The Unknown Struggles of a Bilingual Student

Teacher asking question
Teacher asking question

I grew up in the South Bronx and I am the child of immigrant Dominican parents. I attended the New York City public School system in the very early '90s as an ELL student (back then it was called being in a bilingual class).

My very first interaction with language and the written word was in my native Spanish, but I understood at a very young age that this was not the language I needed to communicate in in order to be a successful student. Soon enough I learned the English language on my own and the few interactions with my teacher. Yet, the transition from a bilingual class to full on English speaking class was not smooth. I felt lost and out of place.

Even though Ms. Henderson was a sweet lady, a black woman who could see my desolation, there wasn't much she could do for me. My class was overflowing with students and the single teacher could not attend to all her students' needs. I forced myself, even in the second grade, to become a fluent reader like I thought everyone else was. I struggled enough in order to meet the requirements for the single after school program the school had -- which turned out to be just another overcrowded classroom with a woman whole clearly did not want to be there. Unfortunately, this transition taught me to be an advocate for my own learning experience. At a very early age I learned that if I wanted to improve in anything I had to do it for myself.

Through the years, my reading, writing and speaking English has improved. However, I have never felt like a native English speaker. I might not have the "Latina" accent every time I speak, but I still struggled to grasp the rules and mechanics of a language that was not my first.

In high school, teachers encouraged my writing and my interest in books. They gave me the mantra, "the more you write, the better you will be in reading and writing." Once again I found myself being my own guide in my education. Once in college I saw the great gap there was between those who were capable and me. I struggled, but my innate need to conquer the English language helped me onto the path that I am on today.

After all the struggles of mastering a language and the lack of help from my teachers, has helped me believe that I could help other children who come from similar backgrounds as me. Today I find myself being an English teacher in the public school system of New York City. I hope to be the support for others who are like me; who come from poverty, who lack help with academics at home and who have a sense of defeat when it comes to academics.

The city's public school system has come a long way since I was a student, but it still has a long way to go. First step is to have teachers' who understand the struggles and culture of the students they teach. We are the second adult interaction many of our students have. They learn a view of the world from their homes and neighborhoods; we need to be able to synthesize their world with the academic.

I had two worlds growing up and they seemed never to cross. It was difficult to balance both worlds and at times it felt like it would consume me. It would have been easier for me to fall into the usual life of a dead end job and stay with only a high school education, but I wanted more than that. The innate scholar fire that pushed me through the complex English language is what helps me to help my students. Not all children have the natural understanding to be a student, but hopefully I can be the one to nurture that skill in many of them.