I understand that students who are still learning English are a harder group to teach. There’s a language barrier that makes it more challenging for them to understand the teacher, read the question, and articulate their thoughts. We have to go through special training to teach Structured English Immersion classrooms (which is basically all classrooms in Arizona, and requires two semesters of ASU coursework for me) because there are different strategies you need to use and different ways to approach a classroom when there are children in it who do not speak the dominant language. I get that.
What I don’t get is why there are so many people who talk about English Language Learners (ELLs) as if that designation makes them moronic. I literally heard a colleague say, “My classroom has special ed kids, and ELL kids, and they just don’t even know how to think!” She was in a workshop, feeling exasperated, and we all nodded along looking sorry for her. I pick on her here because I remember the words as they came out of her mouth, but it’s not an uncommon sentiment and no one batted an eyelash when she said it.
Forgive me, but I’m confused about the relationship between speaking the local language and knowing how to think. I was never aware those two were directly related. I studied abroad and took classes at a university full of Spanish speakers. I struggled to keep up with the professor, and when I talked I butchered grammar while only expressing relatively simple ideas. Despite that, I consider myself a relatively intelligent human being, and I know my IQ didn’t miraculously plummet while I was living there.
I’m lucky; I get to see a great side of the ELL kids, because math is a language in itself. Sure, they struggle on the word problems and that makes standardized test scores drop, but some of the best math students in my classroom are ELL. Speaking Spanish as a first language actually doesn’t make you dumber, believe it or not. I wish that so many of their teachers didn’t believe otherwise.