Changing the Way We Perceive Our English Language Learners

Using Self Advocacy and Activism in the Classroom

By Christine Olsen (SED ’12)

It started with a question: “What comes to mind when you hear the term English Language Learner?” I have been teaching English as a Second Language for three years now and I have never thought to ask this question before.

“Have trouble talking.” “Dumb.” “Kids who struggle.” “Different.”

These are just some of the responses from my 7th and 8th grade English Language Learners. When I posed this question, students openly and honestly shared how being given this label made them feel inferior as well as how it shapes the way others see them: “It doesn’t value the languages and cultures we come from; it only looks at what we don’t know.” By the end of the discussion, it became clear that my students needed to be recognized for their strengths and abilities, not just their deficits. The students generated a list of potential new names and voted to replace “English Language Learner” with the label “Multilingual Student.” They prefer this label because it is more representative of all that the students are capable of and acknowledges them for an often overlooked (but highly valuable) skill: the ability to speak more than one language.

Initially, I only thought of changing this label within my own classroom, but then a student asked “Ms. Olsen, why can’t we change this for the whole school?” This led to a research/persuasive writing project. The students brainstormed reasons the name should be changed and I helped them find relevant articles that supported their position. They created a survey and polled their peers in order to get a better sense of the language and cultural diversity around them. They used this data to prove that the label multilingual student is more inclusive (66% of students surveyed from our school are either currently in English as a Second Language or have been in the past). I taught persuasive writing techniques and then the students applied the lessons by putting together a PowerPoint presentation. In October, my students presented this PowerPoint to the administrators of our school. This presentation led Seven Hills to change the label school-wide. As a result of this process, my students were able to redefine a part of their identity and significantly impact school culture. There has also been an increase in multilingual students’ confidence, self advocacy, and academic achievement.

Once successful, my students did not want to stop there. They discussed how proud they felt to positively impact their school and recognized that there must be other students labeled as English Language Learners around the country who share their feelings on this issue. They don’t want other students to be negatively affected by this label, so the students are currently working to make a change on a larger scale.

We created a petition on  and we need your support. If this petition gets 99,999 signatures by February 27, 2016, the White House will review it and respond! Please help my students make a change that will improve the perceptions of our multilingual students nationwide!

You can view and sign the petition here:

The Case for High School Sports

By Will English, SED 2016

Will EnglishThe one thing I miss most about high school is playing organized sports. For me, like many, the jump to collegiate athletics was just too much, especially attending a school with Division I programs. But I would give anything to play just one more season. High school sports gave me some of the best memories and relationships of my life.

However, high school athletic programs often receive a lot of heat. Many believe that school’s focus too much on sports and neglect the academic performance of their student athletes. Unlike many countries ahead of the United States in testing, high school athletics have become a social norm across the nation. And this leads to the perception that student athletes lose focus on their academic performance and instead are only worried about sports.

Having gone to high school in Western Pennsylvania where football is king, I witnessed this firsthand. The program at Gateway High School was always in contention for a conference title, and many thought that the players were not as academically driven. While I’m not sure the team needed a huge stadium or new uniforms each year, the school was proud of the team’s success. And the student athletes continually showed success on the football field and in the classroom.

Daniel H. Bowen and Jay P. Greene (2012) of the University of Arkansas analyzed the relationship between a school’s win-percentage/sports participation rates and graduation rates/test scores. Through their research, they actually found that the emphasis a school puts on athletics has a positive correlation with higher test scores and lower dropout rates. While some may relate on field success to an obsession with winning and a lack of emphasis on education, success in high school athletics can mean so much more to students. Success in sports often promotes a stronger school community. Likewise, it creates positive relationships between students, as well as between students and their coaches. These kinds of relationships are extremely beneficial for students on and off the field.

Speaking from personal experience, playing high school sports only positively affected my educational experience for many reasons. It taught me strong time management skills; playing soccer in the fall and volleyball in the spring meant I had to stay on top of all my school work. I also learned valuable leadership skills that I use today in other extracurricular activities. Sports were also a way to relieve stress, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and just have fun.

So, while academics should always be the main focus of a school, we should not be so quick to blame high school sports for educational issues. Sports can teach important values, while acting as a positive outlet for countless students. It is up to parents and coaches to emphasize a consistent balance between academics and athletics so that our nation’s student athletes do not lose sight of their goals in either area.

Will English is a senior in the School of Education, majoring in Elementary and Special Education

Four Years Later: What Stands Out Looking Back

By Bonnie Tynes, SED 2016

Bonnie TynesAs a senior looking back on my last four years at BU, it’s very difficult to narrow down what made this time so impactful. The factors are endless- ranging from influential professors, to friends who have made me see the world in new ways, to the city of Boston itself.

