Supporting this need as a harassed teacher, battling against the odds in today’s hectic, under-resourced schools with their over-stuffed curriculums, is quite a challenge.
Here are 5 straightforward things you can do as a teacher to make the lives of your new arrivals instantly more pleasant:
It’s sometimes hard to spread your attention across thirty plus eager (or not so enthusiastic) faces when children pour into your classroom. But, regardless of how you feel, and despite how noisy and demanding your class might be, always find time to smile and say hello to each child, especially those who are new. This can make the difference between a new arrival feeling valued or feeling invisible.
2) Meet and Greet
Firstly, make sure you learn how to pronounce and spell each pupil’s name correctly. There’s nothing worse for a student than entering an alien environment where the teacher in charge recoils at the sight of your name on paper and ask immediately if you have a nick-name. I’ve seen this done. Names are a fundamental part of our identity and our attitudes towards other people’s identities speaks volumes about us. Secondly, learn to say hello in a few different languages. You may be plurilingual yourself, or you might have messed about in MFL lessons at school and then dropped the subject like a hot brick at the earliest opportunity, but you don’t have to be a linguist to learn a few new words. Saying hello to a child in their language shows an effort on your part to acknowledge who they are. This say a lot about your respect for other people and sets a great example to the rest of your class.
3) Show willing
Display languages – you can easily display greetings (please see our freebies for ideas). This allows literate pupils and parents to see and read languages they recognise. It sends a strong message out that you appreciate and value languages other than just English. And it also demonstrates to all pupils, especially monolingual English-speaking pupils, that language is expressed with many signs, sounds and symbols and that the world is an amazingly diverse and exciting place.
4) Watch your language
Listen to how you say things, to children generally, and new arrivals in particular. As native speakers of English (generally, although some teachers are fortunate enough to be bilingual) teachers rattle off lots and lots of instructions, directions, information, requests, opinions and so on, during every single lesson. This is great if you are a native English speaker but not so great if it all sounds like gobbledygook. Make sure your language is consistent; that you repeat familiar words and phrases and back them up with helpful gestures, demonstrations or visuals. For example, think about all the different ways you can ask children to line up – make a line by the door, line up ready for assembly, stand behind so and so, I want you lined up in register order (always a challenge), when I call your table, get ready for playtime. Some instructions are quite literal, others have hidden, assumed meanings and protocols. Be clear and consistent so that newly arrived pupils can pick up on the day to day routines of the classroom quickly.
5) Slow down
As well as thinking about what you say, also consider how you say it. Native speakers talk quickly. Teachers can fire off a ridiculous number of questions and instructions in a very short space of time. Some people speak clearly, others have strong accents or dialects. However you talk, spare a thought for the children trying to follow even the simplest classroom interactions and slow down your speech. Speak clearly too. You may ask a question that your new arrival only understands one word of, but at least they can get the gist of what you are thinking if the language is spoken at an audible and comprehensible rate. For some basic survival language cards that you can use to communicate with new arrivals or display in the classroom, have a look at our free translated resources.
Finally, take a look at this excellent video created by Rochdale students. It says it all: