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Challenges of a Secondary Dual Language Immersion Program

I’ve really been feeling the challenges of being a Dual Language Immersion (DLI) teacher lately. It’s Farch, meaning students are antsy for warmer weather, and we’re dealing with next year’s course allocation so of course, like in all public schools, there is never enough funding to go around. So since I’m feeling the strain I figured it was a perfect time to write about the challenges I’ve been facing as a high school DLI teacher. These are issues that seem to keep coming up, and unfortunately I’ve yet to find any easy answers to them.

Enrollment and students

Burn out by secondary

By the time students are in high school they’ve been in a DLI program for 9 years and it doesn’t have the same sparkle that it had in elementary school. Some students say they are still in the program only because their parents want them there. Being in DLI longer feels like it’s something special.

Competition with other programs

Students have so many choices for fun elective classes like baking, graphic design or business that they don’t have room in their schedule to take all the classes they want. Students who are in specialty programs like AVID feel this crunch even more.

Lack of honors classes in the target language

Students who want to honors classes often have to choose between DLI classes and honors classes, for example a World History honors class or a DLI World History class. A way around this might be offering an option for obtaining honors by doing extra work, but this is also extra work for the teacher.

Grouping students by ability or grade

Students in DLI programs have a huge range of abilities in both language skills and literacy skills (think 3rd grade to 12th grade). Differentiating instruction is always difficult. In addition, the decision of whether to group all students by grade and work closely with the English Language Arts teachers is at odd with the possibility of grouping them by language ability level. Grouping by grade allows for great opportunities for connections to other core classes, but makes it much more difficult to meet students at their level.

The same students since Kindergarten

When students have been in classes with each other for 9 years they can be best friends or worst enemies. Either way, this cohort usually means very chatty students and more behavior problems than in a class where most students don’t know each other. On day one it’s the teacher that is the stranger and feels out of place.

Mountain climber
When you’re holding on to your sanity by a thread…

Teacher troubles

Lack of common planning time for teachers

When DLI teachers are in multiple departments like ESL, Spanish and Social Studies it is next to impossible to find common planning time. Teachers already belong to a department and finding a time for additional meetings outside of the department is difficult.

Extra work for teachers

As speakers of the target language DLI teachers often have the additional burden of doing extra work like translating everything that is sent home into two languages. Teachers may also be asked to communicate more often with parents since they speak their language or do extra jobs like interpret.

Family and Community

Community connections

Ideally a strong DLI program would have close ties to the local Spanish-speaking and Latino community. Community members are not likely to come in to schools to read with students or play during recess, so at the secondary level it may be harder to establish meaningful interactions in the community.

Less parent involvement

In elementary school parents are excited to be in their students’ classrooms and to volunteer. I’ve heard of so many great DLI events and parent-run groups at the elementary level. At the secondary level parents are not in classrooms and often students don’t want their “uncool” parents anywhere near the school. Thus, communicating with families is more difficult and building a connected parent community is also a challenge.

The bigger picture

Lack of understanding or support from administrators

I’ve worked with some administrators that really understand the goals of Dual Language Immersion programs and others that don’t. In order for a program to be successful principals, assistant principals, support staff and, really, all other teachers in the school need to understand what the goals of a DLI program are and how it helps students. Without buy in from others a program can’t flourish. Teacher and admin turnover makes this especially difficult.

Decision making at a district v. school level

Who should make decisions about curriculum and program needs, the school or the district? Do the individual schools drive the program or does the district office? Where does the funding come from? The professional development funds?

Does the program serve who it is supposed to serve?

DLI programs are an equity strategy for multilingual students who are ethnic or linguistic minorities. In the case of Spanish programs it is for Latino students who have been systematically oppressed linguistically and racially. As different factores like funding, parent support and AP classes come into play we have to ask ourselves if we are still serving this group in the best way we can.

I don’t have answers for all of these questions, but I’d love to hear your thoughts and see if other educators are facing the same issues. Tell me what you think in the comments below!

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