final paper - Sites at Penn State

Annie Lawrenson
CI 280
Dr. Kolb
16 December 2013
Teaching Philosophy
As a future teacher of students from a variety of backgrounds, it is essential to
understand how students view the world, and the way their cultural experiences and
values influence the way that they live their lives. The primary goal of any teacher is to
help the student learn to the best of their ability, and if the teacher does not understand
the culture that the student comes from, or makes a student of a minority culture feel
inferior to students of the mainstream culture, the teacher is not fulfilling his or her job. It
is therefore important to take a look at a number of factors including culture and
multiculturalism, language policies for English language learners, multilingualism and
language variation, instructional support for the ELL and the teachers professional
practice in the community and with parents, when trying to understand where one’s
beliefs lie in regards to teaching students form different cultures and language
When thinking about multiculturalism, there is one quote that helps to sums up
what I have come to believe about culture; “The world in which you were born is only
one model of reality. Other cultures are not a failed attempt at being you, they are unique
manifestations of the human spirit. (Davis)” It is my belief that a teacher must be able to
identify his or her own cultural influences or biases, and understand that his or her
students may come from a culture that does not share the same beliefs or values. The
teacher must relate in his or her actions that no culture is inherently better than another,
that multiculturalism is to be celebrated, and that culture is connected very closely with
how a student views him or herself. By understanding that as a teacher, he or she carries
cultural baggage that influences the way that he or she views the world. This is not a bad
thing, because everyone carries this baggage, but it becomes problematic when the
teacher does not realize that their cultural upbringing may differ from their student’s
upbringing. When the teacher is unable to view the world complexly, and value the
differences his or her students bring to the classroom, whether that is by bringing another
home language into the classroom or by bringing a different culture with them to school,
the teacher does the student a disservice. In an article from, Kenneth
Tyler, Ruby Stevens and Aesha Uqdah discuss the issues surrounding cultural bias in the
classroom. They say, “Here, cultural bias beliefs sanction as appropriate certain forms of
classroom behavior, including the manner in which a student is to perform and learn
during class time.” (Tyler, Kenneth) An example that they use on the website is that of a
student who does not come from a culture that stresses the importance of sitting quietly at
a desk, working independently and interacting with the teacher when problems occur.
While this may be the cultural belief of some mainstream teachers, not all students come
from an educational background where this behavior is the norm. It would not be far of a
teacher to label a misbehaving student as a troublemaker if he or she was simply having a
hard time adjusting to the new demands of the classroom culture.
This article later discusses one way that teachers can work to identify and deal
with their biases. The authors discuss the importance of having the teachers and school
personnel understand their own cultural biases when thinking about how they expect
students to behave in class. They believe that teachers must self reflect to see where their
biases lie in teaching before they can understand the cultural differences of diverse
students. (Tyler 2009) Although the authors use this idea in relation to classroom
behavior of students, the same principal of examining cultural bias applies to other
aspects of teaching, such as understanding interactions with parents, emphasis placed on
the value of education and differences in showing respect amongst culturally diverse
students. It is important that the teacher outwardly express to his or her students the
importance of cultural pluralism and the value in learning about other people. This
benefits not only students from the minority culture, but also students from the majority
culture, as they are exposed to different ways of life.
Not only do teachers themselves bring biases into the classroom that could
negatively impact their students, but the textbooks and standardized tests used in most
classrooms do as well (Ndura 2004). Journal article “ESL and Cultural Bias,” discusses
the ways that bias in textbooks can affect the way that students see themselves and their
peers. For students who have to navigate a new culture, it can be difficult to balance real
cultural identity with the stereotypes being presented in the text. It can open the students
up to be bullied, and can make them feel inferior to the students of the majority culture,
as some textbooks promote discrimination against other cultures (Ndura). As a teacher, it
is essential that he or she identify the biases that may be present in textbooks and texts.
Even if the teacher must use the book, making the students aware of the biases contained
in the book and supplementing opposing opinions would help to minimize discrimination
against students from other cultures.
Although current policy measures do not favor dual language use or bilingualism
in the classroom, it is my belief that these classroom models are the most effective when
teaching ELLs. A teacher must know that research supports bilingual education as the
best form of ESL instruction a student can receive. By knowing this, the teacher must do
everything in his or her power to help the student develop in their native language, along
with development in English. From the research presented in the Wright textbook, I have
come to believe that dual language programs are the best model of teaching ELLs, as they
offer the student the chance to develop in their native language, while also learning
English (Wright 2010, p. 92-93). These programs normally have native English students
learning the other language in the same classroom, so both sets of students are exposed to
different cultures, while also learning different languages. This model allows the ELL to
be an expert in their home language, and can help the native English speakers learn their
language. This role reversal would be beneficial because it portrays the other language as
just as important as English. While I know that these programs are not perfect, and that
there can be some very bad bilingual programs, I believe that teaching students to be
bilingual and bicultural is important for them to be productive global citizens.
