“Fortunately,” We Don’t Have Language Learners Here


Note: This post was co-written with two student teachers, who wished to keep their names and institutions anonymous.

Dear Veteran Teacher,

You may not remember, but earlier today, your new student teacher asked you how to make her lessons more accessible to diverse learners.

You dismissed that as largely unnecessary – at such a high-performing school as yours – and told her, “You’re fortunate, we have no English Language Learners here.”

You probably weren’t aware of what you said. Or what it meant.

I’m sure you’d never say, “You’re fortunate – we have no students of color here,” though you have very few.

You’d never say, “You’re fortunate – we have no students with special needs here,” though I don’t see them either.

So I’m wondering, how did such an unfortunate comment could roll so effortlessly and unabashedly off your tongue?

However, I’m not here to judge you. Perhaps you weren’t fortunate enough to grow up speaking another language, in a home that exposed you to a world of words different in sound, inflection, and shades of meaning than those of the mainstream. Your vocabulary was never more-than-doubled as you unlocked your mind to entirely different perspectives. How unfortunate.

Maybe you weren’t fortunate enough to have trained in a teaching program where you learned that an additional language is an asset, not a handicap; that having students from different linguistic backgrounds would stretch you as a professional, honing your creativity and pedagogy in ways you’d never imagined, truly shaping you into a master of your craft. How unfortunate.

Most regrettably, perhaps you weren’t ever fortunate enough to teach some of the most hard working, enthusiastic, and inherently poetic students you will ever encounter, who would have opened your world to whole new forms of expression, negotiation of meaning, and the very essence of human communication. How truly and deeply unfortunate.

I don’t mean to single you out, because unfortunately, I can’t. Because unfortunately, statements like yours are not uncommon. Because, unfortunately, too many of us still view another language as an obstacle to be overcome, a pothole to pave over, a disease to be cured.

All I can hope is that your new student teacher, and others like her, will be fortunate enough to have the experiences you didn’t have. That they will go out into the world ready and, in fact, eager to reach, teach, and inspire any student who walks through their door. And those students, dear veteran teacher, will be incredibly fortunate to have them.

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4 thoughts on ““Fortunately,” We Don’t Have Language Learners Here”

  1. Nice post! I think it’s pretty horrible for teachers to think L2 learners are somehow less-valued than native-English speakers. The fact that some kids can speak more than one language will put them ahead of the crowd later on in life! Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to teach ESL learners and native-English speakers.

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