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The Value of Bilingual Teachers In A Monolingual School


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The Value of Bilingual Teachers in a Monolingual Majority School

We often read about the benefits of bilingualism, but rarely do we look into the process of bilingual education  and the affect a bilingual teacher can have on students in a classroom. I would like to introduce Nikki Lubing, who has worked as a bilingual teacher for over 8 years. With extensive experience working with bilingual children she shares her views on the value of bilingual teachers.

bilingual-teacher-nikki-lubingNikki Lubing is an educational, bilingual entrepreneur. After 8 years of teaching in a brick and mortar setting she started her own business as an online ESL teacher. She is currently launching the Enthusiastic English Crew for adult English learners and is building a philanthropic business where t-shirt sales fund lessons for English learners who cannot afford to pay. You can connect with her on her Website, Facebook or Instagram.

Bilingual Teachers

As parents of bilingual students, consider how your child’s education may vary in a monolingual classroom versus a bilingual classroom. Bilingual teachers are trained to consider language in conjunction with big ideas related to a unit when lesson planning. Whereas, monolingual teachers plan lessons around content and facts to be learned. Due to a bilingual teacher’s expertise in language acquisition, they offer critical support to both educators and students. I invite you to take a step into my world as a bilingual teacher and learn about the value of bilingual teachers in a monolingual majority school.

Instructional Expertise: A Mentor for Teachers

Bilingual teachers work in a high-need position for high-need students. They are an extremely valuable resource for monolingual teachers and staff throughout the school. Bilingual teachers work as a co-teacher, interpreter, curriculum writer, advisor, and problem solver. However, their main concern is to ensure that bilingual students are receiving the most comprehensible education when in a monolingual setting, and that they become successful in two languages. They do this by sharing strategies, communication techniques, and cultural background knowledge with their team.

One example is in my former co-teacher’s classroom. I worked with her to recreate the way she taught the “Word of the Day”. We went from students copying a definition from the whiteboard, to the students seeing an image of the word and creating a body movement to represent the definition of the word. This did not take any extra time out of the day. But it added context to the meaning of the word and it created comprehensible input for language learners.

Parent Tip #1: Making Learning Easier with Body Movement

As parents of bilingual children, you can help your child to succeed with their academics by considering language first. If they do not understand a subject, work on vocabulary, use body movement to help them retain concepts. Then dig deeper into the material.

Even with math you can use body movement to make math facts more understandable. For example, when learning times tables, have your child do jumping jacks by 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, etc.

Using the body incorporates right brain function, while language and number skills are left brain functions. Combining both left and right together helps to ensure retention. Learn more about “Total Physical Response” here. 

Support for Students

Because bilingual teachers spend more one-on-one and small group time with their students, they know them very well. The extra time gives bilingual teachers a better understanding of their students’ cultural and personal background. It then gives them an advantage in lesson planning. This serves as a vehicle to build student confidence in a way that general education teachers might not have the opportunity to do, simply because of time constraints and classroom size.

Many of the students I worked with had to adjust to a new culture while still living in poverty. I listened to stories about crossing the border, leaving family members behind, and taking on the role of an adult to help support the family financially. These students needed my empathy, but also my encouragement. While educating students was my priority, I knew I could not reach them unless I made time for connections and laughter.

I prioritized bonding with my students by having a conversation journal with them, by asking them to share their thoughts about what they were learning or experiencing, and by showing interest in their lives. Of course this can be done by any teacher, whether bilingual or monolingual. However, when you are a linguistic resource and relief to a student, the bond becomes even stronger. A bilingual teacher has to offer just the right amount of support and motivation to help the student move forward successfully.

Parent Tip #2: Making the Minority Language Non-Threatening and Enjoyable

Sometimes there comes a point when bilingual kids stop speaking the minority language. This can be due to a multitude of reasons, but you can encourage your child to use the minority language in a non-threatening way such as a conversation journal. In this journal you would take turns writing letters to each other. In these letters you can ask each other questions, share stories, interests, and experiences.

Children do not have fully developed frontal lobes (the area of the brain designated to decision-making and goal setting), so it is more difficult for them to reason why bilingualism is beneficial for their future. This is why it is important to connect bilingualism to their emotions and activities that they enjoy.

If you do want them to consider the importance of their future, make a statement and then ask them a question: Be sure to consider where you want your life to lead you. What opportunities would be granted to you as a bilingual and what opportunities could be missed if you lose your command of this language?

Bilingual teachers benefit students

While the process of bilingual education varies greatly in comparison to a monolingual classroom, bilingual students will be successful in both settings when they have the support they need from both teachers and parents. What I noticed about my students is that the more vocabulary and experiences they were exposed to at home, the more successful they were in school. In all situations, I encourage you to learn and inquire about your child’s education program, and how they can be challenged as a bilingual in any setting.

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  1. Ken Wu

    It is an informative article indeed. I believe it would be more impactive if it could have a cross comparison between bilingual teachers teaching in a local language environment and bilingual teachers teaching in a secondary language environment, ie. bilingual teachers teaching in a primary english environment and one teaching in an environment where english is a secondary language.
    Showing the impact of bilingual teachers in both cases.

  2. A very interesting article particularly as I might be working as a bilingual assistant next year!

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