by Theresa Calkins
As I said in my previous post, I am working in a bilingual first grade classroom at Garden Hills Elementary School for my volunteer hours this semester. It is very interesting to compare the classroom environment at Garden Hills to the elementary classrooms I was in many years ago. I also think it is interesting to consider that while all the teachers I have ever had, with the exception of my Spanish teachers, of course, have only ever taught class in English.
I often wonder how different my life would be had I grown up learning another language. Neither of my parents speak a language other than English, and no one in my extended family speaks a foreign language. To them, it is amazing that I have even made it this far with my Spanish!
This past week when I was in the classroom, the teacher, Mrs. F., spoke more English to the students than I have seen so far. When you think about the fact that many of these students likely started preschool with hardly any English-speaking abilities, they have improved significantly and will only continue to learn more. I think this is truly amazing and goes to show that the bilingual programs in the Champaign-Urbana community school districts are doing an incredible job to meet the needs of the students and families in this area.
As I said above, the environment in Mrs. F.’s classroom is different than that of the classrooms I was in years ago. Every morning, the students spend a significant amount of time on the “alfombra” and Mrs. F. reads them a story, asks them questions about the work they just completed, or tells them about the next activity they are going to do. During this time, I have noticed that Mrs. F. has created an environment of great respect between herself and the students. The students obviously respect their teacher, but from what I have seen this respect is mutual. Mrs. F. encourages the students to contribute to the discussion, whether or not their contribution is 100% relevant in the moment or if their ideas are completely farfetched.
Additionally, something that really stands out to me is that Mrs. F. is always talking about the future with the kids. While she mentions that they will be in second grade next year on occasion, she talks about the distant future regularly, such as the kinds of classes they will take in high school or what they want to be when they grow up (doctor, teacher, firefighter, etc.). I think this is a great thing to do because it encourages the kids to think about their futures, to set goals for themselves, and know that the future is limitless and they can do whatever they want. I truly believe that the students, ultimately, will be better people because Mrs. F. has created this respectful and optimistic environment for them.