Aurora Cedillo, Retired Elementary Teacher from Salem, OR

I worked for five years as an instructional assistant then, after I got my teaching license, was hired as a bilingual elementary teacher in the Salem-Keizer School District where I served for more than 35 years. Bilingual education is critical in bridging the information gap so that kids have meaningful access to their education. The role of the bilingual teacher should be classroom instruction, but I inevitably took on many more responsibilities — I became a counselor, the assistant principal and the interpreter. My role as a bilingual teacher was crucial because I was often the only person providing access to information to my students and their parents.

“The kids might come to school hungry and often without enough sleep.”

I was overwhelmed by all the things I needed to learn in order to be a good teacher for my bilingual students who were being raised in a bilingual community. There were so many cultural and social impacts that I was not aware of. I learned that each little child comes with their own little package of challenges. It is much harder to spend the necessary time with each child to learn about their specific hardships when you don’t have adequate resources and have overcrowded classrooms. In my early years of teaching, there were limits of 25 students in first and second grade classrooms and 30 students in third and fourth grade classrooms. One year there were 30 kids in my class, and the district hired another teacher to help me. That would never happen today. There are some kindergarten classrooms that have 40 students! There are not even enough chairs for the kids. When I took my sabbatical to teach in Nicaragua there weren’t enough chairs for my students. I felt terrible that the kids had to bring their own chairs if they wanted to sit during instruction. I never thought that space and class sizes would be such huge issues in my own school district.

It is not uncommon for my students to come from homes where their parents were working two or three jobs to make an honest living. Older siblings might be their caretakers because their parents are often getting home very late at night — unintentionally compounding the stress on their young, bilingual children. The kids might come to school hungry and often without enough sleep. Sadly, my students might be the ones answering the phone when I called their home to check in. Teachers are already strained as it is, and there is no time built into their schedules for getting to know their students’ families. Understanding of their home life leads to a much better understanding of the child. We need to humanize our students and public education. They are not just a number and a name on a list. They are human beings.

Aurora Cedillo is a Retired Elementary Teacher from Salem, OR. #OREducatorVoices