By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Robert Sautter discusses a story with Daniel Huhyn, Juan Mena and Israel Ruiz. Sautter will attend language school in Mexico to better understand Spanish-speaking culture.
Half of the students in Robert Sautter’s kindergarten class at Leonard R. Flynn Elementary School in San Francisco are English learners. To deepen his understanding of their language and culture, Sautter will spend a month at the Don Quijote Language School in Guanajuato, Mexico. He’s able to do this after receiving a fellowship from the Fund for Teachers, a nonprofit foundation that provides opportunities for educators to travel the world on summer sabbaticals and create their own programs for professional growth.
“I have a commitment to better understanding the cultural orbits within which my students travel,” says Sautter, a member of United Educators of San Francisco. “Creating solid partnerships with the families of my students is crucial in the process of helping my Spanish-speaking students maintain pride in their language and culture and helping them meet academic challenges. To do this, I need to learn more about the culture and society from which the majority of my Spanish-speaking students come from. My goal is to improve upon my Spanish while being immersed in the culture of Mexico.”
The kindergarten teacher hopes his upcoming educational trip will answer some questions he has wondered about: What social customs influence how Mexican immigrants interact with the teachers of their children? What celebrations play an important role in the lives of people from Mexico? How can teachers help Spanish-speaking students maintain a connection with their home culture? And how can teachers support families to help English learners succeed academically?
Sautter frequently conducts “home visits” to connect with parents. When he informed some of the parents about his summer plans, they expressed appreciation for his willingness to go the extra mile and increase his understanding of their culture.
“Besides the expected ‘wow, wonderful,’ they expressed the feeling that it is important for families and teachers to understand one another,” says Sautter. “They believe that when adults understand each other, children learn better.”
When he returns home, he plans to put his knowledge to work in ways that will benefit his school and community. That includes sharing newfound knowledge with fellow teachers, along with Spanish music, games and literature he will be collecting. He also plans on conducting a workshop for students’ families at his school about specific ways that parents can assist their children with academic work in an English-language classroom.
“The workshop will be conducted in Spanish and designed around important introductory literacy and math concepts, using materials that most families have at home,” says Sautter. “It will help families feel confident that, regardless of their English abilities, they can assist their children in their learning.”