I had the fortune of spending a full day at El Cajon Valley High School last week shadowing a student across his day. This student is a recent immigrant, and his English skills are still developing. He joins a large population of refugees and immigrants at the school.
My usual visit to a site involves a meeting or two and maybe some short visits into classrooms. While I don’t think I’ve lost touch with being in the classroom every day, this experience was something completely different.As a teacher, you conduct the class – you are responsible for delivering the instruction, must ensure the class environment is conducive to learning, and check in with as many students as possible. That’s before you did any grading, attend after school meetings, engage in professional development, meet with administrators, etc. It can be exhausting.
Spending the day sitting in classes as a participant affirmed some thoughts I’ve had for years. The student experience is exhausting in a different way. Let me first say, I think the teachers heading up the classes I watched are all exceptional. They took the time to build lessons that academically challenged students and while also teaching them English.
So, here is what I found.
- It’s a long day in those desks.
- It is easy to get distracted in a room full of 30-40 students.
- While our English Language Learners are getting good instruction in English that combines learning content and skills with learning the language, most of those students speak their native languages with their peers. Two different students noted that this to me and expressed that their English acquisition is probably slower as a result. I saw this first hand as students clamored to know who I was and why I was there each class – in Arabic and Spanish.
- Changing subjects every hour requires students to stop mid-thought and then jump back in where they left off the day before. In the classes that had some time to work independently, students took some time to get settled and start working then they had to stop.
- The academic language of a high school subject is daunting. I felt a little overwhelmed jumping back into biology and geometry.
- One student I spoke with shared his confusion during his first semester when he walked into the school with almost no English. However, just six months later, he had a strong handle on basic conversations. English is his fourth language. Compared to my one.
I challenge all administrators to take a day and follow just one student.