Recently, Lydia Breiseth, manager at ColorínColorado, met with Anne Marie Foerster Luu (TESOL’s 2013 National Teacher of the Year) from Montgomery County Public Schools to discuss fostering relationships with ELLs and immigrant students. Ms. Foerster Luu has been an ESOL teacher in different levels of education for many years and offers an enlightening perspective on teaching and reaching ELLs.
Ms. Breiseth opens the discussion by asking Ms. Foerster Luu why she places such regard on sustaining an active emotional relationship with her students: “It’s important to me as a human being because I want that same respect… [and] it makes learning more possible.” Ms. Foerster Luu emphasizes that the “…social, emotional safety and security [of the students] is a huge part of the learning process and the ‘becoming human process’ and I think that students, when they trust you, they will work for you.”
How does a teacher garner trust? Ms. Foerster Luu reminds teachers that ELLs can bring outside concerns into the classroom that teachers might not be able to fully understand; nevertheless, teachers should respect the worries of ELLs and not disparage them in order to facilitate learning by promoting a healthy social and emotional environment.
To maintain a sustaining social and emotional environment, it is equally as important to work with (and not against) the families of ELLs. “You are dinner conversation,” as said by Ms. Foerster Luu’s colleague. Some ways of including families of ELLs in a student’s education include showing families that the school has resources and inviting families into their child’s education with a strong, empathetic staff. The former is “critical for [ELLs]” because schools are not always a safe, resourceful environment, meaning that schools might not have the financial or informational resources that families need in times of trouble. Budding distrust in educational institutions means that families of ELLs might be more willing to keep the student home than continue to send them to school. Montgomery Public Schools, in an attempt to bridge these differences, have a bilingual advisory group on their PTA, “filling a need within the community,” as well as a bilingual ambassador who welcomes new ELLs to school.
In a similar vein, Ms. Foerster Luu discusses her experience with undocumented and unaccompanied minors. She explains that these students are “surviving trauma,” and that such social and emotional issues will impact students in the classroom. She enumerates indicators of impact: withdrawal, fear of connecting with other students, and a lack of trust (with students or with teachers).
How do we combat this? Ms. Foerster Luu shares that her most productive interactions with such students occurred when she provided space for the students to talk. According to her, students do not always need teachers to solve their problem, but benefit from a chance to talk about it. Ms. Foerster Luu has connected such unresolved issues to her curriculum which has allowed students to not only relate to the lesson, but also helped the students discuss their trauma. She also advocates for a group of colleagues dedicated to helping ELLs, developing a toolkit for working with these students, and maintaining an environment that supports the teachers who are supporting these students.
-Melissa Hoppie, Graduate Research Assistant