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.


  • 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.


You are welcome to print copies or republish materials for non-commercial use as long as credit is given to Colorín Colorado and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact [email protected].
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This information was very helpful. We should never assume that everyone understands even the simplest of things, it's better to explain than to assume someone knows it.

A true eye-opener!

I very much enjoyed reading these recommendations. Stepping back and taking cues from the parents and families one is working with can have practical impact and also build positive, respectful relationships because the parents know you are listening. Thanks for sharing these experiences.

I loved her tips. She has mentioned suggestions I have noticed teaching or interacting with immigrant students. You need pictures to help them identify objections that they are not familiar with.

This was great Young. American-born citizens assume that everyone should know these things. Most immigrants have to learn the American system. As an immigrant myself, I had to learn and when my parents came they had to learn how to communicate with my american born children. Great Article. Keep up the good work of educating the masses.
Thanks for sharing

Chan's blog is very insightful! It opened my eyes to some of the challenges foreign students and their families may face. When I volunteered in an ESL classroom for a semester, I watched as my mentor teacher welcomed new students. One day, we had a new student from China. My mentor teacher paired the new student up with another student whose first language is Chinese so that she was able to get any questions answered that she needed. Not only did she have someone there who could direct her around the school and answer questions, she also had a lunch buddy and a locker buddy. I think that pairing up could even be helpful with parents as well as students.
My mentor teacher regularly strived to incorporate American education concepts into the ESL classroom to better prepare them for other subject courses. Therefore, she had me teach a lesson using Venn Diagrams. While I went over the directions, many of the students stared at me blankly, and I realized they may not have used a Venn Diagram in their foreign classrooms. When I explained the purpose of the three circles and how they could use them to compare and contrast, I received better results. But, I had to take a step back and explain to students (or at least the newest students) before they were able to correctly complete the assignment. After reading Chan's article, I am reminded that as a teacher I have to place myself in the shoes of my students and drop all of my assumptions. I must pay close attention to parent's responses in order to better help them. Furthermore, sometimes I will have to slow down and take a step back to consider what I may need to revisit whether in meetings with parents or classroom procedures.

As a newcomer from China who was going to teach first grade Chinese immersion class in a local American school, three years ago, I did have a hard time with all the school rules, policies and protocol which is very different from Chinese school. It almost took me one whole year to adjust myself to fit in the American school environment. How hard is it? I would like to give it 8.5 point if the highest point is 10. Therefore, I totally understand the dilemma of the immigrant families: “lost in translation”. It’s a real tough task even for grown-ups, not to mention for the young newcomers.

Last year I had a Chinese boy in my class who had just arrived in U.S. for six months. His parents transferred him from the regular class to Chinese immersion class which is not necessary because they had some concerns about their son’s school life: first, the boy could not speak English very well. The parents were worried that he couldn’t understand teacher’s instruction and would feel frustrated. Second, the parents are not confident on their English fluency. They were shy and timid to communicate with English teachers. When the boy first came to my class, he is also shy, quite and not sociable. After one week, his mom called me and told me that her son had a time on the school bus because there were some bullies. Those big boys copied his Chinese accent, grabbed his hat and pushed him when he got off the school bus. The poor boy could not use any English words to stop them. What he thought he could do was to cry to his mom after school. I was very sad to hear that issue and told the upset mom I will talk to the bus driver and our principle as soon as possible. Things went better after I took action. But in the next week, the Chinese boy was called to the principal’s office because he punched another boy’s stomach! Yes, those big boys did not stop bullying, they did even worse to the poor boy and the boy finally lost control to fight back.

Can you image how painful and angry the little boy felt? And how helpless and lost were his parents? I believed that the family had a strong feeling in which the author described in “Myths and Realities”: “They do not feel welcome in the school, if no one speaks their language or if they are not warmly welcomed in the main office.” (Samway&McKeon, 2007, P163) After I read “Carlo’s first day of school”, I was so agree with the point that: “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.” If we, the school and the teacher can inform the family all the necessary information about the strategies of dealing with bully, the wise ways to protect yourself and the consequence of being hurting others, the family would not have to experience the hard time.

I also like the conclusion of “being sensitive”: “Don't make assumptions about ANYTHING and provide information on the most basic things that we take for granted.” For every family, especially the immigrant family, the school and the teachers should pay more attention on to help them fit in the school, the society and the new world.

This blog was extremely eye-opening for me. To think of all the basic day-to-day routines that a new-comer to America would be unfamiliar with is overwhelming! It makes me realize just how many assumptions I have made as a teacher. In reflecting back on this past school year, I can’t help but think about the massive amount of notes, papers, and homework assignments that went home over the course of the year. For a family who does not speak English, this is all useless information. Young-Chan Han gave some great advice for how to work around this. Besides having information translated, I can also send home pictures and examples to help these families understand. I also really valued her suggestion to be proactive by visiting places that immigrant families gather. This goes along with the point made in Samway & McKeon’s book, Myths and Realities, to “…become knowledgeable about the communities from which students come in order that they may have more success as teachers and so that students may have more success as learners” (Samway & McKeon 163). Thank you for this insight into life as an immigrant family.

Young-chan Han makes a great point when she describes the scenario of the immigrant family attempting to take their infant home from the hospital without a infant seat for their vehicle. The people in the hospital in this scenario handled this situation very professionally and effectively, however, I am afraid this may not happen in every situation this way. Unfortunately, many Americans hold misconceptions about non-English speaking families. In the context of schools, even teachers can assume that parents "don't care" about their child's education because they don't show up to conferences, school functions, or to volunteer in the classroom. I could see this scenario in the hospital going drastically wrong and backwards if the nurses and hospital staff made the assumption that because this family did not own an infant carrier that they did not care about their infant or that perhaps they weren't even suited to be good parents! Maybe this event could have raised "red flags" for some of the hospital staff that could cause some real complications for the immigrant family. Instead, the nurse chose to inform the father using a picture or image and the problem was immediately solved and the father demonstrated that he truly did care about caring for his infant and being a good parent. Teachers can support parents in the school community similarly by providing images in the newsletters to show what certain school supplies looks like and also by sending home translated newsletters. Another way of translating for parents is to send newsletters electronically and provide websites that are effective at translating documents in a variety of different languages. This way directions for projects or tricky homework, as well as school news and information about conferences can be understood fully by parents in their first language. If parents feel that they are being respected and supported, they will feel more inclined to help in the classroom, attend conferences, and communicate with you as their child's teacher. Additionally, it could be effective to allow parents to communicate with you in their first language and either record and have what they say translated and respond later or have them write to you in their first language and use a source to translate it so that you give the parents an effective mode for communicating with you as well. The more we reach out to support and appreciate our students' parents, the better communication we will have and the better we will be able to meet each child's individual needs.