During the summer of 2013, preceding my junior year, I had the opportunity to study abroad for six weeks in London. I chose a program through the College of Arts and Sciences, rather than the School of Education, and I pushed myself to go with no friends and live with three girls I had never met before. As someone who is intimated by change, these were all bold choices for me, but thus far in life those bold choices have worked out for the better (i.e. coming to BU in the first place!)  The six weeks were a whirlwind of traveling, class time, museum visits, picture taking, laughing, and so much more.

My study abroad experience wasn’t unique for these reasons though. What I really gained from my time in London was my best friend, Robin. Lucky for me, Robin is in the School of Education at BU, and ever since our six weeks abroad we have been inseparable. We have matched our class schedules, completed co-written 100-page unit plans, studied until all hours of the night, and spent an endless number of hours laughing at anything and everything.

While in London, Robin and I took classes in law, British Literature, and British arts and media. After two years studying education and education alone, this was both an exciting and intimidating opportunity for us. We found that it was thrilling to mix up our class schedules, and the British professors that BU chooses to teach classes abroad were surprising and knowledgeable in new ways. One day, our British Literature professor took us into a small town outside of central London to look at wall murals as inspiration for poetry. She whisked us around the crowded sidewalks as if we were small children, but she had a tendency to turn down streets and disappear in the blink of an eye. Towards the end of this “field trip”, she handed us some pounds, pushed us toward a bakery for fresh pastries, and disappeared waving, yelling, “Hope you all know how to find your way home!” We most certainly did not know how to find our way home, but it was adventures like these that made my study abroad experience so memorable.

I think Robin and I will look back fondly on those six weeks for the rest of our lives. I am thankful for the time we had to explore a new part of the world, and I am positive that Robin and I found each other through that experience for a reason. I think it’s extremely important to walk away from college with friends that not only made your four years great, but friends that made you great.

Bonnie is a senior in the School of Education, majoring in Special Education

Why Do I Do This?

By Kylee Manganiello, SED 2018


I’m a DREAM mentor. Seriously, I am. I’m a member of the Boston University chapter of DREAM, an inter-state, non-profit organization with a philosophy of village mentoring and youth empowerment. Every Saturday, for approximately two hours (though usually more), about 15 other college students and I get to hang out with a group of children from an affordable housing community in the Allston-Brighton area. Every Saturday, we’re tasked with the mission of providing these mentees with positive, constructive experiences that they also actually enjoy.

Needless to say, with a group of kids ranging in age from six to twelve, that’s no easy feat. To add to the headache that is planning and orchestrating activities (which we call programming), while DREAM has existed as a club at Boston University for a number of years now, this is our first year working with this particular community and their first year ever having DREAM. T

The last few months have been a slow process of acclimation as we have tried to get to know our new mentees and let them get know us. Each programming, behavioral issues and miscommunication have dominated and frustration levels have been high. Each programming has been cause for serious reevaluation, on all levels. And so, I’ve been asking myself, “Why do I do this?”

As a prospective mentor for DREAM, you go through an interview process, and the first question we always ask is the same question I’ve essentially been asking myself: “Why do you want to be a mentor?” Usually, the answer is somewhere along the lines of “I want to make a difference in a kid’s life.” While I don’t remember exactly what I said during my interview last year, it was probably something very similar. In trying to answer that question now, my response is a lot more complicated.

When someone claims that they want to “make a difference in a kid’s life,” there’s generally (but not always) an unspoken assumption that they want to be able to actually see that difference—to have tangible evidence that they, directly, have had a positive impact on the life of a child. It makes sense, and it was certainly true for me. The problem is, the reality of being a mentor is that there is absolutely no guarantee that you’ll ever be able to see that tangible shift you’re looking for. It is impossible for me to completely immerse myself in the lives of my mentees. The simple fact is, I cannot be around 24/7. There are going to be other people and experiences that shape their lives just as much, if not more, than I ever will.

Additionally, no matter how much I may want to, I cannot thwart the effects of society. I cannot shield mentees from racism, poverty, gender inequality, or religious intolerance. I can’t negate the impact that their socioeconomic status is going to have on their lives. Mentees, like all children, are going to experience life and grow and develop in their own way at their own pace.

I’ve realized that all that can do as a mentor, and what I should aspire to do, is be on their side. My goals as a mentor have become more specific, and much harder to live up to. I’ve made the conscious decision to care for my mentees unconditionally, to support them in all of their (reasonable) endeavors unreservedly, and to lighten their load whenever I can. Today, I’m secure in the knowledge that though I may not personally get to see the positive impact I’m having on a mentee, or even be solely responsible for that change, I’m contributing myself to making their positive growth that much more possible.

