Bilingual teaching hopefuls gain fresh insights from crossing the border

The issue of the U.S.-Mexico border sparks heated discussions in Congress and among presidential candidates. However, for aspiring bilingual teachers in California, crossing this border is an integral part of their training. San Diego State University’s dual language and English learner education department has been organizing four-day trips to schools in Tijuana for student teachers for the past decade. The purpose of these trips is to provide prospective teachers with a firsthand understanding of the experiences and challenges faced by students from Mexico, Central America, and South America, and how these experiences can impact their education.

“We want them to understand, basically, the students we share. Sometimes there could be a student in Tijuana that the next day is in a classroom in San Diego,” explained Sarah Maheronnaghsh, a lecturer in the department involved in organizing these trips. She emphasized that the issues faced by students on both sides of the border are often similar, and having a deep understanding of their backgrounds and experiences can greatly benefit teachers in the classroom.

This bilingual credential program at San Diego State University has been recognized by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing as a model for preparing bilingual teachers. With both online and in-person classes, it boasts the largest graduating class of bilingual teachers in the state.

During the most recent trip in November, student teachers had the opportunity to visit and teach at three different schools in Tijuana. They taught classes in both English and Spanish, addressing a wide range of students, including those from low-income neighborhoods, blind students, and students in a migrant shelter. They also visited a local university and watched a documentary about the arduous journey of children traveling through Mexico atop cargo trains in their quest to reach and cross the border.

Erika Sandoval, an aspiring bilingual teacher in the program, found the experience particularly meaningful. Having migrated from Mexico to California at the age of 9, she felt a strong connection to the challenges faced by these students. She described it as an opportunity to reflect on her own experiences as a child and understand the importance of providing support and resources to immigrant children and families.

Clarissa Gomez, another student in the bilingual teacher program, expressed similar sentiments. Growing up in the Central Valley surrounded by immigrant families, she thought she had a good understanding of the hardships these families face. However, visiting the migrant shelter in Tijuana provided her with a whole new perspective. She heard stories of children fleeing violence in different parts of Mexico and Central America, often leaving loved ones behind. One girl even expressed her fear of crossing the border alone the next day. Despite these adversities, Gomez was inspired by the students’ eagerness to learn and share their knowledge.

Both Sandoval and Gomez believe that this firsthand experience will shape them as teachers, allowing them to better understand and respect their future students’ cultures and life experiences. They are eager to apply the valuable lessons they learned during their trip to create a welcoming and inclusive classroom environment.

The trip also emphasized the importance of flexibility in teaching. Student teachers had to be prepared to adapt their plans on short notice, as they ended up teaching different grade levels than originally anticipated. Rick Froehbrodt, a lecturer in the department who assisted in organizing the trips, stressed the need for teachers to embrace flexibility and be prepared for unexpected challenges.

According to Sandoval, visiting the schools in Tijuana showcased the resourcefulness and willingness to share among both teachers and students. With limited classroom supplies, they made the most of what they had and didn’t hesitate to share with one another. This served as a stark contrast to the abundance of resources in U.S. classrooms, where sharing can sometimes be a challenge.