Possibly the best advice I was given as a new teacher was make no assumptions. This is especially true with working with immigrant families from different cultures and those families that speak languages other than English. The scenarios in this blog demonstrate that nothing should be taken for granted and as teachers we always need to be prepared to work with diverse groups of students and their families. Along with never making assumptions, it is always important to ask the second question. Teachers need to interact (preferably in person) with families and seek out needs and desires. However, you will never know if you do not ask and many times immigrant families are uncomfortable or embarrassed to ask for help. It is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure students and their families are ready for school and understand expectations and requirements. Also from reading this blog it becomes apparent that as a teacher I should be overly prepared to explain the structure of my classroom and the school. It is never okay to allow a student to stand outside in the winter because his family does not know about school delays. I wonder what would have happened if it had been a snow day?! It is better to be safe than sorry and always provide clear, detailed explanations when working with families. Lastly the blog brings up the need to truly get to know students and their families. At my school we tend to order pizza and pop for most family events. This blog points out how many immigrants are unfamiliar with this dish and therefore could find eating pizza undesirable. Checking out the cultures of families in the school along with parent surveys could help teachers better prepare meals for school events. Many immigrant families also have trouble reading and completing complicated school forms. Also some families at my school who are not immigrants still have trouble reading and filling out forms for their children. This common school issue validates the need for teachers and administrators to get to know their student population and come prepared to meet the needs of students from various cultures. I like the idea of having family information nights where parents can attain additional information and ask teachers/administrators questions regarding school routines. This event could also open lines of communication with several families and allow teachers to also get to know their students and families better.

Young-Chan’s advise about immigrant and refugee families can help all teachers, not just teachers that deal with ESL students. Her overall messages to be patient and always keep the communication lines between parents and students open are universal concept that can make any teacher have an easier time in the classroom. I particularly agreed with her example about pizza. As a child, my family moved overseas to China. Obviously, I had eaten American style Chinese food before, but nothing had prepared me for authentic Chinese food. In the United States, I had always eaten hot lunch at school and so my family and I decided that I would do the same at my new school in Shanghai. I got up to the front of the line and was horrified to see that my choices included prepared meats that I had never eaten, different sauces and a yogurt that you drank with a straw. This made my transition into a new school environment especially difficult because not only was I uncomfortable, but I was also very hungry. I eventually got used to the food and grew to love it, but I understand how hard it can be to go somewhere where everything, including the food, is different. I think that it’s easy sometimes to forget about how things like American can be so foreign to newcomers, but it’s something that is easy to modify so that others are more comfortable.

I found this blog by Young-Chan Han to be intriguing, because it revealed quite a few issues that new immigrant families may face when acclimating to our school culture. I was most surprised to see that sometimes our seemingly good-will offers, such as to buy pizza to welcome a group of people, can leave families in distress! I also realized that, as a teaching professional in a linguistically diverse district, I had experienced some of these situations firsthand with families in my classroom. The most relatable points I read in this post were the homework assignment and free and reduced meal vignettes. When I read these posts, I instantly recalled a student I had this past year. He was a bilingual, but his mother could not understand English well at all. I did not know this, however, until it came time for science fair. I sent home the assignment outline, but the student did not bring in his work on time for three check point periods. Concerned, I called home to ask his parents if he was setting up his experiment. After a couple minutes, his mother timidly asked if I could speak Spanish with her, because she told me her English “wasn’t good.” Since I am bilingual in English and Spanish, I was able to converse with her and tell her about the assignment in detail. I then made sure to send home forms in Spanish and English to his household. It was exciting to see that our communication worked, when not only did this student catch up on the work he missed, but also nothing else was late after that. I was therefore prepared later on that year when I sent home notes from an intervention meeting. I noticed that all of the notes for this student, along with his official intervention forms, were in English. I therefore made sure to call home the day the note went home, to explain the note and forms to the mother. This conversation greatly helped, and she was able to administer the at-home program with her son, after I explained the steps to her. This experience showed me, as mentioned in the blog, the importance of taking time with immigrant families and communicating with them in their native language. The book Myths and Realities: Second Edition by Samway and McKeon, emphasizes this importance of fostering communication with ELL communities. “An absence of interpretation and translation services adversely affects parental participation in children’s education” (2007, p. 170). It is therefore vitally important to find ways to communicate with our ELL communities both on a linguistic and cultural medium. In order to promote maximum success in the classroom, we need to make sure that parents understand our personal and school objectives, and that they have ample opportunities to share their concerns and ask questions as appropriate.
Upon further reflection of this post, I had a final question. Are there different school acclimation issues that different types of immigrants tend to encounter? As a point of clarification, some immigrants come here willingly and planned, while other are sadly run out of their countries and arrive as refugees. Besides fostering communication and understanding, I wonder if there are other measures we should take to aide a refugee family aside from those we would take with a typical immigrant family.

All of these stories and advice above are eye opening. It is easy to assume that immigrant families are adjusted and "American" when they cross the border. We work hard as school districts to enroll them and educate them but sometimes we assume to much. We need to be more in tune to their cultures and take time to make sure they understand what is going on. I loved how the ESL teacher offered a couple days to to assist families in correctly filling out paperwork. It is actions like this that we all need to be willing to take. The first step is being aware of their needs and being willing to make the needed adjustments.

All of these scenarios are really helpful and I think that Young-Chan Han has some great examples of how to handle these situations. I particularly like the scenario about the school supplies because I am able to relate to it a little bit. Last semester I did a study abroad in Spain and I was taking all of my classes completely in Spanish. The first week was extremely overwhelming. The first day the teacher told us a list of supplies that we were going to be needed for an in class project we would be working on during the next class. When I had come in next time with my supplies I realized that I must have misunderstood him because I had not bought the same things that the rest of the students in my class had. I think that Young-Chan Han’s idea of showing visuals is extremely helpful. In my situation this would have cleared up a lot of confusion and I think that in a lot of similar situations this can be a useful tool. I completely agree that sometimes we forget about the basics and the simple things because they are second nature to us, but to a newcomer these things are not automatic. As an educator it is important to keep that in mind so that we can aide students and families to the best of our abilities.

In addition to what many people have already posted, I think these scenarios assisted in creating learning relative experiences. I recall going to dinner in Georgia with friends, who all spoke spanish fluently. We actually went to have dinner at mexican restaurant and I remember feeling when it was "my" turn to order a bit nervous. I can speak a few words and understand spanish well but spanish is not my native language. Not only did the waitress need to be patient with me, but also my friends who were hungry and I was the last person to order. I do think that Young-Chan Hans ideas spread above included overarching themes of reducing assumptions, being considerate , being sensitive of other cultural differences and being patient. I will admit things are second nature for me personally and I never considered being mindful of items such as food choices when dealing with other cultures. The example of pizza was great for me because I actually love pizza and realizing some cultures can not even stand the smell of pizza helped put things into perspective. Overall this means including the obvious when dealing with newcomers. Has anyone found any additional methods in assisting, guiding and being helpful to newcomers?

I really enjoyed this article. Presenting the information with scenario first and then the lesson learned really helped me to make a connection with the information. I was able to really understand where and how a break down of communication and understanding can happen when working with immigrant families. I have realized not to make assumptions about what people know, take the time to explain important information, provide visuals if possible, and that there maybe times when personal assistance might be needed. I think this article also shows that as educators we need to take the time to learn about the culture of our immigrant families. The more we know about their culture, the more we will be able to help them transition in to American culture and encourage them to be apart of the school community. Although I currently only have students that speak English in my classroom, I believe that many of these ideas can be used in my classroom and school. I think that some of my parents may not understand some of the policies, rules, paper work, and programs that are offered at my school. Therefore it would be nice if we offered monthly meeting for our parents as well.