Kylee Manganiello is a sophomore in the School of Education, majoring in Social Studies Education

Teaching Through the Snow

By Rachel Hanson, SED 2016

Rachel HansonOne thing that is abundant is the School of Education is teacher observations. Between ED100 and Pre-Practicum, I have observed in at least a dozen teachers classes. I have seen US History, World History, Modern Conflict, Government, Psychology, and even some English classes. I have been able to watch teachers interact with students with IEP’s and 504’s. I have seen remedial though to AP classes. One thing that I learned from those experiences is that good teaching comes in many different forms. We have all seen practices that make us go “YES! That is how I want to be as a teacher”.

The spring semester of 2015 was recorded in history as the snowiest winter in Boston…ever. That spring also happened to be my Pre-Practicum. For my Pre-Practicum, I was placed in two Quincy Public Schools where my time was split between a middle school and a high school to observe as well as interact with the students and teacher. Due to all the snow, we had missed two or three visits since all the schools is Quincy had two weeks off because of the snow.

When we finally made it back in, it was a little hectic to say the least. Teachers were scrambling to catch up, students were antsy after being gone for so long, the administration didn’t expect us or forgot about us. All things that are to be expected when our city is drowning in six feet of snow. The head of the history department was trying to figure out where to send the four or five us who were there to watch social studies teachers. We wandered the halls a little, poking our heads into classrooms to find anyone to take us. I was given three classes with three different teachers to visit that day. The first two I observed were good, but visibly frazzled and the whole class was lecture-based. This was a teacher’s nightmare, two whole lost weeks with no sign of the snowpocalypse ending in the foreseeable future, so I accepted that as how one is supposed to teach after the very chaotic start they had to second semester.

I got mildly lost trying to locate my last class of the day, but when I finally found it, it seemed as if I was the only frantic one in the room. The teacher didn’t even seem phased by all the chaos happening in all the classes, halls and offices of the school. She handed out the rubric for their next project and proceeded to tell an antidote from a few years ago when a student built a life size catapult for his project and the rest of class was spent launching things across the schools field. The students were relaxed and so was the teacher.

Next she handed out novels to each student because there were going to read it as a start of their new unit. So for the rest of class they read aloud as a group, stopping to make note of any interesting or important characters or events. She stands out in my mind as the model teacher for how to act under pressure and how to incorporate other disciplines into her class. I never did make it back to her classroom, courtesy of all the snow, but I will be thinking of her class when I begin my student teaching this spring and am inevitably met with copious amounts of snow.

Rachel Hanson is a junior in the School of Education, majoring in Social Studies Education

My First Teaching Experience

Erin Park, SED 2019

I’m not going to lie, I haven’t always wanted to be in education. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school that I realized that education was something I was interested in. It all started when I really started falling in love with my volunteer work at a camp that works with people living with disabilities. My experiences at that camp influenced me to want to major in severe special education, and coming to Boston University has made me passionate about it.

Though my path towards education started early on in my high school years, my first official teaching experience was not until this past summer. I got to work as a kindergarten teacher at a summer school at my church, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I have always loved children, especially kindergarten through second grade children, so I was very excited about my position.

Of course, I was incredibly nervous on my first day of teaching. First of all, I wasn’t even sure if I was cut out to be a teacher, and second of all, the thought of watching and teaching a bunch of rowdy five year olds was overwhelming, to say the least. Nonetheless, my first day in the classroom went better than I expected. My job as their teacher was to teach them the alphabet, how to spell words, and simple math, like counting. Though the learning content was not difficult, coming up with six weeks worth of lesson plans was something that I had never done before. At first, it was incredibly difficult for me to figure out what I should do for every day, but with time, the process got a little bit easier, and I started getting more creative with the lessons.

My first teaching experience taught me a lot about what it means to be a teacher and a lot about myself, as a future educator. For example, I always knew that coming up with lesson plans was not easy, so I’m glad that I was able to have this experience to prepare me for it in the future. I also learned that I do not have a good sense of time when I am teaching, so I now know to make sure to make a schedule of what will be done at what time.

As a freshman in the School of Education, I am so excited to get plugged into real classrooms soon and get even more training and insight on what it really is like to be a teacher. Though elementary education is not what I am majoring in, this teaching experience gave me a view of what it is that I could potentially be doing a few years from now, and I am more than excited to explore this amazing field that is education.

Erin Park is freshman in the School of Education, majoring in Special Education