Friday, November 13, 2015

Sharles' Study Abroad: Breaking Barriers

The classes are in full swing here at De Klinker. The students are lively and energized with each new day. I am visiting various classrooms on a regular basis. The American grade level equivalent to these classes would be from Pre-Kindergarten through early Fourth grade. The more I visit the students, the more I realize the barriers that come between us. Some of these barriers I am experiencing are totally new to me. As I face these new circumstances I must begin to adapt my teaching practices by applying new and unfamiliar strategies. This can sometimes be a very challenging task depending on extremity of the barrier. However, it is important to keep in mind that the barriers we face as professional educators prove to help us grow continually in our approach to instruction in addition to improving our relationships with students.

In the the Pre-K classroom, many students express excitement when I come into their room. Some will stop what they are doing and say,”Hello Miss Casey” while others will greet me with a hug. Even yet, some students will come and immediately begin talking to me in Dutch. I can see by their facial expressions and body language that they are excited by this interaction. By now, there are some words that I understand and I can sometimes recognize key phrases that will help me talk with them. However, more times than not I am unable to decipher what they are trying to say. This disheartens me because I am missing out on the important information that these young students are trying to express.   I fear that my personal relationships with the students are suffering because of this fact. I could get to know the students better by talking to them and finding out their interests first hand. Instead, I must ask the teacher for a translation if she isn’t busy. This language barrier is a daily occurrence and this is only one example.

In order to break this language barrier I have found several strategies that help. When the students see that I am putting forth effort to get to know their language, they immediately become interested all the more. This usually comes with the children who are in first grade and older. As I teach them new English words, I incorporate their corresponding Dutch vocabulary. If time permits, I will invite them to teach me their Dutch words. The learning becomes reciprocal in that it allows for student growth in addition to my own. Also, the students have to think of other ways of communication if they want to express something. This strengthens their English language skills due to the fact that they know they have to use it to communicate with me. Also, they begin to think “outside the box”. Some students will use hand gestures while others will show me what they are trying to say with an action. 

Through all of this shared learning, I can see something that all teachers should strive to gain in their classrooms. This is motivation. When students are interested and personally related to the instruction, they will WANT to learn. They will have a desire to learn about new and challenging things. As a teacher, I have to be able to scaffold their learning so that they feel free enough to make this leap. Sure, learning new things may be hard but when properly supported it can create a masterpiece. Students will have improved self confidence and be even more likely to take more educational risks.

I am experiencing barriers that I have not had any experience within my home culture. Overcoming these barriers proves to be challenging and somewhat overwhelming at points. However, the reward is worth the risk of always wondering what could have happened if I would have simply stepped out of my comfort zone.  We have to realize that these students will be and are currently a part of our community in which we live.  By modeling ways to overcome these school based barriers, the students are seeing first hand how to deal with some of the obstacles they will face as young adults in the world outside of school.  Every aspect of the classroom can contribute to the well being of the community inside and out.

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Sharles' personal blog:

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