I know this would not only help our families, but also give us a chance to learn more about the culture their children come from. I currently teach in Seattle, WA but am originally from Southern California and will be returning to teach there in the next few years. In 2003-2003, California had the highest number of ELL students at 1,598,535 (Samway and McKeon, 2007, pg.1). As a teacher in California, these numbers are something that I need to seriously account for when working with my students and their families. Your blog has given me a lot of eye-opening advice that I will consider from now on when working with immigrant, refugee and bilingual families.

Thank you for sharing this article Young-Chan Han. It really resonated with me as a teacher, especially after the year I had. The part I found most thought provoking was when you wrote “make no assumptions…rather than make assumptions, provide information, no matter how basic the rules may seem to us.” I had a student from Tonga this year who had a tough time following the classroom rules. He often talked out of turn, interrupted and forgot to raise his hand. I could not recognize why he was not able to understand the rules. After I few months in my classroom and getting to know his family it finally made sense. In their culture everyone tends to chat a lot. They are happy, friendly people and they enjoy interacting with others. They do not place a lot of rules or limits on their children. Because I had not taken the time to get to know my students’ culture, I was getting upset with him for something he knew little about. I really will live by the motto now “make no assumptions.” I also thought your idea to help families fill out their forms was amazing. I am sure that being in a new school with the majority of people from a different culture can be extremely stressful. Then on top of it you are a given a load of paperwork that is most likely in a different language and does not make sense. This is just more stress that we unload on our immigrant and bilingual families. I will be contacting my principal in August to suggest offering a service like this. We have a high number of ELLs at our school and I know this would not only help our families, but also give us a chance to learn more about the culture their children come from. I currently teach in Seattle, WA but am originally from Southern California and will be returning to teach there in the next few years. In 2003-2003, California had the highest number of ELL students at 1,598,535 (Samway and McKeon, 2007, pg.1). As a teacher in California, these numbers are something that I need to seriously account for when working with my students and their families. Your blog has given me a lot of eye-opening advice that I will consider from now on when working with immigrant, refugee and bilingual families.

I do have one thought though, from a union's perspective (our union is very involved where I work). When holding meetings for families, whether it be once a month or once a year, I would think this would have to be outside of contracted time. Therefore, would we need to collaborate with our district to have them bring in somebody to run these meetings? Or would teachers be responsible for doing this on their own time in their own classroom? I'm interested in what others think about this.

This blog really opened my eyes about immigrant families and how they connect to the children that I teach in school. I really enjoyed the “infant car seat” and “pizza: most loved snack” examples the most. I believe these two examples relate to each other and to my teaching because nobody should assume anything about anyone. What may be popular in America (pizza) is completely foreign to immigrants. Even with the “infant car seat” example, it relates to my students in the inner-city because you cannot assume everyone has a car and can drive to work, school, etc. Even the elementary students I have use city buses to commute and may be tardy to school based on their lack of transportation. When teaching students, getting to know them, their family life, and how they get to school is very important. It may answer questions that others may assume is just lack of caring or intelligence like the “infant car seat.” I can gather from this article that making any sort of assumption can have detrimental effects. Even when teaching, breaking subject matter down to the very basics is the best bet to eliminate any assumptions or misconceptions.

One of the posts I found very interesting was “Pizza Most Loved Snack?” I have had many experiences when I was teaching in my internship setting with the difference of American food versus the cultures of others in America. For example, my school had a very high population of Japanese students whose parents were on a work program and were placed for three years in America. The Japanese students rarely ate the lunch that was served and would always have their lunch that was rice, seaweed, and some sort of sushi. This was very interesting to me because as a teacher I thought this was neat! What a great way to add some diversity to the school, but if I was a young child I might not understand why my friends were eating something different than what I was used too. I really found the Pizza issue interesting, but this would be true if I went to a new place and tried their foods. I have had many examples of this happening to me when I was traveling through Europe. Not only were some of the foods very interesting or things I never heard of they were foods that if I had eaten and not slowly introduced myself to them would have made me sick. It is very important when introducing other people of different cultures to our culture to be aware of what they eat on a regular basis, also of strict diets and allergies. I think it is important when working with people from other cultures to just put yourselves in their shoes and then everyone will have a better understanding of why sometimes different cultures have a slow time adapting to the ways of our culture.

