I’ve had a few conversations now with educators who firmly believe that their classrooms should be ‘English Only’ zones. This really gets my goat. Despite all the research about how valuable multilingualism is and all the research about language learning that disproves the idea that you need to stop speaking your first language to learn a new one, they insist on bringing harmful language policies into their classrooms. These policies are rooted in either bad pedagogy or white supremacy; either way, they’re bad news. Last year, after one of these frustrating conversations, I whipped up a classroom bill of rights in Word and printed it on Astrobright paper. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job.
This is a topic that is really important to me on a personal level because I’m monolingual… and shouldn’t be. My paternal family is Japanese, but my grandparents didn’t teach my dad Japanese and consequently, I never learned it either. There were definitely some interesting shame-related dynamics that I think stemmed from the racism my Japanese-Canadian grandfather experienced, and it came out in the things he did and said. For instance, he would always call himself a “Canadian boy” and say things like “give me a hamburger instead of rice any day!” I think his experiences definitely made him want to appear as “Canadian” (specifically, white Canadian) as possible, and that may be part of the reason why he didn’t pass the language on to my dad. As a kid, it didn’t bug me that I didn’t speak Japanese because my grandparents all spoke English. However, when my grandmother started to forget her English when I was a teenager, I felt that missing piece of my culture quite severely.
I don’t want any of my students to feel the way about their language or culture that my grandfather was made to feel. I don’t want any of them to know the pain of not being able to communicate basic information with a family member they are incredibly close to. I want them to keep their languages strong! And I want them to know that every aspect of their identity is important and valued in our classroom.
When I started listing the most important things I wanted to do for back-to-school, I kept thinking of the key values I want to hit hard right from the get-go: know yourself, respect yourself, and respect one another. This is especially important now when many kids haven’t been in a physical school setting for half a year. Often, school is the only place where kids interact with people with whom they have nothing in common. We are going to have to work extra hard at building respect and community this year.
To remind us of this commitment every day, I made these posters to put up by our door. I hope you are able to use them to send an important message to your students and to spark some very necessary lessons and discussions. You can download them in my TPT store! Please remember to leave feedback!