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An Expanded Framework for Preparing Teachers to Educate Children of Immigrant Backgrounds

Introduction by: Lisa Pamela Lopez-Escobar and Sophia Rodriguez University of Maryland, College Park

Guest Bloggers: Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj, PhD, Juan Barrera Alcazar PhD student, Damhee Dee Dee Hong PhD student, & María Romo-González, PhD student, University of California, Santa Barbara

April 27, 2023

In this week’s blog we are joined by Dr. Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj, associate professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her students Juan Barrera Alcazar, Damhee Dee Dee Hong and María Romo-González. The team shares core components of a forthcoming paper in which they present a new framework for what teacher preparation programs should include to prepare educators to teach immigrant students. They build on A. Lin Goodwin's earlier work, identifying key issues in the lives of students with immigrant backgrounds that educators should know about, including the impacts of undocumented status and the role of language brokering on parent/child dynamics.

We welcome additional comments and reflections, please email us at: or through the Immigrant Ed Next website.

By Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj, PhD, Juan Barrera Alcazar, Damhee Dee Dee Hong & María Romo-González

An essential part of successfully engaging in culturally responsive teaching and culturally sustaining pedagogy is having some baseline knowledge about students’ lives, backgrounds, and experiences. Yet, despite decades of exponential growth in the size of the immigrant-origin student population in schools across the United States, the role of migration and its influence in young people’s lives remains at the periphery of teacher education. In other words, setting aside instruction related to language acquisition—a central and necessary component of many teacher preparation programs that is reinforced by state-level teaching standards—there has been limited focus on teachers’ knowledge and awareness of the ways that growing up in immigrant-led households may influence students’ identities, development, academic engagement, performance, and overall well being.

Scholar A. Lin Goodwin highlighted this gap in the field of teacher education twenty years ago. She found that immigrant students’ unique experiences had received negligible coverage in teacher preparation or in the research on it, and she identified the most salient dimensions of immigrant students’ lives that educators should know about. These included (1) immigrant students’ prior schooling experiences and the diversity of newcomers’ educational backgrounds and contexts; (2) the feelings of dislocation that may accompany migration contributing to a “profound sense of loss, disequilibrium, confusion, and displacement” (p.163); (3) the experience of cultural disorientation that may inhibit students’ successful integration into classroom communities; and (4) the role of language in students’ identities and academic development, about which Goodwin (2002) argued “learning English is much more than in instructional issue” (p.166). Fifteen years later, Goodwin renewed her call to incorporate knowledge about immigrant students in teacher preparation after updating her literature review and finding few advances had been made. By developing a framework for teacher preparation to use to address the glaring omission of immigrant students’ needs and experiences as a topic of study, Goodwin’s work represented a major step forward in the field. Yet, through its exclusive focus on immigrant students, this work misses the large majority of students in U.S. schools whose lives are touched by migration.

Of the nearly 20 million school-aged children in the United States today who have at least one foreign-born parent, just under 90 percent of them are U.S. born citizens. Young people growing up in immigrant families share many experiences that can influence their academic and developmental outcomes, regardless of whether they are first-or second-generation themselves. Thus, we expand Goodwin’s framework to include an additional set of topics relevant to immigrant-origin students’ lives with which teachers should be familiar.

Our expanded framework for preparing teachers to educate children of immigrant backgrounds includes the additional domains of knowledge listed in the table below. We argue that these matter for teachers and students given their influence over immigrant-origin youth’s social-emotional development, academic trajectories, identities, and sense of belonging in schools and society.

1. Language brokering & impacts on parent/child dynamics

First, we underscore the importance of educators understanding the consequences of relying on children to serve as “language brokers” for their immigrant parents, particularly in terms of parent-child dynamics. We cite extensive evidence about the consequences of this phenomenon and argue that when teachers are aware of the harms of asking children to serve as interpreters for their adult family members, they may take steps to avoid such situations and pursue alternative options for linguistically and culturally appropriate communication methods.

2. Immigration policies & climate

Next, we include knowledge of key immigration policies as another critical aspect of teachers’ learning about migration that should be incorporated into pre- and in-service teachers’ education. With constant changes to immigration policies, it is challenging for anyone to keep up with the specific details on a day-to-day basis. However, we argue that teachers must know something about immigrants’ basic, fundamental rights, including the right to a free, public K-12 education regardless of immigration status, so they can effectively support and educate the immigrant-origin students in their classrooms. In addition, educators should know how immigration policies affect immigrant families’ safety, security, and wellbeing and understand that anti-immigrant rhetoric and public debates about immigration have direct consequences for their students.

3. Impacts of undocumented status

Our framework also highlights the significance of teachers understanding the extensive and long-lasting ways that living with undocumented family members can affect young people’s psychological and physical health, economic conditions, academic performance, educational pathways and overall well being. We draw on research that has shown that teachers and leaders who understand the difficulties associated with undocumented status, including for U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrant parents, are more prone to act compassionately and empathically to emphasize the value of this knowledge-building in teachers. Further, studies have powerfully demonstrated the valuable role of educators in creating protective environments in which immigrant-origin students can thrive. Finally, consciousness-raising among teacher candidates around many issues associated with migration and undocumented status can result in them acting as advocates and allies to advance their students’ rights and facilitate access to resources.

4. Migration-related trauma

Last, we discuss trauma in the lives of immigrant-origin students including trauma occurring prior to, during and after migrating. Understanding these diverse and potent sources of potential trauma may help educators connect with immigrant-origin students and meet their and their family’s needs. Children in immigrant-families are a vibrant and heterogeneous population. The goal of this work is to draw attention to the ways that growing up in immigrant families can influence young people’s experiences and engagement in school and, in turn, inform the work of teacher education to prepare new teachers for the students in their classrooms. By building on Goodwin’s (2002, 2017) groundbreaking work, we seek to extend its reach to include a larger swath of the student population entering schools in the U.S. and across the globe.

Note: This blog post was developed based on a forthcoming article in the journal of Teaching and Teacher Education.

Be sure to follow us or tweet about #ImmigrantEdNext

Suggested Citation: Lopez-Escobar, L., Rodriguez, S., Sattin-Bajaj, C., Barrera Alcazar, J., Hong, D.D., Romo-González, M. (2023, April 27). An Expanded Framework for Preparing Teachers to Educate Children of Immigrant Backgrounds. Immigrant Ed Next.

Copyright © 2022: Sophia Rodriguez, Immigrant Ed Next-All Rights Reserved

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