Advocating for Those Not in the Room

What do we do with those who don’t speak the language?

Whether that is English or the strange version of it that we use in Education that I would term “Eduspeak”, what do we do for those who need direct translation? What do we do about their specific needs, and what can we do when they don’t understand?

One option is that you can push them to the side. You can continue to use your own language, confusing them and not serving their needs. Or, conversely, you can advocate for them and try as much as possible to help them to learn both the content and the language.

Helen Butts, our English Language Acquisition coordinator, does the latter every single day. She advocates for those students whose home language is something other than English (often Spanish) and does so because she believes in the power of matching a student need to the right instruction. She is not ambiguous in supporting these learners. Specifically, she wants there to be materials used in classrooms across Denver Public Schools that are written in Spanish and not as mere support for their English counterparts.

She does not believe that the level of rigor or the level of resources that we give to our Spanish-speaking students should be any less than the ones that we give to our English-speaking students. Her defense of these students is both passionate and extraordinary. Her ability to speak for those who are not in the room makes it much easier to create the kinds of inclusive environments that we all strive for.

As an extension to these environments, though, I believe that we should not only advocate for those who do not speak the same native tongue, but also those who do not speak the same “educational language.” I believe that by only using acronyms we are shutting out a large portion of the population that would support what it is that we do. I believe that by using “Eduspeak,” we are insulating ourselves.

Learning is not something that only happens in schools, and making up language that only works with in a school environment to discuss and promote learning means that it can’t apply or be used by the outside world. The buy-in that we achieve from both parents and from the community can be directly linked to whether or not we are teaching and using their native educational tongue.

We can build capacity by showing that we have value. We can’t show that value many times because of our own self-inflicted language barriers. It leasds us to only reaching those in our community that have the lingo of the Common Core or DLC, ELO, or any of the other semi-meaningless phrases that get thrown around in meetings. We are not being advocates for the community when we make acronyms. We are not being advocates when we are irrelevant outside of the administration building.

It may be more convenient to teach English for those schools with over 90% second-language learners, but if we did it that way, they wouldn’t be second-language learners because they wouldn’t be learning at all. It may be more convenient to use acronyms and our own language to describe what education looks like, but by separating ourselves from the rest of the community we lose our ability to join the larger conversation. Just like Helen Butts in her work with English Language Acquisition, I would like to be an advocate for student and adult learning everywhere that it can exist no matter what language they use at home.

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