After having read the “Ministry of Education’s English Language Learners: ESL and ELD Programs” and Services document, I began to think about how difficult it must have been to create a comprehensive system to help English Language Learners (ELLs). All children are different and have different needs, so it is amazing that a program has been established to help ELLs through the Ontario school system. In my opinion, the program itself is very cut and dry, though, and I think that each ESL student needs to be individually assessed, and that there should be no “guide book” on how to teach and treat these students. In my first years of teaching, one of the main things I found was that what works for one child will not work for another child and I need to adapt to the individual needs of my students. It’s similar to students who have exceptionalities and/or an IEP.
The document recommends frequent communication with parents, and I agree with this policy with any child. E-mail and social networking make it a lot easier, these days. But I was thinking about the relationship that teachers should have with parents of a ESL student in their classroom, and the difficulties that may be associated with developing these relationships. I think that developing a positive and open relationship with parents is extremely important for teachers, especially for younger children, but there are a number of difficulties that may arise if the parents speak a different language than the teacher. I’ve often considered developing a program in my school that funds online professional translation, which is fairly inexpensive. Or perhaps volunteers from the community would be willing to translate for teachers and administration, especially if there is a large population in the school of a common language. If newsletters and letters home to parents could be translated into their first language, I think that would make a lot of people very happy!
But, thinking realistically, it may not be within the school budget to fund these types of translation services. Sometimes the student becomes a ‘middle-man’ in parental communication with teachers and the school. It’s happened to me a number of times where I’ve sent a letter home with a student only to find out it didn’t make it to the parent. I don’t think this is effective either.
If the parents are able to communicate well with the teacher, the teacher should take advantage of this to talk about the student and their language ability, just as the ministry’s document suggests. I think that the teacher should encourage that the child use English outside the classroom, perhaps by watching English television or reading English books at home.
Overall, there are a lot of complications that come with teaching an ESL student, and I believe that each case should be treated individually. “Guide books” such as this one given by the ministry are useful in developing strategies, but I believe that whenever there are any sort of challenges with any child in the class, the options should be weighed according to the child. I also agree that communication with parents is key to ensuring the success of these children.