and mainstream teachers need to
realize, however, that if newcomers
want to communicate much at all
during their free time, they’ll have to
use their native language. That should
7. Immigrant families just
This comment was made during a
staff meeting to explain why a recent
fund-raiser had been unsuccessful. We
need to understand that parents from
many cultures happily give the school
authority to do what’s best for their
children. To them, home and school
are separate entities, and the idea of
a parent volunteering in a classroom
or helping out with a fund-raiser, for
example, seems odd.
In addition, even if immigrant
parents do believe in being highly
involved in their children’s education,
it’s often not possible for them to
do so. Lack of time, lack of transportation, lack of money, or lack of
English skills often prevent parents
of English language learners from
volunteering. Administrators and
teachers who aren’t getting the family
support they’d like might need to do a
better job of communicating why such
involvement is important, as well as
look at ways they can help eliminate
the barriers to such involvement.
8. Which team will you be rooting
for in the Super Bowl?
The teacher who said this to a recent
9. Ms. G., the new girl, she don’t
immigrant student was trying to make
small talk. Unfortunately, he didn’t
realize how context-laden his choice
of topic was. Typically, newcomers
don’t know much about “American
football,” as it’s called in the rest
of the world, and if they do, they
probably haven’t been in the country
long enough to develop strong team
preferences. In addition, it would take
a rather advanced English language
learner to clearly understand what
“rooting” means, even in context.
This comment turned out to
be a conversation stopper, rather
than a conversation starter. The lesson
from this incident is to not assume
that English language learners have
background knowledge of culture- or
It may appear to the concerned but
horrified student who made this
comment (and even to other, more
informed observers) that English
language learners don’t know much,
especially if they’ve had interrupted
or limited schooling. In fact, however,
every English language learner comes
to us with many life experiences. Our
job is to tap those experiences and link
them to the new information we’re
teaching. Newcomers aren’t nearly
the blank slates they appear to be.
They may not know English, but that
doesn’t indicate how much they know
about everything else.
10. Your students are new
immigrants, so you probably don’t
have any behavior problems.
I wish my colleague’s comment were
true! Immigrant students, though,
It’s true many English language
learners come from cultures where
educators are accorded high respect,
and these students are rarely per-
sonally disrespectful to their teachers.
Nevertheless, new English language
learners still need and expect con-
sistent limits and clear rules, mainly
because schools in their home coun-
tries often provided firm external
control. Once expectations have been
clearly defined—preferably in both
English and the appropriate native
neither give English language learners
a pass on proper behavior nor hold
them to a higher behavioral standard
than they would other students.
English language learners face the
challenge of mastering the academic
curriculum while learning a new language. They’re up to this challenge—
if the support we provide for them is
based on an accurate understanding of
the assets and needs they bring to
school. The next time you encounter
one of these 10 misconceptions,
provide your colleagues with factual
advice to help them better understand
ELLs and how best to meet their
1Thomas, W., & Collier, V. (1997).
School effectiveness for language minority
students. Washington, DC: National
Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education.
2Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and
practice in second language. New York: Pergamon Press.
Barbara Gottschalk (gottscha@wcskids
.net) teaches English as a second language for Warren Consolidated Schools
at Susick Elementary School in Troy,
Michigan. She previously taught in her
district’s magnet center for newcomers.
She is an America Achieves fellow.
have just as much
right to misbehave
as other students.