When I began school, I was automatically enrolled in the bilingual program. At first I did well, achieving high grades and being recommended for the gifted and talented program. But as I progressed in the program and more of the day was taught in English, my grades began to falter. In third grade, I was warned that retention was a possibility. At the end of the year I was shuffled along to the next grade and as I became more fluent in English, my grades increased.
This may seem like an exemplar for this brand of bilingual education but it is not. I was fortunate to have parents that immigrated at a time when workers were needed. My father acquired a unionized job with benefits and made enough money that my mother was able to stay at home and raise five kids. While my life was not perfect, it was better than many others in the community and I was able to put a larger proportion of my time and effort into school and escape bilingual education prior to middle school.
Of my friends who remained in bilingual education none attended college. In fact, of my immediate family, I am the only one to go on to higher education. I attribute this to the same factor: I, being the youngest of five and hearing so much english conversation between my brothers, escaped bilingual education earlier.
Why would remaining in this program be such a deterrent to higher education? Because of the paradoxically salient and overlooked use of tracking. Once a student is labeled bilingual, she goes on to take classes with other bilingual students who have been struggling with the concurrent responsibility of mastering English and subject matter and as a result are likely disillusioned. It is difficult even for the most motivated student to escape this trajectory.
If only these students would have been given extra support or teachers would have been given better training. Why wasn’t this done? Because, when low-income minorities fail it is a problem with them, their parents, and the community. This deficit thinking leads to lowered expectations and therefore effort on the part of teachers, administration, and the government.
I became a teacher with the goal of being a “quiet leader” and demonstrating what is possible. I achieved much success in this regard, but now I hear a different calling. I am now a PhD student at Teachers College with the hope of becoming a professor in the education department of a research school. I want to contribute to research that will change policies and have a hand in the training of future teachers who will maintain high-expectations.
LatPro.com’s scholarship program is proud to announce David Martinez as one of the finalists for its December 2012 application deadline. Vote for his essay (Facebook ‘Like’ and other social media sharing options in left column), click the ‘star’ just above comments section below, and/or leave comments of support to help us with the selection process.