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Teachers as Translators: Doing the Unexpected

Tuesday, August 08, 2017 by Luke Janicki - ACE 22, Peoria

Luke Janicki ACE Teaching Fellows 22 Peoria

ACE Teaching Fellows graduate Luke Janicki (ACE 22 - Peoria) offers a two-part reflection on his experiences in the classroom and how he used his Spanish speaking skills to create connections in the broader school community. Part one is below.

ACE Teaching Fellows 22 Peoria Luke Janicki“Mr. Janicki?”

I pivot to see Ms. Freeman walking through my door. It is strange to hear the beehive-like din around me suddenly resolve itself to silence, a result I have been trying to achieve all morning with various teacher techniques and frustrated reminders (“Let's bring the noise down,” “Voices off in 3, 2, 1!”), all to no avail. My students turn to face Ms. Freeman who is now walking across the room towards the front.

“They need you in the office. I'll watch your class.”

I accept her summons and haphazardly show her the schedule for the morning and the Shurley English workbook page the students are “working” on before exiting my classroom. I can hear my students' hushed voices as I leave: “Where is he going? Ms. Freeman, why is he leaving?” I walk briskly down the stairs half-anxious for the unsettled class I've just left, half-excited by the thrill of the unforeseen challenge in front of me. What kind of situation will I be dealing with this time?

If there is one lesson that I learned while serving as a teaching fellow in the Alliance for Catholic Education, it is that teachers are not teachers. At least, they are not the teachers they envision themselves to be. The reason for this is not that they lack the vision and the wherewithal to achieve what they know they can achieve, but rather that there are too many competing expectations of them to be able to achieve any level of success by their own definition. The mark of the teacher is that they are able to attain to these outside expectations while still preserving their own vision. Teachers are too busy to be teachers. They have to be translators.

"They need you in the office. I'll watch your class."

I walk into Dr. Dillon's office, and she stands, briefing me on the scenario: mom, 8th grade daughter, new family, Spanish-speaking, rough history at previous school. This type of quick, decisive explanation would soon become all too familiar (and would always make me feel like I’m being handed a classified dossier for an asset in a Jason Bourne movie). We are always pressed for time because I have to get back to class, or a family member is missing work, or Dr. Dillon is late for another meeting.

The mom and her daughter come in from the front office and Dr. Dillon invites them to sit down at a round table. I introduce myself to them in Spanish, hoping that the tinge of reluctance I feel at hearing my own Spanish is not showing. Their facial expressions relax at hearing my introduction, and I know that I've achieved some level of connection. That's got to count for something considering the weighty concerns on their minds. They respond confidently.

We sit down and get to work.

Learn more about ACE Teaching Fellows at ace.nd.edu/teach and request more information!