I am surprised after reading this article how many basic things that teachers must do and explain to better help newcomers to their schools. You cannot overestimate what ELLs know, you must be ready to explain even the simplest of things. Chan mentioned using visual aides to help make things more understandable; I think that this would be a very helpful and easy way to provide ELLs with a visual representation of what to do, what to look for, and important things to know. While I was doing service learning in a first grade classroom, my teacher told me that in previous years she had had many issues with ELLs when it came to communicating basic policies, rules and information. One time there was a teacher conference day which meant no school for the students. She assumed that they understood that the day was for teachers only; she even sent home a letter about it. One chinese student and his family did not completely understood this, so he showed up for school anyway. My teacher told me that she realized after this that you cannot assume that non English speaking people have the same type of days at their own schools, they may have never had teacher conference days. In the future she made sure to get letters sent home that had been translated into their native language and made sure that her students were aware of what they were required to do. It is very interesting to hear all of the little things that can easily be overlooked when teaching ELL students so that these mistakes can be corrected in the future.

The ideas presented in this blog were truly eye-opening for me. I can only imagine how I would feel trying to attend a school or participate within a community in a foreign country without first feeling comfortable speaking the dominant language. It drew my attention to the need for members of the community (especially teachers) to be truly receptive of language learners. It seems incredible, but overlooking the smallest of details really can lead to big consequences. I appreciate the way your contributions call attention to things such as making sure school events accommodate families from all cultures (pizza example), paying attention to the fact that many families may not have access to the same luxuries that we take for granted (car seat example), and the idea that taking just a few minutes to write up a letter for parents (inclusive of pictures, and perhaps in different languages) can make all the difference. As I am just about to begin my teaching internship year, I haven’t had much experience in teaching (let alone teaching those who speak other languages or come from families with different cultural backgrounds than myself), and I’m sure some of the points addressed here would be things I would easily overlook. It's graet to have access to these tips ahead of time,as they should help me on my way to forming more workable connections with students and their families during my future career in education.

Young-Chan Han brings up many great points in this blog post. After my first year of teaching ELL, I made a very similar list of lessons that I learned from my students!

I completely agree that cultural codes and school policies need to be explicitly taught. Next year, I plan to spend a significant amount of time with my students explaining how education is cultural and describe how the American school system works- our values, expectations, procedures, and policies. There was a bit of a mismatch for some learners. This is especially important for my students because they are in the U.S. for a one-year exchange program, so we do not have time to waste on assumptions, stereotypes, or being lost in translation.

I also agree with the author that teachers must play different roles in order to accommodate the unique needs of ELLs. At different times I took on the role of cultural ambassador, school counselor, social planner, tour guide, friend, and caretaker. This was especially important because my students were living with host families (with mixed experiences).

I'm looking forward to using my experiences from this year and materials from this class to make critical improvements to my curriculum. Thanks!

I found it very interesting to read the lessons by Young-Chan Han. As I have never had a classroom of my own, I never thought about what assumptions teachers will automatically make when teaching a classroom with ELLs in it. I will keep in mind her ideas about being considerate and to avoid assumptions and send home help as much as possible when I do have my own classroom though. I worked with some ELL students during an after school program last year in which I had a student tell me that her teacher had passed right over some assignments with her just because she couldn't understand how to do them. I think it is sad that number of "professionals" out there that will hand a problem over to the next teacher to handle instead of dealing with it themselves. I also think that this type of blog is a great idea and a wonderful source for new teachers or even teachers who are new and struggling with ELL students. It would be great to see some new additions to the list in a type of interactive form that would allow others to add directly to the list with lessons they have learned. I will definitely have to check back with this when I graduate and get a classroom of my own!

At my school, I sometimes feel like there are only a handful of people the ESL kids trust and know to go to for help. As a whole, our staff is not educated on what it means to serve and work with the ESL students.
The other day I was sitting in my room during first hour when one of my Burmese girls came into my room crying. Through her tears she told me that another Burmese boy pulled her hair and kicked her in the face. When I asked where the teacher was, she told me he didn't see any of it happen. I was surprised that instead of the teacher handling the problem in his classroom, this student came running to me (from first floor to third floor) for help. Obviously she didn't feel safe talking to her teacher and to be honest, I don't know if he even saw her leave. This particular student's English skills are quite advanced so she didn't need a translator, she just didn't feel safe talking to the classroom teacher. During this assult experience, I was also very frustrated with the fact that the boy who pulled her hair and kicked her wouldn't answer my questions, claiming to not know how to say the words in English. He is probably one of the best English speakers in my class. Yet when a male principal asked him the same questions, the boy answered him immediately. This is an important part of the whole experience because I was able to see first hand how gender roles in his culture are still a part of our culture. As a woman, I expect to be treated with the same respect as anyone else, but in his culture, he does not have to treat women the same as men.
There are many stories I could share highlighting the need for all members of a school's staff to be educated on what it is like for the ESL students. Many times teachers ask me questions about the basic background of the ESL students. While I don't mind answering their questions, I still wish there was a mandated professional development teachers had to attend before the school year started so that everyone is better able to serve the ESL students.
On a last note, I would also like to mention how this blog, and the comments shared, reflect how each culture is different. My Hispanic students come to me with a different set of experiences than my students from Yemen or my students from Burma. In classrooms where there can be upward to ten languages, it is important to note that while one thing may be challenging for a group, it may not be challenging for all groups.

Reading Young-Chan Han's blog, it brought to light how often I go through the day in the form of a routine instead of anticipating what might happen. By anticipating these glitches it would help those families that are not familiar with the basics or may not have the self advocacy to ask for help. What I have learned is that when you run into a problem it likely was not your last step but rater the one before. Like with Piper Nitchman's post, the child's tardy assignments were not the issue, rather the communication barrier. I found it wonderful how she took the time to call ahead before mail was sent home to be sure that the message was clear. From Young-Chan Han I especially enjoyed reading about the pizza issue. Not only are these families being exposed to a new diet, but as kids, many of them are picky eaters anyway. I think a more accessible option like a taco bar could be a better choice. With options of stuffers and rice a taco bar does not necessarily need to mean people are making tacos. Play to their creative strong suites

There are many good points about being patient and not making assumptions that Young-Chan Han makes. One other idea in the background is the need for teachers to keep in mind that they may be seem as the representatives of the institutions of authority. Like many Native American children, my paternal grandmother was taken from her family and placed in an Anglican boarding school. Even though I am the second generation removed from that experience, there is still an apprehension in dealing with educational institutions and doctors because they had the power to break up families. So I can imagine that immigrants, even those navigating the naturalization process legally, may have a certain amount of dread when dealing with teachers because they may be seen as being connected to large institutions that can break apart families. (Especially in today's heated immigration debate and with few knowing their rights.) The real take-away is that while I may know how I see myself, I don't know all the factors that determine how others see me. As people who worked in and been involved with educational institutions, we may not see ourselves as having much power. However, it is very likely ELL students and their families may be reacting to our perceived roles rather than us. As mentioned earlier in Young-Chan Han's blog hesitancy on the part of parents should not be labelled as disinterest in their children's education, instead they may have a completely different agenda - such as keeping their family together.

As I read the list of lessons posted in this article by Young-Chan Han, I felt a twinge of familiarity that made me smile. Working in a school with a majority of my student being immigrants, I have faced or heard about similar stories. Especially in my first year teaching, at time I made assumptions about my students knowledge of pop culture, or their parents' understanding of school expectations. There were things I took for granted they knew, and because they smiled and nodded, I assumed I was correct. Later, I often learned they had no idea what I was talking about.

