Determined to Learn English, Now She Teaches a Bilingual Math Class | HISD Multilingual Education

by learn a language journalist

Dulce Mancillas is not the regular 7th grade Mathematics teacher that hands out a warm up with basic math skills, checks homework, introduces the topic of the day and lets her students work independently. In addition to all of that, she laughs loud, makes jokes, and ensures all the field trips happen.

“It’s my way of motivating them when I need to re-direct their behavior and re-focus on what’s important. I am personally in charge of organizing and fundraising our trip.” That’s why when you walk in her classroom you see boxes of chips, cookies, candy and other goodies. “I think that when they see me working hard for them, they feel committed to fulfill our high expectations set at the beginning of the year,” she says.

For this bilingual teacher recently selected as a finalist of the HAABE Bilingual and ESL Teacher of the Year award, her biggest success in the classroom is “building meaningful relationships with my students and hold them accountable for their learning.” This allows them to “feel more confident about themselves, —Ms. Mancillas explains— We laugh and work, talk and produce great work.”

As a bilingual educator, she experienced “the struggles of learning a new language” when she arrived to Houston from Mazatlan, Mexico. “I was determined to learn the language, so I worked extra hard in my ESL classes, I listened to music in English and read as much as I could to overcome the language difficulties. I tried to put all my energy in understanding the mechanics of the language and in nine months I was already dreaming in English.”

Now that she thinks about it, those experiences and people she met during that learning process motivated her to become a teacher. “I’ve been very lucky to have great and amazing teachers in and outside the classroom. They made me realize that I thought I could make a difference in kids’ lives just like they did in mine.”

In her 10th year teaching at Burbank Middle school, she has come to understand that: “Teaching is a very complex profession because we work with students with all kinds of personalities and needs.”

Three years ago, Ms. Mancillas received a student from Central America. When Angel M* came to her mathematics class, she knew right then it was going to be a challenge. “He came alone from El Salvador. He was full of energy but had so many academic and social limitations,” she remembers.

Every day Angel would try to do whatever he wanted. “He knew no boundaries —Ms. Mancillas recalls— and it got to a point where he drove me nuts. However, I tried, and I worked until I finally figured out that I needed to provide that structure, understanding and love he was not receiving. He just needed a hug.”

As the year progressed, Ms. Mancillas was able to “build a strong bond” with her students. Even with Angel who would “do his best in school so he could be rewarded with a field trip”.

“The biggest impact my recent arrival students face is the culture shock in the U.S. school system. We immigrants are used to a different environment when it comes to school. It feels a bit more personalized and intimate, everyone knows that education is the most important thing you are entitled to and we appreciate it and take full advantage of it. Here it feels like, sometimes, not everyone wants to get to know you well, everyone is so busy and there is no time for personal interactions. Therefore, I try to ease my students into their new routine by pairing them with a buddy and making them feel welcomed and safe,” Mancillas says.

Now, when she talks about her former student Angel M., tears of joy fill her eyes. She knows he didn’t learn much mathematics but is sure she taught him the best lesson in her education career. “Their recognition is what keeps me here and makes me who I am… for them to come back and tell me I’m graduating high school, I need you to be there… that’s just something else.”

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