by Olga G. Rubio, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • April 1997

For the past four years I have been preparing bilingual teachers in graduate studies at Teachers College, Columbia University, both at the masters and the doctoral levels. It is timely for me to talk about my own journey in the field and to discuss ethical and other considerations that emerged for me as I coordinated bilingual student teaching seminars. Working with an increasing number of teachers who have no professional teaching experience, I realized the need for explaining theories of cooperative learning and community building in my seminars. I then wondered how we could ask student teachers to create a community of learners through using cooperative learning styles without first creating a sense of community among bilingual student teachers in our own seminars.

Dual language programs incorporate a network of educators who share a common philosophy of socializing academically competent biliterate and bilingual children. The goals of successful dual language programs call for the concurrent development of a child’s native language and English for at least five years or through middle school. It is critical, however, that teachers plan collaboratively or in grade-level clusters. Sharing a vision of the ideal bilingual and biliterate classroom subsequently involves preparation and planning. This became a priority for me in preparing future teachers.

In trying to create a vision of the ideal classroom and a sense of community in student teaching seminars, I decided to share my own journey in bilingual education with my students. Sharing my own experiences provided a social and historical context for all other discussions on bilingual classroom teaching. Identifying myself as a member of the network also provided the grounding for future applications of cooperative learning styles and community building. Students were asked to write and talk about their own philosophies on promoting academic biliteracy and bilingualism. As a reflective practitioner, I wondered if I could expect student teachers to reflect on their own social, political and cultural selves, to record and interpret those reflections, and subsequently to apply those observations to their classroom practice if I, myself, did not also reflect and interpret my own teaching practices. Certainly not, I decided.

Community building calls for reciprocity between the facilitator/teacher and the learner/student. Thus, these reflections on my development as a bilingual teacher sparked other conversations concerning the significance of assessing and planning for the range of linguistic proficiency in bilingual children. Later, students witnessed how reflecting on their own cultural understandings prepared them to observe and listen to their own students authentically.

Culturally responsive education remains mere theory unless we systematically include our own cultural experiences and those of our students at the core level of curricular planning. Reflecting on cultural contexts that shape classroom behaviors permits the bilingual teacher to see and discuss relationships between observations of students’ languages, beliefs and views to their own methods of teaching. What role can reflections play in teaching children to be bilingual and biliterate in two languages? How can journals and diaries empower a bilingual teacher?

Critical pedagogy, as first suggested by Freire (1972) and later reinterpreted by other scholars, seemed important in getting our students to interpret everyday language and behaviors. Moreover, these ponderings enabled an examination of the role of power and status in daily interactions. The charge of reflective/critical pedagogical practices by using anthropological tools, such as diaries or journals, is that it allows us to “make the familiar strange” (Erickson, 1989). To deconstruct one’s own social class, gender and ethnic values seems central to those of us who argue that universities and colleges must resonate and reflect the culture of the communities that surround the schools. Now more than ever teachers are challenged to track their own experiences and empower themselves with literature that enriches their consciousness and informs them and their students about the multi-ethnic lives of others. Through journals and interactive processes we can accomplish some of these goals.

From Civil Rights to Multiculturalism

Historical context was another consideration in grappling with the need to establish a common ground in the student teaching seminar. And how do historical events shape the lives of educators today? When I flash back to the 1960s, I remember how I first heard about bilingual education at a “speaker’s corner” at Texas A&I University in Kingsville, Texas, in 1967-1968. Victor Nelson-Cisneros, now an associate dean at Colorado College in Boulder Springs, passionately deliberated on how Mexicanos/Chicanos in South Texas had always been penalized for being “Mexicanos/Chicanos” and for speaking Spanish first, English second. He argued that by not having educational access to Spanish or a written history that accurately portrayed Mexicanos in the Southwest, we could never really claim a genuine education – or as I see it “ser bien educados” [to be well educated in the cultural sense].

