Discovering a Student’s Passion to Find the Right Support

Valentina Gonzalez

by | 02.9.20

Valentina Gonzalez is an educator in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @valentinaesl.

I work primarily with English language learners, including students who are brand new to our country. Students who arrive in America as new immigrants can feel so scared and alone at first. I’ll never forget one of my students who said she had expected American school would be more like Glee! Well, there wasn’t as much dancing and singing as she hoped. She had a big shock at first! School was very scary for her, and that fear made learning hard. 

I tried to get to know her, to find out what her passions were. I discovered that, in her primary language, she was an avid reader. So I found English versions of the books she loved in her primary language, which enabled her to build the bridge to her target language that much more quickly. She just began to devour books and would come in daily asking for the next recommendation. Quickly, reading helped her develop language structures and vocabulary, and she progressed at rates that I’d never seen before because of that passion and motivation.

The stress hormone that rises when we feel nervous, anxious or embarrassed can literally block cognition. So creating that safe environment where relationships and trust are built is critical for all students – we can’t expect our kids to progress and learn if they don’t feel safe, valued and honored as individuals. As teachers, we will struggle to help students if we don’t work to grow ourselves and learn what makes each student tick.

Once we helped my student reconnect with her passion in reading, she blossomed so quickly. And it showed how much you can help a student grow when you try to meet them where they’re at, and make the learning environment a welcoming place for their passions and interests. I’ve worked with hundreds of students, each with their own unique passions and struggles, but in almost every case, getting to know them, then creating a safe space and comfortable learning environment for them, is the key to supporting their successes. It can be hard work, but it never fails to bring a smile to my face.

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