Monday, March 9, 2020

An Immigrant Parent's Perspective on American Schools

Working with the parents and caregivers of my students was something I really enjoyed as an ESL teacher.  In a previous blog post, I wrote about why it was such a pleasure.

Find out about an immigrant parent's experience with American schools in this blog post | The ESL Nexus
What one parent thought; source: The ESL Nexus
One of my friends here in Tucson, Lin, is someone I first met when I taught in Wuhan, China.  She and her family moved to Arizona many years ago.  I thought it’d be interesting to get Lin’s thoughts on what it was like being an immigrant parent with young children in an American school.  Below are her responses to the questions I asked her.

Find out about an immigrant parent's experience with American schools in this blog post | The ESL Nexus
Lin in Tucson; source: The ESL Nexus
* How old were your children when they started school in the US?  Were they ever enrolled in an ESL program?  If not, why not?
They were 8 and 5.  No, I didn’t think they needed ESL. They attended English speaking preschool/kindergarten before.  I thought they could learn the language quickly in a natural environment.

* How did you feel when you went to register your children – did you know what to expect or was everything new and different?
I didn’t know what to expect. But everything went well except for the part where they needed all the immunization records. We  didn’t have all the records since we had lived in different countries. We were told we could fill out a form asking for an exemption and so we did it.

* What surprised you most about American schools?

There was almost no homework.  My kids always told me they could get most of their homework done at school, which is in great contrast to my experiences growing up when students had to spend hours on homework after school.

* Were there any similarities between the American schools and the schools you attended as a child?
One thing that is similar is that there is a teacher teaching in the classroom.  But when I grew up, classroom settings were very different. We had a different teacher for each subject.  Each teacher came in the classroom to give lectures and assigned homework for one period and there would be another teacher for next period. We hardly ever had group work or discussion.

* Were you ever involved in your children’s school activities, such as PTA/PTO, chaperoning field trips, volunteering in their classes, going to open houses or parent conferences?
Yes, I used to help teachers grade students' quizzes and homework.  I also helped distribute weekly flyers sent home and chaperoned  my kids’ field trips. When I grew up, my parents were not involved in any school activities.  Teachers would pay parents a visit at home if needed.

* Do you have any other comments about being an immigrant parent whose children attended American schools?
It wasn’t very easy to communicate with most teachers.  Maybe we didn’t have a lot in common to talk about.

Find out about an immigrant parent's experience with American schools in this blog post | The ESL Nexus
Chinese & American flags; source: The ESL Nexus
Thank you very much, Lin, for sharing your experiences!  Lin and her family lived in Northern Ireland and Canada before coming to the U.S but as you can see, even after living in other English-speaking countries, the American school experience was new for Lin.

Research has shown that when parents and caregivers are involved in their children’s education, students are more successful in school.  Getting adults involved is not easy, though, for many reasons.  Getting adults who are immigrants who speak a language other than English and who come from a different culture makes that even more difficult. 

Communication is key and one way to communicate with parents and caregivers is to keep them regularly informed about how their children are doing in school.  Email, texts, and apps such as Remind are one way to do that.  Another is by sending home reports on a regular basis.  My Weekly Progress Update Forms, in print and digital format, help teachers keep their students’ families informed by reporting on their academic progress, behavior, and participation in class.  You can find this resource HERE.