Creating a Classroom Environment that Helps My Bilingual Students Excel
30 January 2024
By Ms. Marisela Lugo, Third Grade Bilingual Teacher at Schubert Elementary School
I had an amazing 11-year journey as a special education classroom assistant in CPS. I absolutely loved working with diverse learners, and, at a certain point, I didn’t even feel like an aide. It was a challenging role, but I had so much passion for it.
Along the way, my colleagues would often tell me that they saw potential in me that I could be a teacher one day. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, I saw it as an opportunity to take that leap. Now, two master’s degrees later, I am in my second year as a bilingual educator teaching English language arts and social studies to 52 wonderful third-graders.
My approach to teaching starts with my classroom environment. I’ve made sure that my classroom is full of visuals that are in both English and Spanish. It’s a room where everyone feels welcomed. My instruction is split about evenly in English and Spanish, which is a lot of work, but I really enjoy it. I especially love it when my students get to participate, talk with each other, and show that they are engaged in their learning.
This foundation has been especially important since my classroom has welcomed quite a few newcomer students this school year. My students don’t have to be reminded to be welcoming and encouraging. They are always excited when we have a new student, even cheering them on.
I have two teenagers of my own, and this experience makes me think back to when my daughter was in elementary school and started at a new school. She was very nervous, and I remember talking about her feelings with her. That perspective has reminded me to make sure that I am meeting my new students where they are, especially in terms of their social-emotional well-being.
Since I’m working with third graders, I am always closely monitoring their progress in reading and writing in English. I am very proud of the strides they have made so far this school year. Nearly all of them have shown growth in some way.
I think I’ve been able to effectively support my students academically because I am always learning from those around me. Even though I’m still a pretty new teacher, I’ve been able to grow by seeking advice from my colleagues. One example is the Heggerty method for teaching reading. This approach has helped me develop a strong routine that gives my students ample opportunities to practice key skills.
Learning reading and writing is an ongoing process, and I simply want my students to keep showing improvement in both of those areas. Above anything else, I want them to feel confident speaking English and know that they are capable of being successful students. I hope that I am inspiring them to be their best selves.
I grew up in a bilingual household, but I only learned Spanish consistently from my grandparents. I had to pursue Spanish in high school and college. Knowing both languages is going to open doors for my students in the future and potentially take them to so many places that they can’t even see right now.
My students are special. They are important. They are so smart. And I hope each of them never gives up. They’re worthy to accomplish anything they dream about. It may take a while, but it can and it will come true. They just need to keep trying, keep fighting, and always keep on dreaming.
Ms. Lugo didn’t have to go too far to join the Schubert community—her entire career as a special education classroom assistant was at another elementary school in the Belmont Cragin community. Her master’s degrees are in teaching as well as curriculum and instruction.
23 February 2024
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