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Changing Demographics Demand Continued Support for Students and Staff

By Nick Jones, CEI Intern

As the number of English language learners (ELLs) in the American public school system continues to grow, so too – do the methods for assimilating students and integrating the classroom.

Supporting Students

The process of cultural assimilation can be broken down into four approximate stages (University of Hull, 2014).

  1. The first stage, the ‘honeymoon‘ period, refers to generally positive feelings the student has about being in a new environment.

  2. After that, students typically experience culture shock, a period in which they may have feelings of confusion, anger, and sadness about their new setting.

  3. Following culture shock, students readjust and begin to accept their new surroundings. This stage is marked by students comparing their native surroundings to their new surroundings rather than disassociating themselves from their new situation.

  4. The last stage, assimilation, refers to a student’s value and acceptance of both their new culture and their native culture.

Understanding these stages of integration will allow educators to pace their instructional efforts and address student anxieties as they arise. Not all students experience all four of the aforementioned stages of adaptation and the time that each student experiences these stages varies in duration from days to months.

First Steps. A good first step when welcoming students of different backgrounds is learning their names and learning them correctly. Listing a roll call of students with Anglicized names is instinctual, many teachers in the United States have grown up hearing these names and saying these names and thus pronouncing these names is easy. Pronouncing a foreign name how the student would, demonstrates that the educator values the student’s culture and native language. Additionally, learning some basic vocabulary from the new student’s language makes students feel important.

Similarly, many school districts offer publications and general information in multiple languages. Teachers can establish this same sense of inclusion by using ethnic names in word problems and examples in learning material.

Support for teachers

While much of the emphasis regarding changing classroom demographics focuses on support for students, there is also a growing need to support teachers. After all, support for students starts with proper support for teachers.

A major component of teacher support is incentivizing the position itself. As the need for ELL instruction increases, school systems, if not schools, must find a way to attract teachers to the demands of teaching during an unprecedented influx of ELLs. For example, some school districts offer stipends to bilingual teachers. In Menasha, Wisconsin, the Menasha Joint School District offers up to a $1,500 stipend to certified bilingual teachers who teach in bilingual classrooms. Similarly, the Houston Independent School District has a partnership with Spain’s Ministry of Education to attract teachers to the heavily-Latino communities of Houston, Texas.

While not all schools systems or schools themselves have the resources to offer financial incentives for highly needed instructors, there are other ways to boost morale and attract teachers like strong administrative support including help with instructional preparation and opportunities for teacher training and professional development, according to the International TESOL Association.

School-wide success requires administrative, cultural, and instructional tools. The mission is twofold, teachers must receive support from administrators in order to adequately support their students.


How to Create a Welcoming Classroom Environment. (2007). Retrieved 2014, from

Pagan, M. (2014, March 7). Changing Demographics and Their Implications for K-12 Teachers. Retrieved 2014, from

Staehr Fenner, D. (2013). Promising strategies for supporting ESL teachers as they work with the CCSS. In Implementing the Common Core State Standards for English Learners: The Changing Role of the ESL Teacher. Alexandria, VA: TESOL International Association. Retrieved 2014, from

University of Hull. (2014). Stages of cultural adjustment. (2014, February 20). Retrieved 2014, from–study-abroad/studying-abroad/stages-of-cultural-adjustment.aspx


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