Over the four years I've been working at the school, I've gotten the chance to learn more about my students, get to know some of their families and broaden my understanding of issues that arise for them that I might not think about.

Transportation to and from school or to and from events is a major struggle for some of my students. Often, as teachers of juniors and seniors, there are some students we end up picking up because it is the only way they can reliably get to school or to (mandatory) events. At times, we've even driven entire families home from events so they won't have to wait for a bus.

Most of my students' parents want them to go to college. However, they have very little understanding of the system here and how it works. It can be very overwhelming and intimidating. This year, I taught seniors, and as senior moderators, another teacher and myself helped students fill out college applications, scholarship applications, the FAFSA, took them to placement exams, and helped them get registered for fall classes. These tough 18 year olds were really terrified of walking onto a college campus and trying to figure out what to do. The people at the college were very intimidating in their manor, and without us their advocating for their needs, the student may have given up. Their parents do care about their education and they want them to go to college, but many of them only went to school until 7th grade, and their English is a work in progress, and the process is so confusing -- even for me.

This year, I also learned about some of the day to day issues my undocumented students deal with that I hadn't really been aware of until this year. Undocumented citizens in Michigan can no longer get a driver's license. Therefore, my students are often unlicensed drivers who end up in court often paying large fines for driving without a license and facing the risk of being deported. Along with being unable to get financial aid for college, being undocumented and without a license stands in the way of getting good employment. One can buy a fake social security card for about 120 dollars, however, if an employer decides to check it out, you risk getting deported. One student told me, he always carries his contact case in his pocket in case he gets deported, he'll be able to take his contacts in and out. He also told me he has never been to a dentist but that he has a little metal hook thing to clean his teeth with (I'm assuming its the dental tool dentists typically use?) These are only some of the things that make life extra difficult for some of my students and their families.

Because the Spanish speaking immigrant population is so large at my school, I feel like we have been working to get better and better at communicating with parents. We do send home letters in Spanish and English, we have translators at conferences, and our digital dialer calls in both languages. We have parent information meetings often and workshops on financial aid and other things. In my experience, if I approach parents with a spirit of welcoming and don't make assumptions, even if there is a language barrier, we do okay. They can tell I care about their kid and vice versa, and with a translator's help at times, we can communicate. I still hear teachers make assumptions about the parents when they don't show up to stuff, and I do think it is important that we refrain from judgement and understand that we don't know what is happening in their lives, and their may be more than we understand.

As an early childhood educator, I found that I could relate to a lot of the misunderstandings discussed throughout this blog. I think a lot of things can be lost in translation or miscommunicated whether you’re talking about very young learners who take things very literally or non-native speakers who may not have the cultural experience, cultural knowledge, or language in order to fully understand a situation. There have been many times when I have assumed my students understood my directions (which I thought were very explicit) and have subsequently come to realize they had interpreted the directions in a reasonable way, but not in the way that I had intended them to understand. As a result of working with young children and having some experience working with ELL students I have come to realize that as educators we have to be very aware of the way our students may interpret what we say and do. This blog really illustrates the cultural sensitivity necessary when working with people from different parts of the world and even people from different parts of the country.

One of the other blog comments discussed how educators often have misconceptions about immigrant families. They may think, that family must not care about school since they never come to conferences and they never participate in any school activities. When I began teaching in a low-income community in Houston, I heard many comments like this in the workroom and teachers lounge. What I quickly realized was that many of my families were doing the best they could. They had to work all the time to make ends meet or take care of other children. Many didn’t speak English and didn’t feel comfortable as a result. At one of my parent teacher conferences one of my students mothers relayed that her husband did not like coming to school for conferences and school activities because when his family moved to the US the school where he was enrolled put him in a Special Education classroom because he couldn’t speak English. He felt uncomfortable being at school because he had never felt comfortable there as a child. I don’t know all of the details of this parents education, but I imagine that much like so many of the misunderstandings discussed in this blog, like the weather delay situation or completing the free and reduced lunch form, someone along the way made an assumption that this man didn’t understand as a result of intelligence when really his lack of understanding may have been more cultural and linguistic. Unfortunately, that misunderstanding had long-lasting consequences, just like assuming that every parent can help their child complete their homework or that they can independently complete a free lunch form has consequences for students and their families.

So from this blog and my own experiences, I am taking away the valuable lesson that you can’t assume anything even the most trivial thing whether you’re working with kindergartners, ELL students, or anyone. After all haven’t we all been in a situation where we didn’t want to ask questions because we were afraid of looking stupid? Or have you ever nodded your head in agreement and in reality had no idea what was going on? Perhaps you ate the food that your friend’s mom gave you because you didn’t want to seem rude even though every bite was painful? Reading about the situations in this blog remind me to try and put myself in someone else’s shoes before making any kind of assumption or judgment.

Many of the lessons learned by Young-Chan Han resonate with my own personal experiences living abroad. I concur that, if there is anything you can do for these families or students, on their behalf, rather than requiring them to do it, DO IT! When my husband and I moved to the Dominican Republic, we were so overwhelmed with all the culturally specific rules and norms, even though I am a fluent Spanish speaker! Each little thing that my husband’s employer prepared for us ahead of time or provided for us was a huge relief, and helped us feel a little less stressed about adjusting to a new culture. Similarly, I agree with Young-Chan Han’s suggestion in the example about the school supply list to find a community agency that gives away backpacks filled with school supplies for needy families, or collect them yourselves. In my opinion, this is a better option than providing the supply list with visuals. For people unfamiliar with U.S. ways, it would be far more helpful to provide the necessary school supplies for the students, rather than requiring the families to figure out how to obtain a school supply list, where to find it and then find a way to buy the supplies (where to buy them and how to get there).
Young-Chan Han’s lesson learned about making no assumptions also reminds me of an experience my husband and I had while living in the Dominican Republic. She hits it right on the head by advising, “Rather than make assumptions, provide information, no matter how basic the rules may seem to us.” When my husband and I moved into our apartment in the D.R. we soon found that we had no hot water! While a cold shower in the scorching heat was okay sometimes, our two-year-old wasn’t a fan of the ice bath. We couldn’t understand how it had gone unnoticed that this apartment didn’t have working hot water. The maintenance man was surprised when we told him of the problem. When he came to check out the problem – after we spent several days jumping in and out of ice cold water in attempts to bathe – he explained the “suicide shower” system that was common there. The shower had an electric showerhead that heated the hot water as it came up through the pipe; the shower head was activated by flipping on a switch located in the shower area. Coming from our American background, we had noticed the light switch by the shower and thought, “Wow, why did they do that? How dangerous!” and made sure to never touch it.
I am slightly ashamed to admit that, even though I have been the newcomer living in another country and have learned these lessons myself, I have not done a very good job of remembering them back in the classroom. When I get into teacher mode, I tend to get too focused on the learning objectives and all the to-do’s, and don’t pay enough attention to the personal needs of my families. I appreciate Young-Chan Han’s article because it reminds me to focus first on the students – and their families, too – before diving into tasks, so I can better ensure that everyone gets off to a comfortable, successful start.

