No matter how well-intentioned, without adequate resources, efforts by school districts in the Denver metro area to handle the recent influx of migrant students may fall flat. According to many community members, in order for classrooms and schools to function well this coming school year, school districts will need to dedicate more resources to preparing schools and teachers for students that will be more linguistically and culturally diverse than ever. As districts in the metro area are already facing significant financial pressures, many community members are concerned about the ability of local schools to allocate adequate funding for things like additional teacher training, expanding translational services or increasing the number of multilingual faculty. Without these additional resources, teachers may become overwhelmed by the demands and complexities of carrying out day-to-day school operations, given the rapid influx of students who have recently arrived in the United States.

Resources

Perhaps the most important resources when it comes to schools are human resources because it is people after all, who do the teaching and handle the administrative duties. Community members, however, are aware that the response to the influx of migrants has to be handled by school districts that have long had trouble recruiting and retaining faculty and staff.

Not  only do districts in the metro area need to recruit and retain additional teachers, they are especially in need of teachers who are culturally competent, racially diverse and multilingual. As one community member put it, “thinking back about my time working at schools, I think ‘we need teachers that are culturally ready for this, bilingual teachers’, like there’s a teacher shortage but bilingual teachers are even less seen in the classroom.”

In the metro area, figuring out how to recruit and retain teachers has long been a problem, and that has been particularly true for teachers of color. For many teachers of color, it is the additional and unaccounted for labor that comes along with their normal job duties that causes them to leave the profession.

These concerns are also shared by multilingual teachers, as they are often asked to shoulder additional duties, although that work is never formally recognized as a part of their job responsibilities. A community member that works in schools pointed out that “bilingual and multilingual teachers are asked to do a lot of free labor,” which prompted another community member who is an educator to suggest that the uneven distribution of labor “is not okay.” She went on to note, “you have so many teachers or people who are just being asked, ‘can you do this translation service? Can you communicate with this family?’ There’s just not enough investment in saying that providing translation is something we believe in as a school.”

Community members noted that much of the discourse surrounding the influx of migrant students is focused on issues regarding the curriculum, but often fails to address the underlying problem of under-funded schools.That lack of funding may explain the experience some teachers have of needing to reinvest a portion of their wages back into their classroom just to ensure their students have their basic needs met. For instance, one former educator noted that she has friends who are still in the classroom who come out of pocket to make sure basic items like tampons, toothbrushes, and soap are available to their students. Teachers throughout Colorado are already receiving salaries that barely track with the cost of living, add the possibility of reinvesting a portion of your wage into your classroom, and it may be enough to keep potentially interested parties from joining the profession. As one community member noted, “I do think it comes down to money, if we’re 45th in the nation in funding our schools… we’re not going to be able to recruit the best folks to become teachers and we’re not gonna be able to have teachers not be stressed out all the time and just barely making it.”

Despite the widespread awareness that there are simply not enough teachers to meet current demands, there seems to be an inability to implement changes which would increase the teacher workforce. Many community members believe that policy-makers have been slow to address the fundamental problems which have created our current teacher shortage. As one mother of DPS students noted, “We pay teachers so poorly. I know that we have legislation being drawn up to address the new influx of students, but also it’s like, when are we going to address the actual funding formula to make it any kind of equal playing field to address these basic issues of retention, incentivisation, if we’re talking about language justice is there some kind of bilingual or multilingual incentivisation for staff in such a high linguistically diverse district.”

On top of the underfunding, community members expressed concern about the allocation of resources in the metro area. For instance, one educator asked, “How are we going to protect our bilingual resources for those folks that actually need them now that we’re seeing the rise of literally gentrifying bilingual programs?” She noted that shifting demographics in the city often leave resources in the hands of student populations that were not necessarily their intended target, resources that could potentially benefit newcomer students.

Preparing Teachers

Several community members speculated that without proper training and additional resources, the exodus of teachers from the classroom will escalate due to the additional task of teaching many students who do not share a common language. As one current educator noted, “What you’re asking all teachers to do starts in new teacher training and making sure that it’s not separate. We always have conversations about what these best practices are for multilingual students and us not thinking about it like it’s wrapped, it’s not separate. You shouldn’t be going to a different session, it’s the same thing. Rethinking how we’ve been doing training for teachers is critical right now.” One former educator noted that part of the problem is that training is implemented in such a way that it doesn’t make clear to teachers how to best navigate multilingual classrooms. A current educator noted that, in his experience, professional development training sessions often involve being presented with so much information so quickly that it is not digestible and therefore not particularly useful. As he put it, “when you go to these trainings it feels like it’s just so much information coming at you, you just be like ‘I’m shutting down.’”

One former educator noted that, at times, teacher training has the unintended consequence of making it more difficult for teachers to respond well in the classroom. She said, “teachers are looking for that silver bullet and they forget to look inside themselves. Sometimes I feel like we’re doing to our teachers what we’re doing to our students. We’re not thinking about what are their gifts? What are their assets that you have that you already bring to the class and let’s expand. Let’s go from there.” There are no simple solutions for managing a classroom of any kind, let alone one that contains the complex dynamics that many classrooms in the metro area are soon to experience. However, holding space for teachers to explore how they can use their strengths to improve upon or invent novel strategies may allow for the teachers to develop the expertise and flexibility necessary to contend with novel challenges.

In the Classroom

Frankly, teaching in a classroom where students speak multiple languages is no easy task. One APS educator noted that there was a steep learning curve in his experience as  a young teacher, even though the linguistic diversity in his classroom came nearly exclusively from Spanish-speaking students at the time. He noted that he eventually developed strategies like utilizing gestures, symbols and modeling to communicate when he couldn’t rely on oral instructions. Because he taught music, which he believes is a sort of universal language, he felt that he had an easier time teaching without necessarily sharing language with his students than many other teachers. He pointed out that much of his success can be attributed to trusting his intuitive feeling that the most important aspect of the classroom is its relational component. As he put it, “speaking as a teacher, my biggest thing is relationships. I want them to feel included. They are in a new environment. They’re scared. Chances are they don’t speak the same language.”

Another community member who had spent many years working in education noted that one complicating element of the recent influx of migrants is the proliferation of students who speak many languages in the classroom. Navigating this dynamic will put additional pressures on teachers, many of whom suggest they are already at max capacity in terms of managing the classroom. As he put it “if you’ve got 200 languages, what do you even do? especially without enough resources, it’s asking teachers to do one more thing and figure out how to navigate multiple languages in your classroom.”

Schools in the Denver metro area will be in the unique position of accommodating a significant portion of students who have recently arrived in the country. Doing so will require patience, innovation and an investment. Perhaps most importantly, school districts will have to put faculty and staff in a position to meet the demands of the moment and ensure that students have access to what they need to receive an education. As community members noted, in order to create an environment which is conducive to quality education, there will have to be an abundance of individuals within schools who are equipped to handle what is an interesting and developing situation regarding the rapid influx of migrant students. As one community member summarized it,  “we’ve seen our state grow in its need. Right now we’re short on teachers, for example. We need those that have the passion and the education to be able to come back to our classrooms and teach our next generation.”

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