Home > Bilingual Education > Secret Diary of a Bilingual Educator: Linguistic Discrimination in the Schoolhouse

Secret Diary of a Bilingual Educator: Linguistic Discrimination in the Schoolhouse

I can still remember the days when I was a bilingual teacher and I would sit in the staff lounge during my breaks or lunch. There were times when one or two of us would occasionally speak in Spanish to one another when we were walking in and out of the room. It would be an understatement to say that many of the teachers did not approve of us using Spanish.

It’s not as if we lived in some podunk town where people were unaccustomed to diversity. In fact, worked in a large urban school district in Southern California where the majority of the student population was black and latino. Approximately ninety percent of our students were latino, with approximately forty percent  being classified as English learners. One third of the students were in either a Dual Immersion program or a transitional bilingual education program and we were one of the largest bilingual schools in the district-probably even the whole county.

I can still remember one day vividly when I was chastised for speaking Spanish by another teacher in the staff lounge. It was recess and I walked into the staff lounge to buy a soda. There were about five teachers sitting on the opposite side of the room talking to one another. I walked into the room, but as soon as I put money into the machine I dropped a dime that quickly rolled underneath the machine.

Suddenly one of the bilingual kindergarten teachers walked into the room. -¿Tienes diez centavos?- I asked the teacher. He pulled out ten cents and gave it to me.

One of the teachers on the other side of the room suddenly shouted out, “Speak English! This is America”. I was in shock and was so insulted that I couldn’t even open my mouth. I just stood there in shock, not believing that someone had just yelled at me. Those were the days when I didn’t know how to stand up for myself and rarely said anything when other people made racist or inappropriate comments because I didn’t know what to say.

I’ve heard that worn out argument that some people think that it is “rude” when people speak another language in front of them, so I am hypothesizing that maybe the teacher who yelled at me felt a similar sentiment. What do I have to say about that? Here’s my thought: She should have just minded her own darn business. Maybe if she wasn’t so busy listening to my personal conversation on the other side of the room she wouldn’t have even noticed that I was speaking another language.

Now it’s over ten years later and if I could do it all again I would have given her a big piece of my mind. I would have said, “I have the right to engage in personal conversations during my break time in whichever language I choose. If you are uncomfortable with it, then I suggest you don’t listen to my conversation, or you can study Spanish”. And then I would have walked out the door with a grand exit.

I’m just waiting for that day when someone at work tells me something like that again because I would really love to give them a piece of my mind. I suspect that since I grew into a more opinionated woman that many people might not even have the nerve to tell me something like that again because they know that they won’t get away with it. (Plus, it helps being a manager).

In the meantime, if any of this happens to those of you who are bilingual teachers, maybe you can steal my lines and get in a few jabs for me.  And make sure you pat yourself on the back when you are finished.

Has this ever happened to you? What did you do?

About the Author: Melanie McGrath is a bilingual education fanatic. She passionately thinks, lives and dreams about multilingual education every waking and sleeping moment of her life. Seriously. Melanie is an administrator of bilingual education programs, and considers herself to be an advocate for students, parents, teachers, and others in the struggle for quality bilingual education programs.  As founder of Multilingual Mania, she’s doing all that she can to help create a multilingual and non-racist society one day at a time.

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Categories: Bilingual Education

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