As many people have already said, I think bringing these issues up and explaining how they can be avoided is extremely important to helping immigrant families make an easier transition to their new environment. I have a couple friends who grew up out of the country who have experiences this paradigm shift of culture shock while in elementary school. One important thing that I learned from them was to never assume how much a child or family knows. Both of my friends said that after attending private schools in Columbia and Kuwait, they felt more mature than the other children in their U.S. grade placement. This was because they were used to strict discipline during playing time and when studying. An important note to take from this is that a disinterested child who isn’t paying attention in class isn’t necessarily a bad student. On the contrary, the student may just be bored because they have already learned the material.

I’m really glad that Young-Chan Han brought up a lot of main issues that surround immigrant students and their families. In particular, “make no assumptions” was interesting because we tend to assume a lot about what immigrants know versus what they actually know. One of the ESL teachers that I have spoken to told me that one year she had to make a lot of adjustments because a majority of her ELL students were Muslim. When it came to having teacher-parent conferences, no matter their language proficiency, she had to acknowledge the fact that some Muslim men will not shake hands with women so she would wait for them to extend for her first. Another adjustment she had to make was to be sure to sit the girls separate from boys because for some parents it was against their religion to have their daughter sitting next to a boy at such a young age. The most important piece of advice she gave me was not to make assumptions and do your homework because not only will you be showing immigrant families respect and understanding but also creating a working relationship where they feel comfortable enough to ask questions or express any concerns they might be having. In terms of dealing with Muslim immigrants, it is extremely important to show respect and understanding given the current “national sentiment" about Islam. Another issue that I’ve seen too often tutoring ESL students is their homework which was usually too hard and incomprehensible. Homework assignments should be customized to a student’s proficiency level in order for the student to comprehend and complete the task. Other learned lessons that were expressed by Young-Chan Han I was not familiar with such as community agencies that give away backpacks full of school supplies and other programs that help out with free or reduced cost extra-curriculum activities, meals, vision screening, etc. I would like to find out more about these programs and services and have them available for my future students. Great blog, great lessons.

I appreciate this blog post from Young-Chan Han very much, and will definitely be taking all of these lessons to heart when I have my own classroom. The school district I am placed in next year has a high percentage of new refugee students who come during all times of the year, and this post really helped me to realize how important it is to stay patient with them while they learn the new customs of an American school, and try to be as accommodating as I can in helping them adjust. It can be frustrating repeating oneself, and explaining things that come as second nature to us, however I can see now what a huge adjustment this change will be for them, and that things that I take advantage of my student’s knowing about such as buying school supplies and snow days may be an entirely new concept to them, and may take time to explain and show how to go about these tasks so that they are well prepared for the school year.
I was reminded by "the pizza lesson" of a time when I was younger and my mother was helping a Pakistani family adjust to the United States, helping them fill out paperwork, talk to their landlord, help find jobs and what not. The first time my brother and I met them, we brought over chocolate chip cookies for the children, and in turn they made us a traditional Pakistani dessert. When each of us tried the others' dessert we as politely as possible took two disgusted bites and returned to the dessert WE had made. Remembering that and reading the lessons makes me realize how important it is to try and learn as much about a student's culture as possible to make them feel as comfortable as you can and become someone that they feel that they can trust and come to. The teacher whose room I will be in next year brings a snack for those students who are not able to bring one from home, and I will surely relay this lesson to her, and learn about snacks from other cultures to bring in to make the students at home. I picture my future classroom as a place where students feel comfortable and safe, and I think with Young-Chan Han’s lessons I will now better be able to make this a reality.

As I read the blog, the story of Carlos’ first day of school reminded me of an experience I had this year with a family from Romania. During the first month of school, a student in my class was repeatedly arriving late to school, and would come through my back door (which was a direct door to outside the building). His dad would bring him to the back door, and either walk right in the classroom or knock at the door. We have specific guidelines at our school that states students who arrive late must check in at the office, make a lunch choice, and obtain a late pass to take to class. This rule was not communicated to this family, and when I explained the procedures to the father, he said that he understood but later when talking with him, it was clear he did not fully understand what to do. I wanted his family to feel welcome in our school and fully understand the procedures, just as other families did. After a few more weeks of the boy arriving late, I offered to show the father exactly what steps to take when arriving late. I wrote down the times of the two different bells (first bell at 8:40, late bell at 8:45) and I also walked him through the steps of checking in at the office and then walking down the hall to my room, placing the late pass in the basket, etc.
After that day, the boy and his father knew the procedures when arriving late to school, and actually were not late as often because they understood what the two bells meant.
These scenarios demonstrate that not all families understand the school rules or procedures and just reading a school handbook is not an option for many ELL families. As teachers we cannot assume that families are familiar with routine school procedures or feel comfortable receiving information via newsletters. That is why I offer parents communication about class news through newsletters (hard copy or through email), phone calls, notes home, website, etc. I’ve also had parents check in with me after school each day, and we quickly talk in person about their child’s day, important events, etc. because they prefer the face-to-face communication. With our district being as diverse as it is, I’m surprised we do not offer school handbooks, lunch menus, etc. in multiple languages. Another parent found it helpful to receive hard copies of newsletters, homework, sight words, etc., because she would take them home and translate them for herself, so she could understand it and then be better equipped to support her child. As educators, we should find what form of communication each family prefers and feels comfortable with. When parents have a clear understanding of their child’s curriculum, school guidelines, and procedures, they are equipped to support their child’s learning and feel comfortable within the school.

I appreciated this blog post, as I felt it had a lot of relevant information for those working with immigrants. I am currently working at a school where 98% of the student/family population are termed “transient immigrants” and whose native tongue is Spanish. By “transient immigrants” my school means families who have come to the U.S. and have no permanent residence. Many of my families do not speak English, and if they do it can be very limited. One note that really struck a cord with me was Young-Chan Han’s comment about free and reduced meal forms. Sometimes we send forms and even newsletters home to families without even considering whether or not they will be able to decipher them. I initially made this mistake with my students, sending home a newsletter explaining the summer school program, and asking students to have their guardians sign them. I figured it would be difficult to get all of the forms back, as many students move around with different family members. What I soon realized was that many of my families could not understand the form; they could not read the English nor could they decipher what they were supposed to do with the form. Luckily I am co-teaching this summer and my co-teacher speaks some Spanish (my Spanish is not as good as hers). She quickly collected the names and phone numbers of parents and began calling them to explain the newsletter, giving them a summary via telephone in Spanish. Many families were thrilled to have us reach out to them, especially when they realized we were trying our best to communicate and build a relationship with them (even with our limited Spanish!). It is so important to ensure that the forms and procedures we supply our immigrant families with understand what it is that we are trying to communicate.

Young-Chan Han brings up a very significant point that as educators we must take the time to learn about our students’ cultures and more importantly communicate all details and policies to our immigrant families. We had a student in this past school year that got a paper cut. Our school policy is that we have to make a call home anytime a student gets a cut no matter how small. The calls become routine and usually go something like “I was just calling to let you know that Sam got a paper cut today when we were tearing paper for a project. He has a Band-Aid and is back working on the project. We’ll see you at pick up time. Have a good day.” and that’s the end of it. Yet, this particular student was new to our school and when I called stating that she was just fine they responded “oh…we’ll be there in 5 minutes” and hung up. I was a little baffled, but sure enough they were at the school looking frazzled and extremely worried three minutes later. No one had told them our policy about calling for any injury, so when I called home they thought that something must have been terribly wrong and since they didn’t understand the term ‘paper cut’ they rushed over. Young-Chan Han has it exactly right when she states that we must “be proactive” and help our families understand even the minor routines. It would have been much easier to explain our phone call policy prior to an incident, than to try and explain over the phone once they were in a panic. I completely agree that we should never take anything for granted and should always be proactive in explaining policies and routines.