What I enjoyed most about this blog post is that Young-Chan Han has intentionally learned from the immigrant families she encounters. Some Americans have the mindset that they are the ones who are to teach and give everything to everyone, both of which can be very good things. However, those generous characteristics are overpowered by the unstated assumption that there is little to learn from minority cultures/immigrants, when in fact there is so much to be learned from people who are different from us. Han not only recognizes the differences, but has chosen to teach others, raise awareness, and learn about new cultures through her experiences. The example Han shared about pizza being the “most loved snack?” touches on this point wonderfully. A school in which I previously worked experienced a similar situation by hosting new immigrant families at the state park by the beach. The assumption was that everyone would love grilled hot dogs and time to swim with family and new friends, when in reality a large portion of the immigrant families did not eat meat, while another group was fearful of swimming in the water. Had the school taken time to briefly research some of the religious and cultural beliefs carried by the new immigrant families, the “welcome” night would have been significantly more welcoming! I applaud Young-Chan Han for not only taking note of unique situations and challenges learned from working with immigrant families, but for sharing them in a platform that will benefit all teachers of ELLs and even L1 English students who come from diverse cultural backgrounds. Celebrating differences, informing staff and family members exceptionally well, and meeting families where they are at will ultimately affect the kids in a positive way.

This was quite informative! I think all of the suggestions relate to the importance of communication with families of ESL students. Schools need to ensure that there is clear communication between school and home. The communication may need to be in written form, and in many cases may need to be in the family’s native language. While this requires more work up front for the school, it is likely to result in a more positive relationship with the families. I also think it is important that the language be as simplistic as possible when communicating with families- not to undermine their intelligence, but to lessen the possibility of confusion. The more simplistic the language, the clearer the message is likely to be.

I appreciated that the use of visuals was mentioned. Coming from a special education background, when working with students with communication difficulties, visuals are often used to communicate. This makes the most sense because visuals are universal, which can eliminate the language barrier. I also appreciated that the importance of showing students visuals in class was mentioned. I think for all students, whether English is a second language or not, visuals are extremely powerful. Vocabulary and elaborate, unknown language can confuse any student, but when show how and what needs to be done, students can generally understand the task that needs to be accomplished.

If, as teachers, we constantly think about how we are communicating with our students and their families, our students will end up having much more positive learning experiences.

I can relate to the challenge an immigrant might face when become oriented with the so-called basic information in regards to the school bus transportation. I grew up In a somewhat rural setting, a very small town which was far away from the “big city” public transportation systems. When I moved to a larger, urban city I avoided the public transportations systems. I did not avoid it because I thought I was ‘too good’ for public transportation, as was the impression of some locals but rather I did not understand the maps, routes, times, and schedules. It intimidated me. It wasn’t until a recent trip to Europe, where within Munich, Germany public transportation was essentially the only way to get to all of the points of interests, my fiancé explained (very patiently) how to navigate a public transportation system. By the end of the trip, I was the one telling him what busses and trains we needed to catch! My new education of public transit is empowering. Now, when convenient, I might prefer to use public transportation. In the same way, without empowering our immigrant families in schools and communities with education on how to navigate (both literally and metaphorically) public systems they might not be as proficient and successful as those who do understand these systems.

Thank you for providing this information. The examples from real immigrant families helped to open my eyes and see the potential problems that students and their families may face when they enter schools. The most valuable information that I took from this blog post was that we should never assume that families will now the rules and procedures that we take for granted. We need to be patient and provide information to help new families become comfortable in their new school environment. As educators, we need to make it a point to learn about our students' families, cultures, and language, and do what we can to make sure that our families have the resources and information they need to be successful. Without basic knowledge about how, why, and when things are done, we cannot assume that they will meet our expectations. We need to respect the diversity that immigrant families bring to our schools and value their culture, while helping them adjust to the new rules and procedures that they face.

Wow. Thank you for all of the invaluable information! So many teachers strive to build bridges with all of their families and these are perfect reminders to remember if you have an ESL student in your classroom. I would never have thought that pizza is foreign to some people! I have never actually had an ESL student in my classroom but I have had families that were from very low incomes. I think many of these ideas can also be related to those types of families. I had a family that needed a free and reduced lunch for their child but didn't understand the forms because she was at a first grade reading level herself. If she hadn't told me though, I never would have known! It wasn't obvious like many ESL families are. Bottom line-we need to be sensitive to all of our families.

