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The Benefits of Teaching in Two Languages


Pelet: Why do you think bilingual education is important?

Chávez: I believe that it’s important because we are more connected than before.There are many places in the world where people have to speak at the very least two languages. I think that it’s wonderful to learn how to express oneself in more than one language, to be able to travel, work, have friends …; I believe that it’s important for children, for example, in the United States, because many families that speak English at home have not thought about the importance of [speaking Spanish]. The ones that speak Spanish at home sometimes want to speak their home language [at school], their first language, and it’s very sad [when it cannot happen].

Pelet: Why did Minneapolis begin to offer bilingual Spanish and English education?

Chávez: The number of different bilingual programs, immersion programs, has already been growing. There’s a population of ESL speakers who are mostly native Spanish speakers. We were thinking about equality and what would be most just. [The program] was conceived so that children would not lose their home language and that they would learn to read and communicate in Spanish, and that they would feel good or proud about their culture. Also, we started it for the kids who speak English at home. There are more families that are interested in this and are asking schools to have more programs like this.

Pelet: What is the toughest aspect of teaching?

Chávez: I believe that our state tests are very difficult because they take up a lot of time. English as a second language takes a lot of time, too. These kids also need to take the normal state exams, and it is time that they are not receiving instruction. These exams are awful because they affect how resources are managed and how time is managed when children should be receiving more instruction instead of taking tests.

Pelet: What is a normal day for you like?

Chávez: There’s almost no day that is exactly like another. Today, for example, in the morning, I met up with teachers from another school who are trying to improve their pedagogy program. A bit earlier, before you called, I was crafting emails to certain teachers; I was also sending emails to families about which students want to enter the program …; In my work, even on a day-to-day basis, I need to establish my priorities. Sometimes I’m coaching other teachers, training them, and sometimes I’m with kids or with families …; I’m always thinking: What is my focus? What’s coming the next day? Things like that. It’s important to be a bit flexible, but at the same time be very clear about what one can do for the kids. My job is very diverse, very broad, but I believe that, more than anything, it’s about identifying what we need in terms of resources while we’re forming this program. The days when I’m teaching, I maintain kids’ education as the goal.