Friday, June 07, 2019

DOE Galoots Abuse Speakers of Other Languages

I'm absolutely amazed to read of abuses involving translation services at IEP meetings. I've been teaching ESL for over three decades now. When I first started, I didn't really speak a second language. I needed 12 foreign language credits for my certification. I went out and took 8 in Spanish and 4 in German. That way I was able to do eight credits in one summer, and that was good enough for NY State.

Ironically, friends of mine studying with me were trying to get certified at the same time were fluent in Spanish but didn't have the credits. They had to take them before they could get the certification. So I got the license and they had to take credits in a language they knew way better than I did. Go figure.

I decided that it behooved me to become fluent in a second language if I was going to tell kids they could do it too. I took more Spanish credits. I spent two summers in Mexico studying. (I also married a woman from Colombia, though not strictly to learn Spanish.) I even got a certification to teach Spanish, though I don't have any particular desire to do it.

It was great knowing Spanish. Most of my students at John Adams High School spoke Spanish. My friend, a Spanish teacher, suggested I call parents and say no muestra respeto, or she doesn't show respect. He said that was a particularly effective phrase. I eventually developed my own series of home-calling statements, and now use them pretty much exclusively, but it was a start.

Shortly after I got a handle on Spanish, I transferred out of John Adams High School. Had I not done so, I'd likely as not be an ATR, so I'm grateful my former supervisor painted me into that particular corner. The thing was, though, that Francis Lewis High School was completely different from John Adams. There were Spanish speakers, but there were also quite a few Chinese and Korean speakers. Over time, Chinese speakers have become the dominant group.

I'd done my bit learning Spanish. I was not quite up for learning Chinese. However, I began to make friends who spoke Chinese. My first few years at Lewis, I was very good friends with a Chinese paraprofessional. He would help me out whenever I had to make calls. I made friends with speakers of Korean, Farsi, and Greek. I found friends who spoke whatever other languages the job called for.

A few years ago I co-taught with a Chinese speaker. We helped one another. I called the parents of Spanish speakers and she called the parents of Chinese speakers. We still do one another favors. In our building, we also have a Chinese-speaking guidance counselor who's very smart and very helpful. I'm just saying that if it's your goal to communicate, you'll find a way to do it.

If, on the other hand, your goal is ridiculing and demeaning people who don't speak English to your standards, you may take a different approach.

One parent was told to bring a teenage nephew to translate her daughter’s special education meeting. Another mother struggled to decipher a phone call explaining that her daughter had a seizure and was taken to the hospital. A third parent, who requested an interpreter for a meeting, was asked, “Why don’t you learn English?”

Wow, wow, wow. What exactly do these people think their job is? I'd think it was communicating with parents, and I've given you a pretty good primer of how to do that. Of course, that assumes you want to do it, which these people seem not to. Years ago, I was talking to a racist galoot who was ridiculing the way a Spanish speaker used English. I told him, "She knows two languages. You know only one and you're making fun of her." I thought, if anything, she should make fun of him. (Of course she was too well-brought-up to do that.)

Here's the worst aspect of this story--it's no longer all that difficult to find translation services. You don't even have to foster friends who speak other languages. NYC has a translation service. All you do is call in, tell which language you need, and they provide a live translator. I have been in IEP meetings in which this service was used. It works.

Personally, I prefer using my friends, because I know and trust them. Regardless, it's beyond the pale that people treat speakers of other languages like this. If it were up to me, I'd sentence these abusers to lifetime, non-divorcible marriage to Leadership Academy principals.

They're just lucky it isn't.
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