This blog was incredibly engaging to me as well as my classmates stories were. It is almost overwhelming for me to process how challenging it is for some teachers to work with ESL students. As much as it must be very rewarding to see students grow, I realize now through small stories how amazing teachers are to be able to understand and work with all different cultures. As I understand some teachers do not take the time to think about the situations talked about in this blog as others, teachers that put in the effort and passion into what they do seems to go a long way for these students. The biggest thing that I took from this blog is how there is a lack of effort from schools to make sure new immigrant families are taken care of. It is these types of articles and posts that all teachers and administration need to read. I truly believe that many are just not aware of these small but big situations and their judgement lacks. I personally do not teach at a school with ESL students but can understanding how many things can get lost. Districts need to be aware of and senstitive to the differences that immigrant famililies bring to our schools.

This blog was incredibly engaging to me as well as my classmates stories were. It is almost overwhelming for me to process how challenging it is for some teachers to work with ESL students. As much as it must be very rewarding to see students grow, I realize now through small stories how amazing teachers are to be able to understand and work with all different cultures. As I understand some teachers do not take the time to think about the situations talked about in this blog as others, teachers that put in the effort and passion into what they do seems to go a long way for these students. The biggest thing that I took from this blog is how there is a lack of effort from schools to make sure new immigrant families are taken care of. It is these types of articles and posts that all teachers and administration need to read. I truly believe that many are just not aware of these small but big situations and their judgement lacks. I personally do not teach at a school with ESL students but can understanding how many things can get lost. Districts need to be aware of and senstitive to the differences that immigrant famililies bring to our schools.

This blog post has served as such a wonderful reminder of the fact that our "basics" are not basic for everyone. Despite the fact that I have had some experience living and attending school abroad, I could completely see myself making some of these same mistakes, especially when it comes to giving assignments, supply lists, etc. As Han points out, simply showing students and parents a visual or example, an easy thing to do, can make all the difference in the world! Of all the examples, however, the one that "hit home" with me most was "Pizza: Most Loved Snack?" It brought me back to an experience I had when I was in elementary school during a time in which my family spent three years living abroad in Tokyo, Japan. I attended an American/International school and part of the curriculum was that each year we were paired with Japanese 'pen-pals' who lived in other areas of Japan. Towards the end of the year, we would be able to meet our pen-pals in varying degrees (i.e. in third grade, our pen-pals were local so we met for an afternoon in a nearby park, while in fifth grade, we traveled 4 hours to a different area of Japan to spend the weekend at our pen-pal's house). Our fourth grade year, we took turns visiting each other's school for a day so that we could experience a typical day in the life of our pen-pals at school. While I observed countless differences (everything from their playground equipment, to the way teachers were treated, to the look of the classroom), the one that sticks out most in my mind was that of lunch. Aside from the novelty of it being delivered to us in the classroom, I remember not being able to identify what a single part of the meal was, save for some rice. My classmates who were Japanese and all of our pen-pals dug right in, however, I was unable to eat much that day. Even though I tried a few things on my plate, it was all too different, unfamiliar, and unappealing to me. It was at that point more than any other in the day that I felt very different from 'the norm' in that classroom and confused. When we talk about ensuring that all students' basic needs are met, we forget that meeting those "basic" needs can look very different depending on the student. My experience only took place in one day; I imagine that many ELL students face such confusing and alienating circumstances every single day. As Han discusses, it's vitally important not only to know one's students, but to invest time in becoming familiar with their culture as well. This will not only result in less confusion, misunderstandings, and mistakes, but it will also, in the long run, ensure that the ELL students in the classroom are given a true opportunity to learn.

Initially after reading this article I thought it brought up some good points, but I really couldn't think of any personal experiences. I was amazed though, that when I actually sat down and thought about it, a number of situations kept coming to mind! In my profession, I often work with students with disabilities. One of the preschoolers I work with was an ESL student with a moderate - severe cognitive impairment. After being in our program for a time, it became evident that we were unable to meet his needs and began looking for more appropriate placements. When we felt we found the best option, we met with his mother and an interpreter to discuss the plans. I remember feeling very uncomfortable as this was my first meeting with an interpreter present and I was very concerned because I didn't want to speak too fast, or offend the parents in any way. I was very impressed with our staff at the meeting because I thought we did a great job of explaining the needs of her son and the opportunities that this program could offer. However, after everything we said his mother said she knew her son was behind, but she wanted to know when he would be able to go to the regular school like his siblings. I remember being so confused and frustrated, thinking how could she not see our point. I truthfully thought she would be thanking us! Originally, I attributed her difference of opinion to simply not knowing about disabilities and the different school programs our county has to offer. Im embarrassed to admit that the fact that she probably knew very little about our whole countries school programs, never even crossed my mind. Luckily, in the end she agreed to our recommendations and her son was able to get the services he needed to be successful in life. In the future I will definitely be more aware of the different issues that ESL students and families face in our schools, as simple or complex as they may seem.

