Teaching Newcomer Students During a Pandemic

Teaching Newcomer Students During a Pandemic

04.30.21
Photo courtesy of Thomas Park/ Unsplash
04.30.21

For many students and teachers, online school has been a part of their reality for over a year now. While online learning comes with challenges for everyone, there’s a whole other set of difficulties for newcomer students and their teachers. 

We spoke with Geriel Delgado, a math teacher for newcomer students at Frick United Academy of Language in Oakland, California. At the time of the interview, his school was still all virtual. Since then, they have switched to hybrid, meeting in person for two hours twice a week. Delgado talked about the concerns he had for his ESL students, the lack of access to technology, the language barrier and how his style of teaching has completely changed.  

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Denise Tejada: How has this past year been with virtual learning? How have you adapted?

Geriel Delgado: In my situation, I’m teaching newcomer students. So newcomer students are coming here fresh to the United States. And they don’t necessarily have laptops and high-speed internet, so that’s been a challenge — getting technology to all my students, so they can actually be in the class with me. 

And you can imagine how challenging that is to teach over Zoom to somebody who perhaps hasn’t even used a computer before, cannot speak the language, and maybe has not even been in formal school for that long. 

DT: Are you seeing a lack of participation from your students? 

GD: I had like 45 students turn [homework] in today — about half of my students. The average is about sixty percent of students turn in asynchronous work.

And that’s one thing about asynchronous homework. It’s inequitable. Some students don’t have someone there to help them with homework. And if half their time is spent doing homework and they can’t do it, that is inequitable for those students as opposed to other students who have an older brother [or] a parent there, who can help them with the homework. 

DT: What are some things that you had to re-learn or new strategies that you had to implement with virtual learning that you otherwise wouldn’t had you been in the classroom?

GD: In the classroom, I do a lot of group work. Group work is essential to the classwork. Having students communicate with each other and argue with each other and gain understanding together. With virtual learning, it’s not that easy. Although we do have breakout rooms with Zoom, some of their connections cannot hold up for breakout rooms and they drop out constantly. We lost the social aspect.

I can’t be with my students, so I don’t know what’s going on with them. If I was in the classroom, I could notice how they are. I can notice their face and reaction. I can notice what they’re wearing, [whether they are] taken care of, [if] they have any marks on their body. 

I can’t notice that now. Reports of child abuse have gone down, but we know child abuse hasn’t in fact gone down. That’s because they’re not in the classroom. Teachers are not making those reports because they don’t see that.

DT: How much of yourself are you changing in order to compensate for not being inside a classroom? 

GD: I’m definitely making YouTube videos every day. I make two YouTube videos a day. Half of it is with me through Zoom and the other half is asynchronous, which is like homework. So I’m recording videos for them and then having them watch my videos and then answer questions based on my videos. So I am 50 percent a YouTuber, as a matter of fact.

DT: Are you finding yourself working more? Or do you find the workload being kind of the same?

GD: The work has definitely increased. I’m not just teaching, facilitating and evaluating, but taking care of their family too. [With] COVID, everyone is in need. So I am helping families get food on their table. Families deal with the loss of work, helping students get their technology, helping families that are grieving with COVID-19 loss. 

And a huge challenge for me is when students have had family members pass away. Thankfully, in our program we have a social worker who is connecting these families with funds, resources for money and for social emotional resources as well.

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