It's always the little things that we tend to overlook! This post helped to reinforce that it is important for me to think at the most basic level where my ELL students are concerned. Sometimes we may be concerned that offering support in what we consider to be rudimentary tasks may be seen as overbearing or insulting. However, my experience living over sees taught me that I would rather have help offered for every little thing than to feel as though I don't have enough support. I imagine this is true for immigrant students and families, as well; your post helped to make this clear to me. A small oversight such as assuming the school supplies will be gathered can lead to further problems. Students may fall behind quickly and the lack of support offered by the school may wrongly lead families to feeling unwelcome, or possibly even inferior and embarrassed. Undue negative feelings would serve to further exacerbate the cultural gap. These anecdotes are perfect for sharing with colleagues, and I intend to do so! Thanks for the insight!

While reading the section “Free and Reduced Meal Forms” it reminded me of a situation that happened at my school at the end of this year. We had a new student who would only be there for two weeks. When it came time to go to lunch he approached me and asked if he would get to eat lunch today. When I responded that he would get to, he asked how he would be able to because he didn’t have money. He had actually come from a different school where he got free lunch and didn’t realize at our school he would as well. Since it was the last couple of weeks of school, somehow it was overlooked that he would still need the forms and need to know about the free lunch. I am sure this is something that happens much more often that it should. It is important that we take a step back at times and remember that not everyone has always been doing things “our way”. There are so many little things that we do on a daily basis, just going through the steps, that we have to keep in mind not everyone has taken the same steps as us!

Reading Young-Chan Han’s blog about immigrant families in America was insightful and thought provoking. She reminded me of a Hispanic student in one of my student teaching classes. The school has a high population of ESL children, so the school prepares translated notices for their families. One morning, one of the girls who was Hispanic, but did not receive ESL services or these translated notices, handed my cooperating teacher a letter from her mother written entirely in Spanish. We had no idea her parents spoke only Spanish since she was fluent in English. From that point on we made sure to send home everything in Spanish. I also can relate to the discussion about pizza and the Burmese students. When I moved to Hawaii, the new teacher orientation provided lunch. Along with Chinese food, there was what appeared to be some kind of sushi wraps. Upon closer inspection and talking with other teachers, I discovered they were Spam musubi’s, which are made from Spam, rice, and seaweed, amongst other variations. Spam musubi is a beloved food of the Hawaiian people and oftentimes my students brought them to school for breakfast or lunch.

Both of these situations I encountered served as eye-opening experiences for me and taught me more about diversity. Even within the United States, people have different cultures and ways of doing things. Americans moving to a different geographical location not too far from where they once lived may require schools to be patient, proactive, and sensitive as they might not understand certain procedures. For instance, people who live in the city may not understand the way things are done in the country and vice versa. Han’s point that no one should ever make assumptions about what people do or do not know is spot on and a way of thinking that more teachers and people should begin to adopt.

"Be patient, be sensitive, and be proactive" - simple but vital actions to effective communication with immigrant families or English Language Learners. The tasks that seem minimal or easy to us can often be challenging for families who are not familiar with our customs, procedures, and programs. For example, in my experience as a 5th grade teacher, a first-year Korean student didn't understand the concept behind project-based and group assignments because she was used to more independent tasks that were more teacher-driven than student-driven. Simple ideas such as using previous student samples as visuals and even talking at a slower speed can be effective ways to bridge communication. A book called Myths and Realities, by Katharine Samway and Denise McKeon, highly suggests utilizing translators and interpreters to go over programs and services as well as during open houses or parent/teacher conferences (170-171). Also, printing newsletters or posting information on school websites in the immigrant families' languages is beneficial. Furthermore, most of these services are required by law (No Child Left Behind of 2001 and Title VI of the Civil Rights act of 1964). This book also shows research conducted by the Advocates for Children of New York and the New York Immigration Coalition in 2004 that reveals the lack of these translation/interpretation programs adversely effects the participation of children's parents in their education (170). There is nothing more important than being aware of students' and parents' needs and taking every step to ensure communication and understanding is taking place!

I think that it's important that we don't assume anything about intelligence because language is different. Think of a time when you thought you were stating something obvious to a little kid. Then they asked "why" or "what?" I spend a lot of time wanting to get annoyed at a six year old but realize he doesn't have the past experience to understand what's going on. So I take a deep breath and try to ask him some guiding questions. With immigrant families, patience and understanding, as well as a willingness to expect the unexpected and keep information available, are key.

The ancedot about the pizza really hit home with me. My district, being so heavily Hispanic, served a lot of SPICY Hispanic food to the new teachers and wondered why my bland-foods ONLY stomach was so upset. I just wasn't used to all the peppers and spices, and on an already tempermental gall bladder, that didn't help. They hadn't thought to consider that spice was not a part of my daily life. I sliced up bell peppers in place of chips the other day, which growing up was a huge treat. My stepkids were not pleased, and I became frustrated until I realized this wasn't something they were used to. Once I coaxed the first pepper bite into their mouths they were fine.

The overall conclusion and emphasis on the need for educators to be sensitive is a tip that I think translates through all of the experiences that the author shares in this blog post. Educators, and for that matter anyone working with immigrants, should always make it a practice to be sensitive and avoid making assumptions about cultural understandings that often times do not transfer. For example, two of my good graduate student friends are from Korea and Kenya. Both of them are shocked by the high amounts of dairy we consume in Michigan. Instead of regularly consuming cheese and milk products, they consume high amounts of rice. This has impacted our weekly get togethers. As such, the two of them typically plan the main course of a meal and I will bring drinks or cups. Doing so makes them and their children feel much more at home, and I am able to sample wonderful food from around the world.

Further, the author of the blog makes another great point that educators should make it a priority to learn about their student's cultures, languages, and histories. In my own class that I teach, I attempt to put this into practice. As such, students spend the semester writing about communities that they belong to which in turn provides a more complete understanding of the multitude of experiences, cultures and backgrounds that my students are from. Further, it is a wonderful opportunity to bring the "extracurriculum" (Gere, 1994) into the classroom. Classroom practices can be rooted in American practices and often exclude those who come into the classroom with different experiences. But by bringing in the "extracurriculum" (those home cultures and experiences typically excluded from school culture) students expand their own understanding of cultures and teachers are placed in a better position to understand the variety of values and cultures their students (and parents of the students) practice. Doing so then avoids making assumptions that do a disservice to immigrant students and families.

The impression that I got from the article was that people who are citizens of a country need to be patient, sensitive, and helpful to those who are foreign. They also need to be proactive, taking charge when they see someone in need. It is very challenging to go to a foreign country, learn the customs, and rules while being far away from home. I spent a few weeks in China which allows me to relate to many of the foreign people in America.

