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First Praxis

jayah's picture

            Walking in the building, I see a classroom full of Latino children sitting at the table looking at the pictures in the book. The teacher is speaking with one of the student’s mother about an upcoming fieldtrip to the aquarium. The teacher looks to be Latina, but she is speaking in English to the mother, who is Latina. There is also a teacher’s aide in the classroom, who is also Latina. I am the only black person in the classroom, and another student from Bryn Mawr, who is the only white person. I was anxious to see how the students would respond to us since we were clearly outsiders. I thought that this would be the first challenge, however it was not. The students were only 3-5 years old, so they did not really pay attention to color. This reminded me of the fishbowl activity where a question was posed of when should students learn about race. I do not think that 3-5 years old is that age.

            As I settled in the class, the students kept staring and the teacher introduced me as “teacher Jayah.” The students do not say “Ms. Or Mr.,” instead they say “teacher.” The students do not even mention a name. When I asked the teacher if there was a specific reason the students did not say “Ms. or Mr., she said that she was raised in Catholic school and they did not call their teacher Ms. or Mr. It was more of a personal choice. The teacher did acknowledge that in elementary school, the students did have to call the teacher “Mrs. Name” but it was hard to correct all of the students and it really did not bother her so she allowed them to call her “teacher.”

            The students did not speak much English. They knew their ABC’s in English and a few objects, but when they communicated with each other, they spoke Spanish. I barely speak Spanish, and I knew that it would be a challenge to communicate with the students. They would say sentences and I would try to understand. Most of the time I did understand, but then they did not understand me. I used gestures to communicate with the students and they did the same to communicate with me, so it became a little easier to communicate with each other.     

            The teacher tried to speak English during the school day, but there were times I noticed she spoke Spanish to the students. In a conversation with the teacher during the students’ playtime, the teacher informed me that she was supposed to speak English to the students during the second half of the school year, but sometimes it is easier to communicate to them in Spanish. For the most part, she speaks to them in English because in elementary school, there is not Spanish spoken and it is her job to prepare the students. In this conversation, the teacher also told me that the most of the parents do not speak, read, or write in English. This is challenging for the students because they are exposed to Spanish all day, and are forced to speak and understand English in school. They also get no help on their homework, which is given in English. How can these students excel in elementary school? Hard work and determination?

            From my experience in this classroom, one challenge that I see is how I can communicate and relate to the students effectively. Another challenge is how the teacher can create homework assignments that engage the parents as well as students, so that some English is exposed in the household and not only in school. The last challenge is speaking to the students only in English so that they are prepared when they move up to elementary school.