Mendy Hattaway traveled to Mexico for a college choir trip a little more than 16 years ago. Today, she is a consultant for EL Saber Enterprises.
“That’s just kind of where it started,” Hattaway said.
After spending her first couple of years in college bouncing around with majors, it was a choir trip to Mexico and her college Spanish courses that pointed her in the direction of Bilingual/ESL education.
“I know where they’re coming from, because I’ve tried to learn a second language as well,” said Hattaway. “And so I think it kind of helps to know when to back off and when to push them.”
Twelve of the 16 years she has been in education, Hattaway has given effort to the instruction of English language learners. Yet, a lot has changed since the beginning of her teaching career.
“When I first started, if you really wanted to be in a program you came to a bigger city,” Hattaway said.
Now, Hattaway says, the smaller districts have a decent population of English language learners as well. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1979 and 2003 the number of children in the U.S. who are considered English language learners increased by 124 percent. With this change in population also comes a change in teaching methods.
Newer teachers kind of roll with this change, said Hattaway. Due to their hands-on training, they go in knowing that English language learners are a part of it. Many of the veteran teachers, on the other hand, have a harder time adjusting.
“I think it’s hardest to realize that the population has changed completely and drastically,” said Hattaway. “It’s admitting that what we have been doing and have been successful with is no longer working.”
It is important that the teacher provides the extra accommodations an English language learner needs in order to be successful. And many of these accommodations are interchangeable, explained Hattaway. Visuals and finding ways to be more comprehensive, other than talking, are tools that all students need, not just English language learners.
As the population of English language learners continues to rise, another understanding that some teachers struggle with is that these students are just like other students.
“Just because there is that language barrier, doesn’t mean there’s a lack of intelligence there,” Hattaway said.
Like any new kid in school, the common struggle for English language learners is just trying to fit in.
“Knowing what is expected. Knowing what’s acceptable,” said Hattaway. “We don’t think about fashion. We don’t think about who they’re going to hang out with, especially if there are not a lot of students that look like them.”
However the struggle that English language learners must confront, that is different from the typical new kid in school, is how they manage their academics.
“Because there’s so much input, they don’t know how, especially at first, how to determine what’s important and what’s not important,” said Hattaway. “It’s just overstimulation, input overload.”
Using tools, like visuals, teachers can help show these students what is important in the classroom.
As a teacher, it is just dealing with a new population, explained Hattaway.