I was very interested to read the selection from Young-Chan Han. She provided some valuable lessons that I thought were useful. From my own experience I could identify with the food example. When I went to China a few years ago it was hard for me to get used to the food. It was different and not like American food. The “American Chinese Food” that I was used to was nothing like the “real Chinese food.” When I was in China all I wanted was something familiar and something from home. At that moment I realized what it was like to be a foreigner in America. I think the lessons that the author learned were great in this situation because I learned the same things. After being in a country with foreign foods I developed a lot more empathy for people who come to America from foreign countries. I learned that food is very different in other countries as well as peoples diets. It takes a little while for people to get used to the new food just like it took me a while to get used to eating the food in China. Not only was eating the food different, but ordering and how you eat at a restaurant was as well. Not only to people need to be patient and sensitive but willing to help foreigners time to adjust to their new living style.

Going along with being patient, I had a foreign student in my class this past year whose family did not know how to buy school supplies. It was very challenging for them to identify the items on the list and to locate them in the store. At times it was difficult to communicate with the family about what to buy. After a while they bought the supplies but some were not correct. I loved their willingness to try. I decided that if this happens next year I am going to use the picture suggestion from the article. Providing pictures to go along with each item helps the foreigners visually see what they need to buy. Showing pictures are a great way to be proactive helping foreigners learn new words and vocabulary terms.

Han shares an interesting perspective on what life must be like for new immigrant families to the United States. I felt that her main point was to ensure that new immigrant families are made aware of the most “basic information”—information that people who live in the U.S. take for granted (e.g., car seats for new-born babies, riding the school bus, etc.). It made me think about my mom and her parents, who came to the U.S. in the early 1960s before there was much help for new immigrants. I asked her what help (if any) she remembers receiving when she first arrived in Detroit. Her response: “Not much.” But the difference was that my grandparents chose Detroit because of its strong Polish community, which meant that they could easily communicate with people. In fact, it was so easy to survive in Detroit speaking only Polish that my grandparents learned very little English in the 50 years they lived here. However, many immigrants today are not so lucky and many find themselves trying to survive in English-speaking communities. Educators, who are in a special position to ease the transition of immigrant families by helping their children, need to remember Han’s conclusions: Be patient, be sensitive (I had never even thought about the food issue before!), and be proactive. The actions or inactions that educators make can be life-changing—let’s make sure we are a force of positive change!

This blog post has been very beneficial to me. Young-Chan Han brought up many important ideas about working with immigrant students and families. Overall, I was able to take away from this post the importance of making sure that the basics are being covered and that all information is being given to these families in ways that will help and support them. It is so easy for those of us who have been doing these things for years to forget what it is like to be new. I know I myself have sometimes assumed that some of the families that I have worked with would understand an assignment or a note with out covering the basics first. This post has reminded me that if we want everyone to understand we have to go back to the basics. It is the way that I start teaching my class at the beginning of each school year and it should be the way that I work with their families as well.

As I read this blog, I kept thinking about the families in the district I work at. I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but I know that there are very, very few minority and/or immigrant families. Even so, several of the lessons learned in the blog applied to families in my school district in similar ways. For example, one lesson learned was making programs available to parents. Many times, parents are unable to attend school functions because of their work schedule or lack of access to information. This past year, I had a very low turnout for parent teacher conferences. Although I don’t know exactly the reason, it could be due to lack of contact with the school, parents’ illiteracy, or parents had to work evenings. While this is different than the blog because most of the parents in my school speak English, it still puts them at a disadvantage and can’t be as involved. I believe parent involvement is SO important for a child’s success, no matter what language they speak! I have heard parents comment several times about how they weren’t informed of or couldn’t make it to a school function. This blog made me realize that it is even more important for families who don’t speak English as their first language. I really want to make it a priority in the fall to reach out to parents and find various ways to bring awareness of school programs and functions to families.
I am posting a link to an article about parent involvement. I really believe that no matter what language parents speak, it is so important to have them involved! The article gives a number of suggestions on how to get parents involved. While it doesn’t speak directly to immigrant families, most of the suggestions can easily be adapted to helping parents who speak other languages. For example, the article suggests recruiting parent volunteers. This benefits the parents because they learn more about the school and their child’s education. The teacher benefits because he or she can learn more about the families in the community and know how to best work with them. Another suggestion is communication. The article does mention the possible need for translating information. Communication benefits the parents because they are more aware of what is going on at the school and it benefits teachers because they can rely on support from home. No matter what language families at school speak, this article has some great suggestions that complement the blog!

Hi Young-Chan Han,
I want to acknowledge you for your contribution to the better understanding of immigrant families and the contribution that they are to our society. This blog post is fabulous and I hope that there is more to come. One point that really impacted me was when you said "make no assumptions." we live in a world of assumptions and one of the greatest detriments to our greatness is the assumptions we make about other human beings. I remember a time when I made a disastrous assumption about an ELL student when I first began teaching that greatly impacted how I saw this individual and then how I treated her. When I first met my student, I assumed that she knew what she was supposed to have learned in first grade about reading, after all, she was in 2nd grade now and she spoke English just fine. I didn't even know she was ELL because of that. But I quickly found out that she could not read and she was progressing slower than most of the class. I pushed her hard and made her give up some of her free time to continue studying and I'm sure that i gave her the message that I didn't believe in her. I'm ashamed to say that rather than contribute to that human being, I took away from her greatness. I did realize what I was doing and apologized and began to clean up the mess I made. I see her from time to time now, and she continues to tell me what a great teacher I was for her. It warms my heart. Make NO Assumptions!! Our immigrant families are amazing!
I support you in your cause Young Chan Han. All my best to you!

Sincerely, Lindsey Padlo

Young-Chan Han uses simple but powerful examples of assumptions made by American schools when dealing with immigrant families. As I read them, I wondered about what assumptions I have made with my students and their families in the past. In particular, I wonder about my ELL student this past year. Since I teach in a district with very few ELL students, I have never been informed about ways to deal with such students and their families. Upon reflecting, I realize that I never met with the parents of my ELL student and wonder if they felt as confused as the families mentioned in Han's blog. I also wonder if my school district has made the attempt to reach out to this family in the ways Han mentions, or if, they too, made assumptions about what immigrant parents understand. If there are any support systems in place for this family, I certainly wasn't made aware of them. Although my student has lived here all of her life, I believe that no English is spoken at home. She is quite fluent in English, but I did notice many times when she seemed to struggle with understanding basic instructions and concepts. After reading this blog, I plan to investigate resources available in my district, and, if I have this student again next year, I will try some of Han's suggestions in making communication more effective and respectful.

It was so interesting to read this blog post because I have to admit that I fell victim to making assumptions in that very first story—when the family walked away with the car seat, I realized exactly how quick I was to assume or take for granted the customs we consider “normal” or “expected” here in the United States. As an educator, this caused me to think back to the number of times in my teaching where when working with some of my bilingual or ESL students that I assumed they would know what I meant when I gave them what I considered to be “simple” directions. I think this idea of not making assumptions becomes especially important when dealing with parents though. Whether ELLs or not, some parents are not familiar with many of the procedures and expectations involved in an academic environment. For example, I know I have in the past often assumed that parents would know and understand what an assignment notebook was and how it would be utilized throughout the year, then at the end of the school year, when parents would come in for a conference because their child was performing poorly, we’d point to the assignment notebooks or planners and they would be completely baffled. I think your final conclusion about being proactive is probably the most important though to help counteract these issues. If we can try to anticipate these issues and then work to prevent them from occurring, just imagine how much MORE time we can spend then focused on learning and the education of both our ELL and our native language students!

