by Kelsey Marquez
Sadness. Sadness is what I felt when I saw their innocent faces go from excited to disappointed. I will never forget the second time I went to volunteer at Garden Hills. When I walked into the nearly empty classroom, I came across an unfamiliar face. The stranger quickly introduced herself and said that she was the substitute teacher for the day and that the kids were still at Library. Within about five minutes, we went to pick up the children from Library and took them to get their vision tested. Up until that point, everything was pretty normal and going as usual. But soon that would change.
The substitute teacher was an elderly Caucasian woman who didn’t speak a word of Spanish. For most classes, this would not be a problem, but this class is a bilingual kindergarten class. What does that mean? It means that the children are being taught in Spanish and know very little or no English at all. As we waited for the children to get tested, they were asked to quietly read to themselves or to another classmate. One student excitedly ran up to the substitute and said “¿Quieres leer conmigo?” The substitute stared at him and said “I don’t know what you’re saying” and just walked away.
As I watched the child’s excitement slowly fade away, my heart broke into pieces. I had only interacted with these kids for a few hours but I couldn’t help but feel terrible for the situation that they were in. Similar interactions occurred throughout the two hours that I was there. I felt that I needed to do something about it. After the child was basically ignored, I asked him “¿Quieres que yo lea contigo?” His response saddened me even more. “¿Tú sí hablas español?” The tone of his voice was a mixture of sadness and relief, relief that he had found someone who understood him.
Throughout the day, I tried to function as a translator between the children and the substitute. Granted, I was only there for a couple hours, but I wanted the children to still have the nice experience they usually have while in school. If it weren’t for this specific day, this specific moment, I would have never realized the true importance of bilingual educators. We always talk about the importance of having bilingual teachers but I had never actually seen why it is so important. It is truly sad that our schools offer bilingual programs but cannot always offer bilingual teachers. She was only the substitute teacher for a day, but that was one day that the children were deprived of their bilingual education. One day when they felt misunderstood. One day when they spoke, but weren’t heard.