Voices of Bilingual Teachers: Marta's Story

by multilingualmania on February 20, 2010

in Bilingual Education

A bilingual teacher explains how her views of bilingual education have changed over time.

When I was a child, I was placed in what they called a “bilingual program”. Since I have grown up and learned more about bilingual education, I now know that I was not in a bilingual program per se, but I was in an English pull-out program where I was pulled out once a day to work with an instructional assistant on my English.

As a child I hated being in an English pull-out program. Other students labeled us as the “bilingual kids” and we were treated as if we were stupid. I always thought that teachers treated me like I was stupid also because as a small child I didn’t have enough English to explain to them that I could understand what they were teaching. My teachers didn’t speak Spanish and wouldn’t let any of the other Spanish-speaking students help translate for me. I even had a teacher who put tape on my mouth for asking someone in Spanish for clarification of what we were learning in class. One teacher even retained me in the third grade, telling my father that I didn’t know enough English. Being retained harmed my self-esteem for many years.

As an early adult, I used to tell people how harmful bilingual education was. When I was in the teaching credential program, my sister asked me if she should put her child in the bilingual program and I stated that I was completely opposed to bilingual education because it was harmful to children. I can remember speaking out in class and telling people how much it had harmed me.

When I got my first job as a teacher, I was placed into a bilingual classroom and I can remember going home and crying for days because I was so upset about it. But one day the bilingual coordinator for the district came to visit me and she invited me to a training for new teachers about bilingual program. That training changed my life and forever changed my perceptions about bilingual education.

Through working with people who were knowledgeable advocates for bilingual education, I learned that my experience was what many students experience throughout the nation. I learned that I was not in a bilingual program, but I was in an English classroom with ESL pull-out. I came to learn that maybe my difficulty was because I was NOT given support in my primary language, and maybe I would have had a more successful experience if I was provided literacy and support in my native language. I learned that my “bilingual program” that I had been in as a child had only been a bilingual program in name only.

The most important thing that I learned from the training about effective forms of bilingual education was that I was missing a part of myself, having felt ashamed for years that I spoke Spanish because someone in the school system made me feel ashamed.

I have now been a bilingual educator for ten years and I would never want to only teach in an English classroom. I see my students soar as they learn two languages, and I enjoy celebrating the cultural heritage with my students that I lost as a child. I also enjoy teaching English-speaking children the joy of being bilingual.

As a bilingual teacher, I have learned over the years that much of what I was taught about bilingual education not working was nothing but false information. I work in a bilingual program where our students outscore English-speaking classrooms, although they are learning in two languages.

I wouldn’t trade being a bilingual educator for anything in the world. I am so grateful that someone came along and touched my life in order to teach my about how successful bilingual programs can be if done well.

About the Author: Marta Jimenez is a third grade Dual Immersion teacher in Southern California. She has taught for ten years and has taught kinder through third grade in a Dual Immersion programs as well as a transitional bilingual education program. During her vacation, she also loves to travel extensively throughout Latin America.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Wenjonggal February 20, 2010 at 11:23 pm

What a wonderful post. Thankyou for that. It reminds me of the systemic destruction of native languages here in Canada, the loss of heritage and cultural ties. I am so glad that you got training that put all into perspective and turned around how you see and experience things, and therefore can go on and enrich the lives of young students today.

multilingualmania February 24, 2010 at 7:52 am

Thanks for your comment, Wenjonggal!

The destruction of languages and cultural ties is something very sad, indeed!!

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