Maria Paula Ghiso’s journal article, “Every Language is Special,” also supports
the idea that students must learn to be bilingual and bicultural, but recognizes that this is
difficult to do in an era where bilingual education is not highly supported by the
government. Ghiso examines a summer school programs that works to help ELL
appreciate and see the value in their home languages. The program is open to students
with a wide range of English mastery, and includes students from a number of different
communities. While they work on English acquisition, they also look at maintaining the
home language of their students. They stress, “We have different situations, but one thing
is clear- we all have roots. It is so important for us to be proud of our home country and
our home language. Just remember one thing-no country or language is less important
than English. Every language is special. (Ghiso).” This is how I feel about language
learning. It is very important that students that are learning English actually learn
English, so that they can be successful in America, but it is also very important that they
do not feel as though English is superior to their home language. It is the teacher’s job to
help students maintain their home language, even if they cannot provide their students
with a dual language program. Teachers can find programs like the after school program
mentioned in Ghiso’s article and encourage students to attend, can find other resources
for the family, and can communicate in the material that they chose to use, that all
languages are important, and that the student’s language and culture is valued.
I believe that a teacher must be aware of and sensitive to how closely language is
associated with culture, and how by outlawing a student’s language or language variation
in the classroom, the teacher is stifling an aspect of the student’s identity. The teacher
must help the student learn the standard dialect of English, so that the student can be
successful in areas where their language variation is not spoken, while still encouraging
language diversity.
In an ideal world, for me at least, all students, regardless of where they come
form, would be required to learn at least one other language, and maybe even more than
one. I highly value the ability to speak another language, and do not fully embrace the
idea that everyone should learn English. I feel like too little pressure is put on nonEnglish speaking students to learn English, and not enough pressure is put on English
speaking students to learn other languages. For that reason, I chose a Ted Talks video by
an English teacher form the Middle East, Patricia Ryan, “Don’t insist on English.” She
discusses how often times teachers assume that because a student does not speak English,
they do not know anything, and or cannot contribute to society. This is of course wrong,
but I believe teachers can sometimes block students from reaching their full potential by
insisting that they speak English. As a teacher, I understand that it is important for
students to learn how to speak in standard American English, so that they can be
successful in the US, but I also think that teachers should be open to other languages and
language varieties.
To tell a student that they cannot speak in their native language or language
variation in class, especially when they are asking a partner for clarification or help,
seems extreme to me. I believe that a student needs to learn how to use English, but not at
a cost to their native language. I believe that teachers need to teach students when it is
appropriate to use different types of speech, and how they may be judged if they use the
inappropriate form of speech. This does not just apply to the use of different language
varieties, but also to different language varieties used in standard English, such as the
difference between conversational English and academic English. According to PBS’
website “Do you Speak American?” many people have the tendency to misinterpret
people who easily switch from one language to another as being less educated, and not
knowledgeable in either language. The website mentions that these individuals are
normally highly educated, but prejudices towards language variation such as Chicano
English, or the Black Vernacular are still prevalent in our society. As teachers, it should
be our job to accept these language variations as valid methods of speaking, and validate
the student’s speech. With the prejudices it is still necessary that students learn Standard
English so that they are not denied opportunities later in life, but teachers should do this
by still valuing the student’s native language or language variation.
A teacher must be aware that the materials used by their native English speaking
students will most likely need to be modified for their ELL students. In doing this, it is
imperative that the materials used remain age appropriate and give the students the same
quality of information. To do this, teachers must critique the materials that they use, and
must make sure that they are assessing their students on the material they have learned,
not the language.
I believe it is the teacher’s responsibility to teach all of his or her students, not just
those who come to school fluent in English. Since we do not live in an ideal world where
all schools are bilingual, it is the classroom teacher’s responsibility to modify his or her
instruction so that it is comprehensible for the ELL. In Jennifer Davis teacher website,
she mentions different strategies for modifying instruction (Davis, n.d.). One of the first
points she makes is that it is the teacher’s responsibility to modify the language that is
used to teach the material, not the content itself. She suggests that teachers do this by
using all types of learning, such as visual, oral and kinesthetic learning, along with
outlines, charts, and graphic organizers to help the student understand what is going on in
the lesson. Her website also discusses the importance of building background knowledge
individually for the student, as they may not have the same background knowledge or
experiences as some of the other students, which may prevent them from fully
understanding the concept. Claude Goldenberg’s journal article, “Teaching English
Language Learners: What the Research Does and Does Not Say,” gives another valuable
idea when it comes to modifying instruction to make it comprehensible to ELLs
(Goldenberg, 2008). He suggests using texts with familiar topics to the students when
focusing on reading comprehension. By incorporating ideas that the students are at least
familiar with helps them gain a context for the material, and allows them to focus a little
less of their attention on what the new concepts are, and instead on how much they are
understanding. I believe that these are all fairly easy steps that a teacher can take to help
his or her ELLs to succeed in the classroom. By taking a little bit more time when
planning, and by understanding the strengths and weaknesses in his or her students
academic performance, the teacher can be sure that he or she is providing as much
assistance as they personally can, something that not all of the student’s teachers may be
willing to do.
