On March 23rd, our community was placed on “shelter in place” orders, and my husband and I went out to make one important visit.
“Stop!” I held my hand up like a stop sign. “You have to stay away… We have to keep our distance,” I clarified. I felt the lump in my throat grow and I swallowed. I carried the blue canvas bag towards the grass, slid it off my left shoulder, and gently placed it on the grass. He stood there the whole time—watching, waiting, and clutching his hands together. It was an uncommon event. We don’t usually greet this way. He was so excited to see me when I stepped out of my car. He ran towards me and I had to stop him. I could see that he probably wanted to hug me. I hug almost all of my students to greet them. No longer hugging a student is an adjustment I will need to get used to.
I stepped back from the bag that I placed on the ground and looked up at him. All I wanted to do was hug him. His mother, standing behind him, held her hands together, too. It was like none of us knew what to do with our hands now. I wanted to hug them both. It might have been easier to not look at him, at them, but I did. I had to.
“Okay, now come and take the bag… It’s full of books for you to read,” I quietly informed him. He took the bag, held it against his chest, and took it to his apartment on the second floor. As his mother looked on, I told her to wait inside and we would leave all of the food outside her door and when we finished, she could then come out to collect the food at her door.
Having an opportunity to help others is something most of us would not think twice about. Having taken food to the home of a child was a moving experience that will remain with me for a long time.
At the start of the pandemic, this student’s basic needs were not being met. Meeting the needs of our students may sometimes require much more than paper or pencils, but it is not always as hard as we might think.
Equity – The Challenge for Many EAL Students
Earlier this week, surgeon general, Jerome Adams, pleaded to communities of color to do more, stay home, and practice social distancing. He acknowledged that people of color have a greater burden of health conditions. If we look closely, we will notice that the burdens can go far beyond health conditions. It is good to know this is not the case for all students. However, if we want all of our students moving forward, we must begin with noticing the needs.
Possible Student Burdens:
- Shelter / Safety
- Social Emotional
- Connection / Loneliness
- Lack of Technology
- Older students caring for younger siblings in the home
It is important to remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for our students. In the article, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Simply Psychology explains, “Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.”
Issues of equity are real and they have now been exacerbated by COVID-19.
How do we reach our EAL students?
We can stop, pull out our phone, and call students and their families. Many of us have discovered that reaching the families of our students can sometimes be a challenge, but it can also be as easy as making a phone call. We may just have to adjust our call times. When we make a phone call at the same time each day, we reduce our chances for making contact. Some parents are not able to work from home, even in a pandemic. Other times, teachers use email as a way to reach parents, but some parents do not have email accounts or may find it challenging to use technology. There are many ways to reach students and families. We do not want to become annoying, but it is important to remember not to give up after just one or two calls.
Some ways to reach our EAL students and their families:
- Phone Calls – Try different times of the day. Many parents work at different times of the day. Another option can be to reach out to the student’s emergency contact.
- Text message – Most adults living in the 21st century carry some type of cellular phone with them at all times.
- WhatsApp – This is a commonly used free texting App.
We’ve made contact. Now What?
- Research – Listen. Just listen to what families need. They will let you know.
- Name the Good – Help families see the good that is or the good that could come. Consider how to approach families or students. If you are checking off a list, it will be felt. If you are checking on well being, it will be noticed.
- Your point – Make your intention clear. Let them know how you can help. Sometimes students and families will ask and sometimes they will not.
- What’s next? Fill them in on the plans. Share the best ways families and students can reach you. Let families know when you will make contact. You can create a schedule, so they know when you will share and reach out to them. Be consistent. Let them know how, when, and why they can reach out to you. Each Sunday, I share our plan for the week, teacher video lessons, district lesson plans, virtual “office hours” for students (or parents), and our Friday “keeping connected” Zoom times.
What do our EAL students need?
EAL students need the good things we offer any other student. “Good teaching is good teaching,” is what a friend of mine often shared. She is now a retired bilingual teacher, but completely understood the needs of students, all students. Any tips, advice, or recommendations listed in this post is not solely and primarily for EAL students. It is for all students.
Students need –
- to be engaged
- to have rich and meaningful learning experiences
- they need to be reading books with volume – if they are not reading, then we need to find ways to have them continue learning and talking (movies, conversations, creating videos, taking photographs, etc.)
- to lean on writing, documenting what they feel and experience
- to have connection and interaction with teachers and peers
- routine – families of EAL student, as well as those of affluent monolingual students, may need help creating a daily schedule plan
- options – offer more than one option for any work that is expected of students
- to hear their teacher’s voice and see their teacher’s face live, not only on recorded videos
Just a few weeks ago, many of us found ourselves suddenly thrusted into a strange virtual marathon. Before having a chance to prepare, practice, or research, the starting gun fired and we were sent off and running. Many of us have jumped into learning new technologies, platforms, experiences, and work environments. We have learned to pivot and adjust, again and again. For most of us, it has been trial and error, but we continue to move forward. We are teachers, innovators, and creatives. Learning is in everything we do. We can find ways to reach our students.