Opinion: Connecting the dots: Supporting English learners and educators in seeing the big picture 

Andrea Bitner is an English Learner (EL) teacher in the Interboro School District in Delaware County. She is also the author of “Take Me Home,” a book released in 2021 that tells the true inspiring story of 11 of her former bilingual students who give firsthand accounts of what it was like to become bilingual in America. You can learn more about Andrea and her mission at www.andreabitnerbooks.com.

Did you know that by the year 2025, one in four students across the country will come from a home speaking multiple languages, and that most English Learners (ELs) are now born in the United States?

As an EL educator with 23 years of experience, I know how critically important it is to support these students so that they will thrive and succeed. That’s why I have dedicated a large portion of my career to connecting our EL students and families districtwide and helping other K-12 educators learn strategies and resources that will empower them to reach, teach, and confidently communicate with English language learners and their families.

Our EL students often experience isolation and are unaware that there are other people in the building who also speak multiple languages. At the Interboro School District, where I teach, we recognized that there was a need for EL students to better connect with each other. 

We also wanted to give our kids the chance to see that the world is much bigger than the school walls that surround them. And the best way to do that is to provide them with a supported environment to authentically demonstrate their skills.

To address this need for our EL students and their families, I have written state and local grants with our Interboro teams to create local community experiences for our K-12 students. Students are given the opportunity to take mini field trips four times per year with their teachers and multilingual peers to local establishments, such as city trips and trips to orchards, restaurants, recreational sports clubs, and pottery studios.

It is during these experiences that students meet classmates from other grades and buildings who also speak the same heritage languages. It is awesome to watch our elementary students’ eyes light up as they connect with their multilingual peers.

In addition to teaching EL students, I also have the privilege of traveling across the nation to provide professional development opportunities for K-12 educators. There are teachers out there who want to confidently reach, teach, and connect with our EL students and families, but they just aren’t sure how.

I spend a lot of time addressing misconceptions about our English learners’ life experiences, modeling how to accommodate assignments to support language acquisition, and emphasizing the collaboration needed between content area and EL teachers.

Educators don’t just fall into teaching. We are called into it. I look forward to continuing my journey to teach, reach, and support EL students, families, and teachers in every way I can.