Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Back to School Blues: English Only

In a recent post I focused on how excited I am to be starting the 2015-2016 school year because we are becoming a 1:1 school! I am ridiculously excited, but I am also predicting the normal back to school issues.

To give some background, I am an English Teacher at my high school. I teach American Literature, World Literature, Speech, and Academic and Technology Literacy. My students are (mainly) the ones who struggle more with English (students with IEPs, non-native speakers, low readers, etc.) My school is very close to the Mexican border and many of my students cross the border every day. We are a diverse environment, but we have a lot of Spanish speakers. Now, I can speak Spanish, but I don't usually do it for two reasons:
  1. I also have the foreign exchange students (Chinese, Vietnamese, Brazilian, Lithuanian etc.) in my class, so that would exclude them. (Sidenote: these students usually are pretty good at staying in English) 
  2. These students speak Spanish ALL the time! In some cases their parents even tell me that they think the only time their children speak English is in my class. As much as I would love to teach bilingually, that really isn't fair to these kids. 
Some of the memes I've used in the past

I am sure at this point you can guess what my biggest back to school issue is. My BIGGEST struggle at the start of the year is getting students to speak in English.

This is a problem year round, but at the start of the year I always find it one of the most predominant issues. Students have spent all vacation speaking whatever they wanted however they wanted. Switching back into English is something that does not come naturally to them.
I always start by explaining I love languages. I studied Tagalog and Arabic in college. I've lived in Mexico, Spain, The Netherlands, Korea, Turkey, Vietnam and Singapore. I LOVE being surrounded by a language and learning as much as I can. I am so envious that most of my students are at least bilingual in high school (I was still struggling with the subjunctive when I was in high school). However, they are in my class because English is not their best subject. As a result, I need them to only speak English.

I have positively reinforced speaking English as much as I can. I have also thrown in some punishments for not speaking English. Mainly, their class participation grade goes down. In extreme cases I e-mail or call home to ask for parental help. Since, "English Only" is a rule, I can give detentions if students speak any other language. I never have and I am afraid this is the year I will have to start. I feel AWFUL doing this. As a Mexican I feel like I am betraying my heritage, but I also know that to improve their English they need to use their English (just like i had to speak Spanish in my Spanish classes).

My class is a safe environment where we don't laugh at anyone's mistakes, but they have trouble switching to English. In some cases it is a habit (like I said they pretty much speak Spanish all day). In other cases they don't want to put the effort into describing something. If they don't know the word they just want to switch back to Spanish. I usually share my light bulb story to show that they can communicate with a bit of effort, but they are either unable or unwilling to do so.

Down & DirtyI am the first teacher in years who has stayed at this position for more than one year. My hope is that now students will realize I am not going anywhere and maybe take the rule more seriously. However, I can only hope. Any advice is appreciated :)

Check out what other Secondary Teachers are preparing for as the school year approaches by checking out the Down and Dirty Secondary link up at Edison Education


  1. I am so glad that you are passionate about helping these students. I believe that they need to learn English not because it is what is "right," but because it will open so many more doors for them in the future such as post-secondary education. And if they can become bilingual, they can secure almost any job within the state of Texas!

    1. It is so true. There are also many cognitive benefits that come with being bilingual!


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