Just a little more than half (55 percent) of teachers in a recent survey say their schools translate parent correspondence into other languages, despite federal data showing that almost 5 million U.S. students are English language learners (ELL).
The survey from communication app ClassDojo highlights the communication challenges teachers and families face each day due to language barriers. Of the teachers who say their school does translate communications, 36 percent say they rely on a teacher who speaks the language to do it, and 16 percent use a professional translation service.
Close to 10 percent of the overall student population speaks English as a second language, and 28 percent of surveyed teachers say their school does not translate parent communications at all.
Seventy-one percent of teachers surveyed say they’ve taught children who speak English as a second language in the past three years. More than half of teachers surveyed (56 percent) say they worry that parents whose native language isn’t English aren’t able to fully engage with school life–not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t have sufficient English language skills to be able to do so.
When asked what teachers are concerned about when it comes to communicating with the parents of English language learners:
● 71 percent of teachers say parents not being able to help their children with their homework or at-home projects
● 50 percent of teachers worry parents have trouble comprehending special education needs or other learning difficulties
● 58 percent of teachers are concerned about parents understanding any particular praise for, or worries, about their child
● 40 percent of teachers worry about whether parents will attend teacher-parent conferences
● 45 percent of teachers worry that language barriers prevent parents from offering to volunteer on class trips
The survey also showed that close to half of teachers say that they have had to talk to a parent of an ELL learner about a school matter through their child (46 percent) or an older sibling (49 percent) rather than with the parent directly. This might be why 52 percent of teachers say parents of ELL learners are sometimes unaware that their child had important tests on certain days.
If districts decide to invest in a school-home communication app or service, language-translation capability can greatly improve parent engagement.
“About one-third of our students are ELL, and many more don’t speak English at home. That created some challenges for our teachers in engaging and connecting parents,” says Kyle Crater, principal at Amanda E. Stout Elementary in Pennsylvania. “Two years ago, we rolled out ClassDojo at all 19 schools in our district and the impact has been profound.
“As a school, we knew we needed to do more,” Crater says in a ClassDojo blog post. “There was a disconnect between the school and our student’s families. There was a disengagement. The parents didn’t feel like they belonged here. We had to make the school a part of the community.”
In addition to school-home communication, 80 percent of K-12 educators in another survey say ELL instruction is a top priority for their school or district.
Ninety-nine percent of educators participating in that survey also say they need more professional development and different types of learning materials to properly support ELL students and meet their needs. Only 55 percent of respondents believe their school or district provides sufficient, ongoing professional development to support ELL student success.
That survey also reveals that educators see ELL enrollment increasing steadily in their schools and districts, though more rapid growth appears to be in the Northeast, Midwest, and Southern regions (compared to the West).