Self-introduction and justification for pursuing dual language immersion education.
August 14, 2017
The desire for pursuing dual language immersion has a bit of a personal side for me. Foreign language study has lead to a richness in confidence, curiosity and perspective in my own experience and I see those seeds planted in children who are successful in highly-effective DLI programs. If more children have foreign language doors opened for them, the social change in our citizenry could have the power to overcome the bigotry and xenophobia that fills our daily news. That is why I want to work in supporting the flourishing of dual language immersion.
At the end of a cul de sac in south Seattle in the suburbs, our family life centered around the Boeing company where my father was an engineer. As I grew up in this unremarkable environment, in high school without any effort, I could get good grades in French class. While I was much “too cool” to actually speak French, I enjoyed feeling like there was something fun that was easy for me. I memorized the posters of songs on the walls and the face of the bluegrass-loving hippy French teacher who, in retrospect, I realize had saint-like patience. I had anticipated learning a foreign language greatly, but the class was just another class.
When the time came to choose a major, I flicked areas of interest: journalism, limnology, naturopathy but for various reasons ended with French.
No female in my family had ever graduated from college.
Two jobs, student debt and incremental payments on rent forced my hand to a very pragmatic view of college outcomes; I quickly switched to Spanish because employment after college was a singular goal. Before graduating, I spent 4 months in Ecuador because I knew that if I didn’t learn to speak Spanish fluently I would have 40K in student debt and an in-depth knowledge of golden age Spanish literature which employed no one ever (unless they had a PhD).
Four months in Ecuador changed everything: I became fluent in Spanish and a developed a desire for more of that experience–I learned a ton. With the rest of my college years I absorbed large quantities of applied linguistics coursework in order to position myself as an overseas teacher, hopefully in South America. In 1996 I graduated from Portland State University with a minor in applied linguistics, a Spanish major and a potent motivation to hurdle myself into international education.
After scouting options, I settled on Peace Corps, which placed me in Russia. Being a first time traveler made Peace Corps look relatively safe. Needless to say, it was a singular and unforgettable experience.
After Russia,I was not only comfortable traveling overseas solo, but I was also able to speak Russian sufficiently to be rated Intermediate on the ACTFL test for spoken fluency.
Returning home was dysphoric, language fluency in itself (without a teaching credential) didn’t yield opportunities beyond teaching executives English, translating or teaching English to recent immigrants, none of which provided a real career path.
While in Russia, I discovered an ever so slight push back (which I had also experienced in Ecuador) from the idea that I was the American who had come to teach everyone English. This small notion of linguistic imperialism was enough to spark a decision to teach Americans a language other than english. I wanted to equip young people to also live large lives that took them much further than they ever anticipated. I returned to Oregon State University to work toward an MAT in teaching Spanish.
After working two jobs while completing coursework, practice teaching and fulfilling my fellowship at OSU and graduating, my professional life in public schools found traction; I was certified to teach secondary Spanish and ESOL, which I did for about 15 years.
Over time I realized that despite how hard I worked, very few students would become fluent in Spanish and leave the country and have their perspective shifted due to the way foreign language was approached in the school: an academic elective, meant for college-bound students and not formally assessed or required (which impacted the resources allotted). Research confirmed my disappointment: the current seat time of teaching foreign language could not result in fluency without time abroad. For the amount of energy that I was putting into it, I wasn’t sure if staying a teacher in the current low-success environment was how I wanted my “one wild and precious life” to be spent. I mulled a million possibilities.
As my town spun up a DLI program, I saw it: the cognitive and social richness that knowing more than one way to communicate brought. The days I spent volunteering at Ainsworth (a DLI elementary in Portland Oregon) back in college returned in memory; I had been amazed at the work being done there. I watched my daughter grow in ways her older sister had not; she played by making up languages, announced that she was Mexican and she felt proud of her ability to speak in Spanish. I began to see the social change possibilities inherent to DLI. The Latino families I had so enjoyed working with (but were always on the periphery of the community at large) became integrated via DLI, while also potentially bringing our monolingual communities to fluency in another language.
Thus began a search for how I could, with my background, contribute to the success and proliferation of high-quality DLI programs. My own journey from the end of a cul-de-sac in the suburbs through a variety of experiences that opened my eyes to how our nation operates in a global context made me want every kid to have this kind of educational opportunity. After all, I had managed it without vast wealth. Foreign language study leads to a richness in confidence, curiosity and perspective and I saw those seeds planted in my daughter. Over time, I realized if more children had foreign language doors opened for them, the social change in our citizenry might have the power to overcome the bigotry and xenophobia that filled the news. That is why I want to work in supporting the flourishing of DLI.