New York ESL Teacher Inspires Students With Class Elections

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Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd

Election season is once again rearing its media dominant head, with news outlets still discussing the outcome of the GOP debate last week and making their predictions as the 2016 presidential election draws ever closer. However, the Republican and Democratic hopefuls are not the only ones with political aspirations this year.

They’re joined by Chris Palaez, an 8 year old from Patchogue, New York, who recenly spent his class time running for class office. Stumbling nervously over his words, Chris delivered a speech encouraging his fellow classmates to vote for him.

While every young student stumbles, Chris has even more of an uphill fight. He delivered the speech in English, a language he only started learning at the age of five. The child of Ecuadorian immigrants who was born and raised in the U.S., Chris began his language education speaking Spanish.

Difficult as it may have been, Chris did an excellent job according to his teacher Thomas Whaley. Mr. Whaley has been teaching and working with second language learners for 16 years and was the recipient of the New York state teacher of the year award. He believes exercises like Chris’s speech are extremely important for children everywhere, but especially for English language learners.

When Whaley asked his students how many of them believed they could not be president one day, almost every single ESL student raised their hands. Specifically, they felt less American because they came from poor families and could not speak English.

The children lacked confidence in part because they lacked the words to express their self worth. Whaley’s classroom election does more than teach the kids new vocabulary. It helps the kids to use words that can improve their self image and encourage them to new educational heights. Rather than just preparing his students for common core curriculum, Whaley has gone a step further and helped to prepare them for life.