These messages, heard as an undergraduate, fueled a passion in me that until then was outside my level of consciousness. Not until the option was presented in the context of a range of possibilities, did empowerment begin for me as a young Chicana. Growing up as a Spanish speaker in the Rio Grande Valley, I knew the power of communicating with my parents, grandparents and relatives from Mexico. So I set out to participate in the new world that we were constructing. When I initiated my teaching career in 1969 in San Antonio, I was motivated by a mission that having two languages was an asset, that all Mexicanos should have a right to maintain Spanish and English, and more importantly, that it was our right to maintain and develop bilingualism.

The historical and political realities of our students are different. How do we get student teachers to connect with the past? Twenty-seven years later, I found myself expanding my earlier language as a right policy perspective to a policy that views language as a resource. That means that if I truly accepted bilingualism and multiculturalism as a way of fostering a more participatory democratic society, then it followed that monolinguals should also have the opportunity to become bilingual. I found myself preparing young bilingual teachers, some of whom were ethnic members of their own target groups and some who were not. Yet these students are living during the most socially, politically conservative period in the history of this country. Most have not been part of a civil rights movement, or a “a causa.” They are second or third generation students, who may come from lower-middle or middle-class backgrounds. More importantly, today’s society values individualism more than ever. Students tend to be products of an individualistic-competitive environment where collaboration and cooperative learning styles must be fostered (Rubio, Rodríguez, Márquez-López and Goodwin, work in progress).

Collaboration and Community Building in Teacher Education Seminars

The old adage that there is no good theory in education that is not also good practice, is a fitting concept for today’s educational needs. No matter how significant the scholarship on language and educational policies and practices, it is only through reflective methods, such as those suggested by Freire (1972), Schon (1987), Moll and Vélez-Ibañez (1990), Pérez and Torres-Guzman (1996), Rubio, Rodríguez, Márquez-López and Goodwin (work in progress) and others that we can remain focused and rigorous in promoting academic biliteracy and bilingualism. The younger graduate students enrolled in many of our classes are products of the information age with realities that contrast sharply to many of us who are “baby boomers.” But, young graduate students require that their trainers also be reflective in their practices. To train reflective leaders, we must explicitly discuss our observations and interpretations of daily praxis. We must engage in case studies of our own teaching practices and in collaboration with colleagues. As reflective practitioners, we must also remain committed to asking all the pertinent questions about fostering excellent teaching practices for first and second language learners. We must talk about those methods and approaches that do not work openly and challenge ourselves to be thoughtful in the ways of constructively criticizing ourselves.

In my student teaching seminars, I use reflective journals and engaging projects to enable students to collaborate with each other and to empower themselves, to learn from bilingual children and to actively listen to each other in the analysis of their reports. These interactive tasks appear to nourish the goal of fostering a sense of community in the student teaching seminar.

Finally, I believe that what is different for me now as an academic is that I understand that collaborative, reflective practices lend themselves to create a sense of community among future bilingual educators. If we want reflective-critical thinking bilingual teachers, faculty must also collaborate in creating a strong community of bilingual teacher leaders.


Erickson, F. “Research Currents: Learning and Collaboration in Teaching,” Language Arts. (1989) 66(4), 430-441.

Freire, P. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1972).

Moll, L. and C. Vélez-Ibañez and J.B. Greenberg. Community Knowledge and Classroom Practice: Combining Resources for Literacy Instruction. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 1990).

P‚rez, B. and M. Torres-Guzman. Learning In Two Worlds: An Integrated Spanish/English Biliteracy Approach. (New York, N.Y.: Longman Publishers, 1996).

Rubio, O. and L. Rodríguez, T. Márquez-López and L. Goodwin. A Collaborative Case Study of Bilingual Preservice Teachers: Implications for Curricular and Administrative Revisions. (New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, work in progress).

Schon, D. Educating the Reflective Practitioner. (San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, 1987).

Olga G. Rubio, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Teachers College, Columbia University.

[©1997, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 1997 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]