I found this blog by Young-Chan Han to be a very eye opening read. I guess as someone who was born in the United States, I don't even think about even the smallest of details when it comes to every day life. I know from my personal experiences that most other countries don't have school buses. In my school district, until recently, most kids walked to school, but they still understood the concept of a school bus. When I tell my students that some countries don't have school buses and even those that walk to school can't believe it. The section about the school supplies was interesting. Don't other cultures use paper and pencils as well? I know elementary school teachers often require each student to have their own crayons and scissors, but you would think they might be able to supply those families who aren't familiar with how our schools are run. Then it raises the question, do US schools require too much "frill" for their students? I know for my class, I require them to have a folder and pencil, not much, but other classes require notebooks and binders and this and that. Is all this really necessary to learn? I know awhile back too, one school put a ban on backpacks or they had to be see through because of school violence. I can only imagine how confusing that would have been for a non English speaking family. Once they finally figure out what school supplies are needed, someone goes and throws them a curve ball. This blog is a good reminder to me that we have to go back to basics as educators, for ESL students and non ESL students. The simplest of tasks for us might be the most confusing for others.

While reading Young-Chan Han, all I could think about was, "That makes sense...why didn't I think of that!" All the comments she makes seem like common sense when you look back at them. The comment that I found most important is when she says "Don't make assumptions about ANYTHING and provide information on the most basic things that we take for granted." Earlier this year at school we had to give all of the students in the school a survey through a third party business. During one class I had an ELL student that struggled with some of the terminology that the survey used. If any of the other students didn't understand a question they just guessed on the answer knowing that the survey was anonymous and not attached to a grade. The ELL student needed examples and definitions provided to help him understand what was even being asked of him. Additionally, he was taught the value of education and hard work from the culture that he was raised in. I had originally thought that no students were going to need help since it was an individual task to be completed entirely on the computer. This is a good exa,ple of why it is important to not make any assumptions and to make sure to explain even the smallest things that we believe to be common sense.

One main point which really stayed with me from this article is that it is essential to be patient, sensitive and proactive not only with the children in the classroom but with the adults (i.e. family members), as well. This is demonstrated throughout the article such as when Han explains, “The ESOL teachers realized that this [FARMs forms] would be a challenge for their families and designated two days during the first week of school to assist families with filling out forms…” (Han 2010). Helping our students and providing our families with the best services means that we need to assist not only the children in the family but the family as a whole. I have not had the opportunity to work with very many ELL families yet in my career, however, last year during my student teaching internship I had a student join the first-grade class in January. My mentor teacher and I made sure to invite the child and family to come into the classroom after school one day during her first week. We showed the family the classroom and gave examples of materials that would be needed (i.e. art shirt, head phones). Then we made sure that after showing them what was needed and giving them a tour of the classroom, that the parents had time to take notes and write down supplies needed in their native language. This experience of getting to meet the family, form a connection, and provide them with the visuals of what would be needed was really beneficial. I was glad that my mentor teacher suggested that we do this and I will continue to do this in the future with my own classes to make sure that the parents feel more confident and have a better understanding of what is needed and what is happening in the classroom.

Throughout the article, Han also expressed that assumptions should not be made just because the activity seems typical or routine to someone who is used to the culture. To a Michigan-born individual raised in a suburban neighborhood, I found it very normal to walk down the street at 8:20 every morning and wait on the corner for the school bus to show up to take me to elementary school. On the days when I had a slow start and missed the bus, I knew that I needed to head back home to find a car ride to school. When I traveled to Germany in high school, I stayed with a host-family and went to school with my host-sister several times. She explained that we were going to take the bus to school. I made the assumption that it would be similar to my school bus experiences. We walked for about ¾ of a mile to get to the public bus stop when we realized that the bus had already left; I thought we would turn around and head back home. My host-sister however said that we could catch another bus on another street not too far away. We continued looking to catch a bus to school several times before we actually got to a stop on time. Looking back at this situation makes me wonder what I’d have done if I had been alone in this situation. It was my natural instinct to walk back home because I was able to do that when I was running late for school in my hometown. I did not think or even realize that there might be another bus to catch to get to school. While this is just a very small example of my own misconceptions and assumptions about bus-riding, it has helped me to take on a perspective of how even something as seemingly small as getting to school can be different and confusing for someone who is not used to the policies and cultural norms.

Young-Chang Han,

Thank you for this very insightful and important blog post. It definitely helps put educators in the right frame of mind to help immigrant students and their families. Everyone has had the experience of being “new” somewhere at some point in their lives, and can relate to how “unsettling” it feels. It is normal for people who are native to a country to get so comfortable with their own surroundings and how everything operates that, as you pointed out, they can easily make assumptions that everybody understands what they understand. However, as you noted, people who are new to a country will benefit greatly from helpers who provide patience and sensitivity while they adjust to their new surroundings.

Your post reminded me that when working with immigrant students and their families, I need to take the time to try to look at everything through their lens instead of my own, which will help me identify and provide them with the extra assistance or explanations they might need. For instance, suppose I asked myself the question, “If I was brand new to this country and I was handed this form, would I know how to fill it out?” If my answer was “No,” I would then be able to identify which resources, information, or assistance I would need in order to fill it out, and then make sure the necessary people or things are available for the students and their families. Taking time to be culturally aware and sensitive is an underdeveloped skill in today’s society, but it is crucial for all people to develop, especially educators, in order to better serve the students and their families. Thank you for sharing these stories and this advice, Gretchen Paige

I was very intrigued by this blog. I found that Young-Chan Han provided several assumptions that we make as American teachers that we do not tend to think about when placed in a classroom. I believe we assume that immigrants know simple everyday tasks that we take for granted and do not take the time to teach them. I really like how she pointed out examples of where professionals took time out of their own day to help out ELL families. For example, when families were confused about filling out forms for the start of a new school year, “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 (Han, 2010).” I think it is important that school families stick together and help out everyone and anyone that needs it. The first day of school can be intimidating enough for even the regular, middle class, Caucasian students. Imagine not knowing that school could be delayed two hours or that you could be let home early and not have a ride. I think that students have a lot to remember and be responsible for and it is our job as educators to make their days at school as worry-free as possible.
I have an experience that I was faced with during my long-term teaching position in first grade. I had a Lebanese student that was always unsure of how he was getting home. He was newly accustomed to how school worked and was just figuring out how to ride a bus. On top of that, his parents were recently divorced and some days his mother would pick him up and some days his father would. This would be nerve-racking to a six year old boy especially when he also had to deal with learning English, academics, social life, what to get for lunch, etc. His least concern should be how he is getting home from school. I took the initiative to make a plan for him. I made a document on the computer that had a picture of a woman, a man and a school bus. Next to each picture was a blank. I laminated the page and cut out three words, mom, dad and bus. Each day he was responsible to communicate with his mom or dad and find out how he was getting home. Then he would Velcro whichever way he was getting home next to the appropriate picture. I had laminated the pieces of paper that said mom, dad, and bus and put Velcro on the back so he could just stick them down and remove them each day. This caused less anxiety for both my student and I. He was always aware of how he was getting home from school starting the day I made him the plan and on throughout the rest of the school year. It is something simple that regular students take for granted and that we as educators assume that every student should know how to get home. It is important like Han said that we are sensitive, patient and proactive with immigrant students and families. I would also like to add the word understanding. If we can try to understand where they are coming from and try to include them and help them in anyway we can than we as educators are making that many more lives at ease.


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