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Bilingual Interview Essay

I interviewed a student at Wedgewood Park International Middle School in Milwaukee. I did it on March 6th in the morning. The interview with Gaby (a pseudonym) lasted about thirty minutes during his reading intervention time, so he would not miss curriculum instruction time. He is an 8th grader who grew up in Puerto Rico. He attended school in Puerto Rico, but he said it was very different than it is here. He also said that the culture was friendlier there. He described walking down the sidewalk, knowing everyone he passed and hearing loud familiar music.

He has lived in Milwaukee for about three years and spent a few months in Florida when he was six. Here, he said no one talks to each other when walking down the street. At home, he lives with his mother and younger brother, and they speak Spanish together. He says that he is more comfortable both academically and socially in Spanish, though he uses English mostly for texting. At school, he has an IEP and is receiving services with a bilingual special education teacher. However, this is the first year that he has had that sort of support with someone who spoke Spanish.

He is in the bilingual (Spanish and English) program, though that seems to be more of a technical label than actual program. While his teachers all know how to speak Spanish and English, he explained that most instruction and assignments are in English, with only five or six pieces of writing in Spanish each year. This is consistent with what I saw during my Observation and Participation, which I did at this school last semester at the school. While I was there, I saw Spanish used in conversation with students and to reiterate points after stating them in English, but I think I only saw one lesson taught in Spanish.

I would not say that it is a 50:50 program, but more like a 90:10 program English to Spanish, which I believed was not supposed to happen unless it was a transitional bilingual program. Wedgewood did not define their bilingual program as maintenance or transitional, at least not on their website. They also have ESL support teachers for students with other primary languages, though there are not home language supports for these students. Additionally, Wedgewood Park is an International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme school, which means that it is supposed to support students on the way to an IB diploma at the end of high school.

For the middle school, this means that they use a very different grading scale and emphasize reflection and writing in all of their courses. It was interesting to see how the bilingual supports that were present were layered over the IB programming that the entire school was doing. Gaby explained that, when he first started school at Wedgewood, he was originally put in the mainstream program due to a misunderstanding of his background. He expressed that he struggled to make friends in that program because he did not feel like they had anything in common.

After the administrators at the school corrected the error and placed him in the bilingual program, he said that everyone was easier to talk to and he had more in common with them. Gibbons (2015) states that “Learners need models of new languages […]”, which often comes in the form of interaction with teachers for students in a one-way bilingual program (p. 28). For Gaby, the mainstream program might have been a good opportunity to interact with good models of his new language. However, Gaby felt like he did not have peers that he could interact with successfully.

Additionally, without the supports that the bilingual program offers, these models would not have provided comprehensible input for him. He does interact with native English speakers on the bus to and from school, but not during the school day. Even his specials are with other students in the bilingual program. It is hard for schools to find a balance between interacting with students that they feel camaraderie with and students that can be models of academic language. Gaby and I talked about some of his teachers. He thinks they would describe him as a good kid, but an average student.

He enjoys English but thinks his science teachers have been really mean. I have never seen him interact with his science teacher, but Gaby’s interpretation of their interactions could be caused by a lot of things. It is possible that his science teacher does not engage in interactive teaching with dialogic talk and effective group work. Gibbons (2015) describes dialogic talk as responsive to students needs due to more opportunities for clarification and more comprehensible input. She also offers some suggestions for making sure that group work provides legitimate opportunities for interaction (p. 2-34 & 54-61).

Without these elements, Gaby may feel as though the class is not worth his time. It is also possible that the teacher is just strict or has a classroom management style that he does not like. Just because students do not like the teacher does not mean that they are a bad teacher necessarily. As a teacher, I will need to find my own classroom management style while using research-based methods. After school , Gaby said that he goes home, cleans, and then works on his homework. He does not participate in any activities after school that are at the school.

It was unclear if this was because he did not feel comfortable at the school or if it had more to do with his familial expectations. Gaby specifically said that the first thing he does when he gets home is clean, so that might mean that he does not have the time to participate in extracurricular activities. He also does not spend a lot of time with his friends outside of school but does text them while they are at their own homes. He said that, when he gets stuck on his homework, he tries to look it up online. He did say that it did not always work well, and sometimes he is really stuck without anywhere else to go for help.

In Valdes (2001), Elisa called Valdes at night for help on homework (p. 101). Gaby does not have this sort of support, which makes some assignments daunting. When he comes to school without his homework done, he explained that he got in trouble. This reminded me that I should not always assume the worst of students when they seem to be being lazy. If they do not understand something, it will be hard for them to complete it to my expectations. I wonder how realistic it would be for me to take the first few minutes of the day or the class to ask for questions on take-home work.

This way, students would have a chance to get help no matter what sort of supports they have at home. When I asked Gaby about his future, he said that he wants to become a surgeon. He explained that he is going to a high school that continues the IB program next year and then will go on to college. His mom did some college in Puerto Rico but does not have a degree. This is a clear example of aspirational capital. Yosso (2005) defines aspirational capital as “the ability to maintain hopes and dreams for the future, even in the face of real and perceived barriers. ” (p. 7).

If Gaby decides to go to medical school, he will be the first person in his family to get that level of education. Medical school is a challenge that will require him to work very hard to be successful. However, he did not talk about this plan like some scary thing that he is going to try in the future. He talked about it with a lot of hope and purpose. As a teacher, it will be important for me to remember to encourage all of my students. Just because they have some sort of obstacle, real or in my head, does not mean that they cannot do what they want to do.

In special education, we talk about setting realistic goals, but that is not always the most important part. Sometimes having something to strive for and work towards will help students stay motivated, even if they do not end up there in the end. At the end of the interview, I asked Gaby what he thought someone who is going to teach students that are learning English should know. He responded with saying that racism was everywhere. Gaby talked about his experiences of racism here. He told a story about being at the mall with his mom.

He wanted to get around a woman and asked to be excused so he could get through past her. She turned around and went on a rant about how rude he was and how he should just go back to Mexico. He said that his mom wanted to yell at the other woman, but he managed to talk her down and just ignore the woman. Hearing this story just broke my heart. It was so hard to hear a thirteen-year-old boy talk about being so used to this experience that he was able to just ignore her. He made me think about how I might talk with students about these kinds of experiences.

I want to teach younger kids than Gaby is, but that does not mean that they will not go through similar things. I do not have the answer for how I would respond, but thinking about it before I am in that situation will help me be prepared. As we are discussing in class, immigration is a hot topic right now. Gaby is from Puerto Rico, and he told me that he is here legally, but because he looked Hispanic, the woman thought he was from Mexico. These things did not keep Gaby immune from experiencing racism, and my students will experience it too, no matter their story.

It is no t likely for me to get to know all of my students to this sort of depth right away at the beginning of a schoolyear. That does not mean that I cannot strive to have a personal relationship with my students. Whether they have concerns about their familial stability, their ability to learn English, how their disability might affect their ability to learn English, or how to succeed in general education classes, I need to know about their concerns so that I can provide support for all of my students.

It is important for me to be a place my students can come to get help, not just for their academic needs, but also for their human needs. If there is too much happening in their life such as homelessness, deportation fears, or a need to work to help support their family, academic concepts are going to seem unimportant before their needs as a person have been addressed.

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