I live in California, a state that has a large number of Hispanic students. As a teacher, I see many of these students enter the school system, some succeed, while others fail.
Here are some strategies to help empower Latino/Hispanic Students:
1. The cup is half full, not half empty
Being able to speak a language other than English is a very handy thing. Give the student encouragement on what they already know and help them feel that the glass is half full, not half empty.
2. Provide opportunities for self-empowerment and leadership
English Second Language (ESL) Students might not be strong in English, but they have other skills. Use those skills to empower the student. For example, if there’s a Spanish class, have the ESL student be available as a mentor to students learning Spanish as a second language.
3. Provide examples of role models the students can relate to
Jose M. Hernadez, first immigrant farm worker to become an astronaut for NASA. Read to the students or have them read, Reaching for the Stars, an inspiring autobiography of Jose’s journey from becoming a typical Latino boy to becoming an astronaut.
4. Understand how the bilingual mind works
Unless you are bilingual yourself, it is hard to explain what is like to be bilingual. As a bilingual person, I think in two languages. I dream in two languages and sometimes these languages simultaneously cross over. Learning to speak a new language means retraining the student’s brain to think in another language. This takes time and practice. Very often the student will think in their strongest language and then translate in their head before being able to speak. That means that they need more time to process the questions being asked in the target language.
Sometimes I amaze my monolingual husband without intending to. I hear something in Spanish, my brain doesn’t even register it as a different language, I internalize the information given and then move on. In the meantime, my husband is standing there confused, wondering what just happened.
How the ELL Brain Learns by David A. Sousa, is a good read, if you are not bilingual yourself and you want to better understand how second language learners think.
5. Mentor outside of class
Realize the value of showing students you care. A teacher’s job doesn’t end at 3 pm with the bell, it continues far beyond that. Are your students into sports? Go see one of their games and then tell them how proud you were to see them. Show interest in what interests them, and you will definitely reap the rewards.
6. Bring outside speakers into the classroom
Find people in your area that have moved beyond their circumstances to accomplish great things. This can be someone who was the first person in their family to go to college or someone who moved up in a company because of their ambition and hard work.
7. Teach with a “Si se puede” attitude
This phrase roughly translates to yes, we can. A phrase coined by Cesar Chavez, a farm worker who fought against the injustices faced by immigrant farm workers of the time. Don’t allow students to say they can’t do something. Make “si se puede” a daily reminder that they can do whatever they set their mind to.