As teachers, it is our responsibility to involve all parents in the education of our students. We normally do this pretty well. However, it has come to my attention that many of the parents of our Spanish-speaking students are less involved in the education of their children than the other populations of students. I will discuss with you the importance of involving all parents, the difficulties you may face when trying to encourage your parents to become more involved, and some ideas known to work when getting parents involved in the education of their children.
Research has shown that parental involvement in education affects the outcome of their children’s academic achievement. Many parents who are less involved in the education of their children are parents of children who achieve at lower academic levels than students whose parents are involved. Therefore, having family members, as well as other members of the community, of the Spanish-speaking students involved can give the student a validation of their own culture and help them understand the importance of their education. Parent involvement further ensures there is an open line of communication between the teacher and the family, which is often key in addressing any difficulty the student may be having as the problem arises. Furthermore, it helps the parent to understand what their children are speaking of when they return to their home. Parental involvement can also be beneficial to you, as the teacher. You can learn from the parent the differences in the Spanish-speaking culture and our own. You can also teach the parents how our culture works and what is expected of their child as a student.
Differences in cultures will be the number one difficulty that a teacher of a Spanish-speaking student will face. You may think that the student’s parents are not interested in their education, which is usually not the case. In some cultures, the parents are not involved in their children’s educations and may expect our education system is the same. Also, there may be a greater value on education for your male English Language Learners (ELL) than your female. Many parents of Spanish-speaking students do not feel as if they belong at the school. They may feel uncomfortable for various reasons. One main reason could be his or her own experience with school. If you have a parent who had negative experiences in school, they will be less involved in their child’s education. Another reason that a parent may not seem involved is because their work schedule does not give them time to come into the school. The parent may work while their student is in school and cannot meet during school hours, or the parent may work more than one job and not be able to meet on your schedule. The parents and families of the students may also view an education as less important than religious activities and other activities such as family businesses, in which your student may work. There may also be language barriers that hinder your ability to communicate with the parents. Remember that even people who seem to speak English well may not be able to understand what you are talking about when speaking to them. A lot of meaning can and usually is lost in translation. Some of the community leaders may be resistant to coming in for many of the before mentioned reasons. Also, they may see education as solely your responsibility in which they should not be involved. These are just a few of the difficulties you may face as a teacher of a Spanish-speaking ELL.
Although it seems there are a lot of difficulties in reaching parents and community leaders in the Spanish-speaking community, there are a lot of ways you can help bring them into the education system so that Spanish-speaking ELLs will benefit. You can validate the student’s culture by inviting their parents and community leaders to come into the classroom. At this time, you can have them tell the class about their culture and share their customs and beliefs with the class. This will also be beneficial to the mainstream students in your classroom by providing a culturally enriched environment for learning. You can ask the parents to cook some of their native foods to share with the class and explain why the food is important to the culture. Other suggestions would be to have any parent/teacher correspondence translated into Spanish by a native Spanish-speaking colleague. This can help the parents understand that you value their language and culture. You can notify the parents of their rights and responsibilities, and let them know about the rules and procedures for your school and classroom. Be upfront with the parents and let them know what is expected of their students. For parents that do not speak any English, make sure you have an interpreter available (not the student) to help you communicate with the parents and use non-verbal messages and cues, such as meeting them at the door and walking them to the door. You can also invite the parents to take a tour of the school, and show them your classroom as well as inviting them to observe your classroom. Another tip is to be available and keep all lines of communication open to the parent. You should meet on the parent’s schedule, not yours. So, you may have to take time out to do home visits. This can give you more insight into the cultural differences between the Spanish-speaking community and your own. It will also give you an opportunity to learn the student’s talents and interests as well as their culture. Encourage the parents or other family members to read to their student, and if they cannot read, have their student read to them. There are many, many more ideas for getting Spanish-speaking family members involved.
Overall, the most important factor is the education of the student. With the student’s parents and the community’s involvement, the student will be more apt to care about his or her own education; and as a team, you and the student’s parent will be able to provide the student with an environment in which he or her can grow and learn, which will better prepare the student for his or her future.