A Message from IPS Teacher of the Year: Sarah TeKolste

There were many things I did not like about teaching during the pandemic, but I loved when my students’ families got to be a part of the classroom alongside us thanks to online learning. Teaching Spanish to a diverse group of both native and nonnative speakers was made all the richer by the authentic cultural interactions that became organically infused into our virtual learning space.

Alexa’s mom jumped into Microsoft Teams call to explain how the Rosca de Reyes —a traditional bread shared with family and friends on Epiphany Day or Kings Day — is different in Puerto Rico than in Mexico. Alecs’ mom explained how the word she would use in Peru varies from the peninsular Spanish I used as the teacher. 

And, Jasmin’s dad prepared a full presentation about how his Mexican American church venerates La Virgen de Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.

This year, my challenge for myself and all my fellow teachers is to consider how we will bring our students’ home cultures, languages, and families into classrooms as assets. I hope that every family, regardless of the language they speak at home, feels welcome and that their global perspective is deeply valued throughout IPS.

With the start of the new school year underway, here are some suggestions that should help you embrace students’ and families’ home languages as assets to create a welcoming environment:

  • Make key information available in multiple languages. Use home language survey data to know what languages your students’ families speak at home, and then utilize multilingual staff members and the IPS’ partnership with LUNA Language Services to translate important updates for all families. 
  • Differentiate content for multilingual learners. Work with your ELL specialist or world language teachers to properly follow an ILP, adjusting instruction to make it accessible to all students. It’s the law and our moral imperative.
  • Establish a multilingual phone line. Provide your families with various options to contact the school IPS IT is capable of setting up multilingual options in the IPS phone system. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to connect with your families!
  • Bring family members in as guest speakers. World language courses may be deeply enriched by the presence of authentic guest speakers from another culture.
  • Be sensitive to the fears of our undocumented community. Always identify yourself as the teacher when you make a phone call home. Never ask a student where they were born or about their citizenship status. Assure students and families that their privacy is protected at school.  Use respectful and inclusive language.  Expose your classes to college access resources for undocumented students.
  • Allow students to see themselves reflected in the curriculum. Is your bookshelf full of diverse faces and perspectives? Can students relate to the stories you share in your content area? Do they see examples of Honduran engineers, Congolese doctors, and Chin policymakers? Do you position all of your students as leaders?

In IPS, we are committed to racial equity, and that means that we must meet the needs of all of our students and their families, regardless of their immigration status or the language that they speak at home. As we prepare our students for leadership in the globalized 21st-century workforce, we must be models for them as we embrace diversity and multilingualism for the assets that they are.

For e-learning at the start of the pandemic, I interviewed various professionals about how they use Spanish in the workplace. 

Pictured here:

  • Alejandra Camargo, a Colombian American pharmacologist from Eli Lilly
  • Raúl Fregoso, an architect living in Mexico City
  • Tari Morales, a bilingual health coach of Nicaraguan and Puerto Rican ancestry
  • José Medina, outreach coordinator for the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, of Mexican ancestry

If any educators would like to access these videos, they are available on my Youtube channel! Just search me by name. All videos are subtitled and geared towards language learners.