Initially after reading this article I thought it brought up some good points, but I really couldn't think of any personal experiences. I was amazed though, that when I actually sat down and thought about it, a number of situations kept coming to mind! In my profession, I often work with students with disabilities. One of the preschoolers I work with was an ESL student with a moderate - severe cognitive impairment. After being in our program for a time, it became evident that we were unable to meet his needs and began looking for more appropriate placements. When we felt we found the best option, we met with his mother and an interpreter to discuss the plans. I remember feeling very uncomfortable as this was my first meeting with an interpreter present and I was very concerned because I didn't want to speak too fast, or offend the parents in any way. I was very impressed with our staff at the meeting because I thought we did a great job of explaining the needs of her son and the opportunities that this program could offer. However, after everything we said his mother said she knew her son was behind, but she wanted to know when he would be able to go to the regular school like his siblings. I remember being so confused and frustrated, thinking how could she not see our point. I truthfully thought she would be thanking us! Originally, I attributed her difference of opinion to simply not knowing about disabilities and the different school programs our county has to offer. Im embarrassed to admit that the fact that she probably knew very little about our whole countries school programs, never even crossed my mind. Luckily, in the end she agreed to our recommendations and her son was able to get the services he needed to be successful in life. In the future I will definitely be more aware of the different issues that ESL students and families face in our schools, as simple or complex as they may seem.

This article brought to light many things I feel that I have overlooked. I had not considered the fact that my ELL students may need to see examples or models to help them put comprehend what I was asking them to do and how to do it. Furthermore, providing parents with examples of what is to be expected of students may have also helped a great deal. In my two years teaching, it is like I have completely disregarded the minute, simple (I thought anyway..) details because I was hoping parents assumed. But you know what they say about assuming…it makes an…(you can finish the saying). I sort of laugh at myself reading this because some of the things I felt were points of frustration could have been fixed simply by being proactive. In my experience teaching I have only worked with a handful of ELL students, but one student stands out. She was an honors student – intrinsically motivated and determined to do well. She was not achieving to the standards she wanted to be – which I contributed to the fact that the texts we were reading were complex English texts, and English was her second language. Throughout the year she was improving. Her writing and reading steadily reached a high level of complexity. Needless to say, I was proud of her. And I wanted to tell her dad who only spoke Spanish about how great she was doing in class. It was like I got lazy and let the fact that I didn’t speak Spanish be an excuse. After reading this article I have done some serious self-reflection and will seriously reconsider my approach to ELL students. I could have easily had the student translate or have the Spanish teacher at the school help me write a letter. Perhaps, next time, the parent will feel more involved and the student will feel more valued.

I found this blog is very interesting because I am an international student myself and I have experienced such situations myself during my four years of studying in America. I have a personal experience about school rules in the U.S.. It was last semester and it was a heavy snow day. The school I was placed at had a snow day off. However, I couldn’t find the information because the school didn’t have a website and no one called me to tell me that. So I ended up going to the school to check out if the school is closed. All my other classmates already know because they grew up here and they know when does snow day off happens for sure, but I didn’t. So I think it is really important for schools to inform not only students, but also parents, wand workers who are not American. I strongly agree that food is culture. However, I think it is difficult to compromise this. Chinese food is expensive and so as Vietnamese food. Also most of the population in school is still American so I couldn’t think of a better choice to compromise this situation. But I do agree that when I first come to the U.S., I couldn’t eat anything with cheese in it.

I apologize about the timing for this assignment, I'm in Seattle for a few days and completely forgot about the time difference.

The conclusions that Young-Chan Han present about working with immigrant families in our classrooms, our districts and in our communities are characteristics that all highly-qualified teachers should be exhibiting – patience, sensitivity and pro-activeness. However, when considering the fact that our communities are continuing to become culturally, ethnically and racially diverse educators must learn and demonstrate a deeper level of patience, sensitivity and proactive behaviors that invite communication between immigrant families and us.

