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Saturday, September 23, 2023

Tips for teachers who teach ESOL students of Cuban origin

By Emilia GonzalezSpecial to CSMS Magazine         In recent decades, Florida has become one of the most diverse states in the country. Each year hundreds of thousands are migrating to our state, bringing with them their languages and cultures. Each child that joins the state of Florida’s education system adds more to the State’s diverse population. With each child, a new set of questions and issues is raised about how to teach someone from another country, culture, and language. How can educators help those of another culture and language to learn to the fullest extent possible? What strategies and issues need to be considered when a child of another language joins a classroom in Florida? This brief report will help answer these questions. It also discusses how to teach students classified as part of the ESOL population by looking at one culture in particular: Cuban’s.            When teaching a student from the Cuban culture, educators must take into consideration several key factors: interpersonal communication styles, nonverbal communication, child/parent interaction, parent/teacher interaction, and significant elements of the Cuban culture itself that can influence students. Spending time to analyze such issues can be the difference between a student of another language and culture learning in their new environment. Teachers of ESOL students need to carefully inspect the following subjects and see how they can take to heart the information, using it and applying it as its best so ESOL students can reach their full potential.            To better understand why certain communication styles will work best for those of the Cuban culture, it is a good idea to start with trying to understand the culture itself. One of the key characteristics of the Cuban culture is a strong connection to family. Many Cubans, like most Spanish cultures, put the needs of the family and the closeness of family members above the individual members. This is quite important to remember because those of the Cuban culture have a habit of forming close bonds with others.When someone within their family is suffering or being affected by something, they are likely to feel some of the affects as well, becoming easily stressed and overwhelmed. This will be further discussed later on. Another important element of the Cuban culture that can affect teaching is a strong emphasis on education and excelling to the best of ones ability. Many Cubans who have come to America see education as a way of bettering one’s self later in life. So, education is pushed to the fore in a child’s life. Cuban parents often push their children to excel and spend as much time as possible studying and learning so that their prospects of going to college or finding a good job are increased.            In addition to these issues, it is important to remember that recently immigrated Cuban students who join the school system have just come from a Caribbean island, not an huge, industrial country like the United States. Such a change can affect a child’s learning abilities and how he interacts with his new environment. Cuban students may have a tendency to be extremely polite in class because they have been taught to respect class rules, and that speaking and standing out in class is unacceptable unless requested by the teacher.            Another key thing to remember is that Cubans are very friendly and expressive. A classroom that is extremely bare or unwelcoming could cause a student to feel uninvited or alienated, both of which can limit the student’s progress and stunt his potential. As teachers, it is important to remember that we want to be open and welcome all demographics to our classroom. We would thus avoid any symbols that could offend students or single them out. It is best we created a safe, understanding environment, where all students can grow and feel comfortable to learn, especially those who have just arrived from another country and now are trying to learn to adjust to new surroundings.            When dealing with an ESOL student of Cuban origin, it is also important to recognize what types of interpersonal communication styles work best. Taking into consideration the history and certain characteristics common to Cuba and its culture, when communicating with a student, teachers must avoid being harsh or overly demanding. It is good to take things slowly with the student, and explain or make clear to him what you expect of him. Cuban students have been taught that education is important and that teachers are to be respected; the student will often times be willing to listen and carry out instructions when given to him in a clear, calm way.Ass mentioned earlier, Cuban students seem to learn best when educators treat them kindly and with a more personal, equal attitude. One on one instruction or attention can be an effective form of communication that will benefit a Cuban ESOL student. This allows individual attention that would give the opportunity to better understand materials they may have trouble understanding because of the language barrier. It may also be a good idea to incorporate group communication or cooperative learning. This provides the student the opportunity to learn from his classmates, one of which may also speak their native language and be willing to give insight into an assignment.            Nonverbal communication is very important when trying to communicate with ESOL students, especially to those of the Cuban culture because they are very expressive and often times you can understand what they’re thinking from facial expressions and hand gestures. Such forms of nonverbal communication give insight into students’ thoughts and can give you the opportunity to know what they are thinking and how they understand what has been asked of them. Once a teacher gets to know his ESOL students, something that is highly recommended, it becomes easier to read the students expressions and gestures. A lack of response or activity during an assignment can give the impression that the student is confused or lost as to what is being asked of him or how to solve a particular problem.One nonverbal gesture that is common among Spanish cultures is nodding the head as a sign of understanding. In many cases Cuban students will nod to say they understand what is being said or explained, but in reality they do not. It would be a good idea to ask further questions to identify whether the student truly understands what is being said.  In addition to being able to understand and notice nonverbal signs, it is important for you, the teacher, to use nonverbal communication as well. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to use animated facial expressions and gestures. Do what you must to help the ESOL student learn. Show that you want him to understand and that you care. A simple smile or body language will do the trick. Give nonverbal signs that you are willing to help and are open to questions.            Another issue to keep close in mind as a teacher is child/parent interactions. Often Cuban parents are not fluent in English, which means they may be unable to help their children with homework. Also, the need to work more than one job in order to support the family may hinder parent involvement. It is a good idea to encourage students to communicate with their parents. Letting a parent know that a child is doing well or received a good grade will delight a parent who sees education as extremely important. A child who shares his education may spur a parent to become more involved in his child’s education or even further his own. Another way child/parent interaction may be beneficial for the student is that upon being contacted the parent may be more likely to encourage his child to work outside of school, which can later lead to furthering of his English proficiency.            In regards to teacher/parent interaction, teachers must remember to involve parents in their child’s academic life. It is always a good idea to contact the parents. If possible, use another person who is proficient in the Spanish language to relay your message or information. Inform them of your teaching plans and strategies; letting them know that you’ll contact them as often as possible to talk about academic progress or lack there of. Try to keep parents informed as to what is going on and perhaps give ideas of how they may help their child progress. You may also wish to inform the parents of Florida’s Parent Response Center, which can be contacted at 1-800-206-8956. This helps parents in making important decisions regarding their child’s education and also answers questions in their native language, Spanish, about instruction and the rights of their child—something that may benefit you (the teacher), the student and the parents.Being well informed on issues within the student’s life may boost his progress or his situation in class. You may want to ask parents to inform you if something happens outside of school. As mentioned earlier, in Cuban cultures if one family member is having problems, it affects the entire family and may stress the student. This may cause the student to be distracted or overwhelmed during activities or assignments.            Taking into account all these forms of communication will help you as a teacher to better understand your ESOL students, particularly those of the Cuban culture. This will empower you with the tools that you’ll need to expand ESOL students’ learning capabilities. In addition, this briefing can help you meet some of Florida’s Sunshine State Standards for several grade levels. For the early years (grades 3-5) all of these issues described above can help you reach your goal of helping student to excel to their full potential.The purpose of the Sunshine State Standards is to provide expectations of achievement. By taking all the mentioned suggestions to heart, you can help your ESOL students reach these expectations and give them the opportunity to continue their education smoothly. Thinking and taking into account the various factors affecting those within the Cuban culture will help you make a difference in these ESOL students’ lives by providing lasting impressions and tactics, which will allow them to reach all the goals and challenges placed before them with each passing year.Also, see Role of alternative languages in our societyNote: Emilia Gonzalez is retired teacher, who lives in Palatka, Florida. She wrote this piece, especially for CSMS Magazine.

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