The biggest challenge that I faced this semester was language. I came to a country where everyone speaks German and I spoke none. In my day to day life, there were times where I really wished I could understand more but I could get by speaking English. In the classroom, I was the odd one out. I was the only person in the school that had no experience with German. When other teachers would walk by or attempt to ask me something in German, my students would all rush to tell them that I don't speak German, only English. It was a strange feeling. Everything I was used to as a teacher was different. Coming into a new environment, I like to observe the teacher in the classroom to see how he or she interacts with students and what sort of classroom management routines they have in place. I then use those observations to inform my own teaching and make my transition into the classroom a smooth one. But, I could not understand anything that my CT said to my students and even had a hard time getting cues from the tonality of her voice because it is different when speaking German. This definitely put me in a less comfortable place to begin with.
As a teacher, you come face to face with challenges everyday and being able to think on your feet and be flexible is a big part of succeeding as a teacher. So I came into this experience ready to be open minded to differences and ready to be challenged. Working with a population that spoke very little of my first language and whose first language I was just beginning to learn, was truly difficult. Trying to build a connection with students who cannot understand you at first seemed hopeless. Even something that seems so frivolous like small talk is significant in establishing trust and getting to know someone else. Without the ability to use speech as a main form of communication, I learned to resort to other methods. I would participate in games that students were playing to show them that I am fun and enjoy spending time with them. I took interest in the work they were doing and they would get excited to show me their projects on the wall. I found small ways for them to get to know me and build a connection with me. This was my biggest goal of the semester. Because relationships and community play a vital role in teaching. I am proud to say that I overcame this language barrier and created relationships with my students that made our learning together more effective and fun.
Having this eye opening experience helped me to understand what it is like to be a minority in a classroom and even more specifically an ELL student. I think this will help me to promote equity and social justice in the classroom. To experience being in a classroom and being expected to learn in a language you don’t understand, really shaped my perspective. Through this experience I will better be able to empathize with and teach ELL students.
I hope I have left these students with excitement and positive memories associated with learning and specifically learning English. I was lucky enough to have them teach me about myself and education each week so I hope I too taught them something they can cherish.