Assessment is another important aspect of what a teacher can do to modify
instruction to make the material comprehensible. It is, in my opinion, the teacher’s job to
make sure that they are assessing the students on the material they have learned, not the
language that they may or may not have learned. Davis mentions this on her blog, saying
that it is possible to find other ways of assessing students, such as simplifying the
language used or reading the test aloud, rather than following the sink or swim model of
teaching. I strongly believe that a good teacher is always aware of what he or she is
testing, which includes not just the content area, but also the language used on the test,
and the problems ELLs may face when presented with that test. By modifying
assessments so that it is accessible to ELLs, the teacher is collecting solid data about what
the student does and does not know, while also giving the student the opportunity to
showcase their skills.
Finally, I believe it is also incredibly important that teachers reach out to the
parents and community that they work in, particularly when it comes to their ELL’s
parents. To do this, teachers must understand the challenges faced by parents, and must
work to accommodate for those concerns. It has been shown often in educational research
that parental involvement at any level is greatly beneficial to students, as it helps to show
the students the value of education outside of school. Parental involvement can be
especially important for ELLs, but can also be very difficult. The Mid-Atlantic Equity
Consortium’s website on best practices lists a number of the challenges when trying to
involve ELL’s parents, including: logistical issues such as finding childcare, lack of
English skills, being unaware of how they can help their child’s schooling, or coming
from a culture where parents are not expected to play a role in their child’s schooling
(Best Practice Issue #2).
Knowing that these could be issues preventing parents from interacting with the
school, I believe that the teacher should do everything within his or her power to try to
remedy these issues so that the parent can have the option of participating. The teacher
can do this by having an understanding of the culture the families come from, and making
them feel welcome, allowing younger children to come to events or by having the school
provide babysitting services for parent teacher conferences, having meeting times that the
parents can actually get to without having to miss work, having an interpreter come to
important meetings, and explaining school culture to the parents. If the teacher can do
this, there is more of a chance that parents will be more comfortable when coming to
meet the teacher.
A video by Mary Castanela, an ESL teacher in Texas, also discusses this issue,
and what teachers can do to get parents more involved. She suggested training for all
faculty in respecting other cultures, and even basic language skills in the majority
language of ELLs, and having all signs in the languages of the school’s ELLs (Castanela
2010). She also suggests sending out newsletters in a language that the ELL’s parents can
read, so that they understand what is going on in their child’s classroom. She highlights
that parents do care about their child’s education, and if the teacher shows that they care
about the family being involved and helping the student, it can go a long way. I believe
that all of these suggestions fall under the heading of what a responsible teacher should
do in his or her classroom. In my opinion, it is not fair of a teacher to exclude a parent
from participating in the school just because they do not speak English or have
extenuating circumstances.
Apart from just involving parents, it is also important that the teacher tries to
involve the community. If there is someone with in the community who has a special skill
set that some of the children may not have seen before, I think it is important that teacher
tries to invite them into the classroom, or takes the students to see what that person is
doing. Involving the community gives a ELLs a chance to experience different events
they might not otherwise see, and also gives the ELLs a chance to share the own culture
with the classroom.
There are of course a number of people who disagree with my philosophy of
teaching English language learners. Currently, few schools offer bilingual programs in
schools. Certain states have gone so far as to ban these programs. The general public
seems to believe, based on the attitudes I have heard expressed, that if you come to the
US, you need to speak only English. Although I am unsure of how to respond to all of
these challenges, I can start by practicing what I believe in. When I have my own
classroom, I can make sure that I am a positive resource for English language learners,
and that I encourage multiculturalism, bilingual education, multilingualism, modifying
my instruction to meet the needs of my students, and involving parents and community
members in my classroom.
Castanela, Mary. (2010, September). ESL Parent Involvement. (Crystal Conner’s
Youtube Channel). Retrieved from:
“Best Practice Issue #2: Engaging Families of English Language Learners.” Mid-Atlantic
Equity Consrtium, Inc. Retrieved from:
Davis, Jennifer (n.d.).”Strategies for Modifying Instruction for English Language
Learners.” Retrieved from:
Fought, Carmen (n.d.). “What Speech do we like best: Watch your language.” Do You
Speak American (PBS). Retrieved from:
Ghiso, Maria Paula (2013). “Every Language is Special: Promoting Dual Language
Learning in Multicultural Primary Schools.” Young Children, volume 68.
Retrieved from:
Goldenburg, Claude. (2008). “Teaching English Language Learners: What the Research
Does and Does Not Say.” American Educator. Retrieved from:
Ndura, Elavie (2004). “ESL and Cultural Bias: An Analysis of Elementary through High
School Textbooks in the Western United States of America.” Language and
Culture Curriculum, volume 17. Retrieved from:
Ryan, Patricia. (2010, December). Don’t insist on English. (Ted Talks) Retrieved from:
Tyler, Kenneth, & Stevens, Ruby, & Uqdah, Aesha. (2009). “Cultural Bias in Teaching.” Retrieved from:
Wright, Wayne (2010). Foundations for Teaching English Language Learners.
Philadelphia, PA: Calson Publishing.
Quote form Wade Davis (“The world in which you were born is only one…”)