Communicating Effectively to Different Languages

During our time teaching in Italian classrooms we have had so many amazing experiences where I’ve felt inspired. I’ve left the classroom feeling so accomplished with my lesson and feeling more secure than ever in my decision to become a teacher, and to major in Early Childhood Education. However,I feel that I learned the most about becoming an educator in the worst teaching experience I have ever had.

On a beautiful Wednesday morning my colleague Brianna and I headed up to Albano Laziale to the Callodi school for our first time teaching Italian students. The Callodi school is composed of about 300 students, grades K-5, ages 5-11. We were both so excited to get started with our lesson about Thanksgiving, we planned to talk to the students briefly about the history of Thanksgiving, then talk to the students about being thankful for the things that you have in life. After we were done discussing Thanksgiving with the students we were going to make paper Indian hats and the students had to write something that they were thankful for on each feather. We arrived at the school and one of the teachers led us to our assigned classroom for the next two hours. We introduced ourselves to the teacher and we were very surprised to learn that she spoke no English whatsoever. Not only that the students only knew a few simple words in English. Brianna and I suddenly became very nervous in our lesson. We were then introduced to the English teacher we were momentarily relieved until we learned that her English was very limited as well. We decided to try and go ahead with our lesson anyways in hope they would understand some of what we were saying. As we started to talk about Thanksgiving we were immediately stopped by the teacher who told us(in very broken English) that the students would never understand what we were saying. We then decided we would skip over the discussion and just immediately make the Indian hats. I began passing out the materials to the students while Brianna started to explain the hats as simply as possible. While she was explaining the hats we learned that the students do not know how to write so they would be unable to write what they were thankful for on the feathers of the hat. We ended up just helping the students put together the hats and that was it for our lesson (we still ended up taking all of our allotted time). I left the school that day feeling so unbelievably frustrated. I have never had a lesson go wrong in as many ways as the lesson today had. I felt as if one single thing didn’t go right. I never wanted to go back to that school. However, later that night I started to realize all I had learned in the failed lesson.

I remember thinking about how frustrated I was teaching that lesson, knowing I had a point to make that I couldn’t get across, and also that the teacher was trying to communicate with me and I had no idea what she wanted me to do. I felt like I was the most unintelligent person to ever exist (despite the fact it was not my fault that I didn’t know their language). I came to the realization that that is how English as a Second Language (ESL) students feel every single day in the classroom. These students are constantly unable to communicate their wants and needs to their teacher and also unable to do what their teacher asks of them. This can cause tense feeling between teacher and student at no fault of either party. I always have known that I would one day have a student in my class who did not speak English well but I never had an understanding of exactly how those students would feel until now. We need to put ourselves in each others shoes and look at things from their perspective. It is so easy to judge the student who doesn’t speak English and treat them as if they are not intelligent, but I now know first hand how horrible that situation can cause a person to feel. While I can mark down this situation as the worst teaching experience I have ever had, I can also say that it was the most influential, and the one I am most glad that I had.

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