As I read all of the scenarios that Han gave, I could relate most with the homework assignment scenario. A few years ago, I accepted a long term position teaching second grade from the beginning of the school year through February. On the first day of school we received a new student from Korea who did not speak or understand any English. His father was here as an exchange student studying at MSU for one year and was the family member that spoke and understood the most English. He had an older sister in fourth grade, and his mother was a ‘level three’ teacher in Korea prior to coming to Michigan. She was eager to help in the class whenever possible; however, she began taking English classes at Lansing Community College so that she could better help her children with school assignments and communicate with the people in their neighborhood, school and local community. This was communicated to me by a letter written in Korean and then translated into English. I was very impressed with Mrs. Kwon’s effort and asked her to show me the website she used to write the letter so that I could print out our daily schedule, important directions, the lunch menu and other instructions or routines that I felt her son needed to know in both Korean and English. From that point on, I made sure that classroom communications for any student whose parents spoke another language were sent home in both English and their particular native home language. Unfortunately, after a month or so, the English Language Teacher requested a meeting with me and the principal. During this meeting I was told that I was not to continue providing bilingual instructions for any student in my class and that all students were to speak English only while in the classroom. I was flabbergasted at this and simply asked that both she and the principal spend the day in my class observing the interactions between students, the academic productivity and parent involvement. They both agreed and after four days of observations, the principal sent an e-mail to me saying that I was to continue implementing bilingual support as I felt was needed and that another English Language Instructor was being assigned to our building.

I was pleased to see that Jimmy was quickly learning to communicate with the other children in English and that he was generally happy to be at school. In November I began a new science unit on the life cycle of plants and a math unit introducing fractions. It was during this time that Jimmy began to cry during class, reverted to speaking only Korean and began having behavioral problems on the playground. I was baffled. I contacted his parents and requested a meeting, and asked my Korean friend to be on hand if any translation was necessary. We met three times and tried to determine why the set back occurred and put into motion some strategies to get Jimmy back on track. Finally it was decided that one of his parents would stop by unannounced to observe what was occurring in the classroom and on the playground so that they could better understand their son. The first day Mrs. Kwon showed up I was just beginning a new lesson on plant lifecycles. She stayed all of ten minutes and then left, which I thought to be very odd. Later that day, I received an e-mail from Mrs. Kwon explaining that she felt that Jimmy’s set back was due to the science and math content being taught. In Korea, children Jimmy’s age do not study these concepts until they are in “level 4” and this was material that Jimmy felt was too difficult because it was “stuff” his sister was to study in fourth grade. This insight was eye opening! It never crossed my mind that students who have an understanding of the order in which they learn various academic concepts in their home country would be confused, angry and/or intimidated when the English school, where they were just beginning to feel acclimated to, began to teach material they felt was far beyond their understanding.

After learning this new information, the principal decided that each grade level was to create a document that outlined the academic concepts that were going to be taught along with a brief description of the academic goal. This was then to be translated into which ever native language was necessary for parents and other caretakers to read. The five months I spent in this classroom taught me to never make assumptions about the educational system of other countries and that it is my responsibility to investigate and learn about the countries and cultures from where my students and their families come from. I cannot effectively teach if I do not have prior knowledge about my students and they cannot effectively learn if they are frightened, confused and/or angry.

thank you Mrs. Han! I really enjoyed these articles! The carseat article really touched me..T^T

I'd like to clear up some misinformation. Ms. Han says, "This type of food is not common in Korean culture." Also, she says that in Asian cuisine "There is little red meat and fried food." It appears that she has not been back to to Korea since the 1970s. These statements should now be put into the past tense, at least as concerns Korea. Any teacher you speak with in Korea will be familiar with having pizza or fried chicken parties several times a month, either as a reward for students or when brought by a parent to celebrate an event or to show their satisfaction with their child's exam results. Also, beef, and especially pork, are the staple of most meals, which are generally very heavily meat-based. Me: "What is your favorite food?" Student: "I like meat." This is a common response. In addition to consuming vast quantities of fried chicken, I have also read that Koreans consume more donuts per capita than any other country. Ms. Han is caught up in some idealized, self-righteous idea that Asians only eat vegetables, fish, and rice. Maybe in the past, but it is now safe to assume that your Korean students and families will scarf down anything that American students and families will. A better tip would be this: If you want to score points, bring the pizza but provide PICKLE SLICES to be eaten alongside or on top of it. And maybe some pickled daikon radish cubes as well. If the conference is in a classroom and you really want to be a wizard, put small bottles of vitamin water on each desk. They will think you godlike in your cultural knowledge and sensitivity.

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