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Speaking Their Language: Concordia Teacher Tackles the Most Diverse District in the U.S.

By Room 241 Team September 12, 2016

Teaching math to middle schoolers is never easy. But it’s even more difficult when your students speak at least 14 different languages, from Arabic and Somali to Bosnian, Cham, and Tagalog. Further complicating matters at Showalter Middle School in Washington’s Tukwila School District, many of these students are refugees or immigrants with little to no formal education. While this extreme level of diversity might intimidate some teachers, one teacher from Concordia found it an ideal opportunity.

Finding common ground

Eva Leung, a teacher who received her bachelor’s degree from Concordia University in 2009, knew she wanted to teach students from different cultures and family backgrounds, especially after working with the Concordia Teacher Corps during her senior year. The volunteer-run program gave Leung the chance to work with students who may not have had the same educational access or opportunities as their peers. And it profoundly influenced her search for employment in the Seattle, Washington, area.

Following the advice of her aunt, a kindergarten teacher in Tukwila, Leung applied for a position within the Tukwila School District, labeled by the New York Times as “the most diverse school district in the nation.” Most diverse indeed – over 70 world languages are spoken there!

Leung, herself the daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong, welcomed the chance to work with such an international student population. The school, she found, was more than equipped to handle it. “I am surprised by how many resources we have available to support our students,” Leung says. “We have translators who can connect with all of our students’ parents or guardians.”

A place of understanding

Though the language barrier poses an extra hurdle, Leung enjoys making math understandable for everyone. “Since my classes are very diverse and we have a high population of English language learners, it is very challenging to create comprehensible input that will reach every student. They are all at such different levels in their ability to understand English as well as the subject matter,” she explains. “So my greatest challenge is finding ways to meet the needs of each of my students.”

In addition to the school’s educational efforts, Leung is pleased with the degree of staff engagement at Showalter Middle School. “The teachers and administrators at Showalter have created a safe, supportive, and close community,” Leung says enthusiastically. “They are passionate about providing a quality education and learning about the diverse backgrounds of each student who comes through its doors.”

Leung is thankful to Concordia University for giving her not only the education and training to succeed in her current position but also a mission. “Working with Lynn Keyne-Michaels in the Concordia Teachers Corps really clarified my focus. It opened the door for me. I don’t just want to be a great teacher – I want to make a difference in my students’ lives.”