by Lydia Carnesale

Quien soy yo,
Identity strapped to language flow.
How can my knowledge grow?
Can you hear me?
Borrando lo que es natural,
Systems bind linguistic diversity.
When understanding individuality should be key,
Can you hear me?

Explotando recursos del hogar,
Let me explain who we are.
Lifting that literacy bar,
Can you hear me?

Temor nos tiene atrapados,
Will confidence and my home language be erased?
My identity silenced and encased?
Can you hear me?

¿Quién soy yo?
How do I find the acceptable me?
The one who meets your academic capabilities?
Can you hear me?

We sit at a white rectangular table, las maestras y los niños, with books, environmental print, paper, and crayons scattered around us. Los niños begin to shuffle the papers and chatter among themselves, nervously awaiting instruction from the familiar teachers by their side. When I start speaking in Spanish, explaining to the children that we will be learning in Spanish for the evening and that they will be their teacher’s teacher, small eyes bashfully light up.

They are going to be heard.

Emergent bilinguals and multilingual learners are a growing population in classrooms throughout South Carolina. Teachers are prepared to impart the English Language Arts curriculum but do not always understand how a home language can connect to that curriculum. They are trained to recognize and develop English literacy practices, not the dynamic linguistic shifts or ingenuity of multilinguals. Teachers attempt to respond to diversities, but how can they when they need help understanding what it is to navigate multiple linguistic and cultural borders?

Teachers attempt to respond to diversities, but how can they when they do not understand what it is to navigate multiple linguistic and cultural borders?

They will be provided space.

These are skills and experiences that are not always taught in teacher preparation programs or traditional professional learning settings, but when unsupported, they strip young multilinguals of the capacity to navigate multiple worlds. When we provide spaces for authentic learning and return ownership to one’s strengths and abilities, excitement is returned to the learner. Through self-reflection and assessment, teachers who participate in the use of micro-credentials are provided this opportunity.

They need to be understood.

Through collaborative efforts of the Office of Early Learning and Literacy, a district’s Title III coordinator, and the willingness of a few brave educators of early childhood multilinguals, a personalized learning environment was designed and piloted to bridge this knowledge gap. To denote the teachable moments and incentivize this nontraditional professional development, micro-credentials were created. These personalized learning opportunities offered a way to assess the current knowledge surrounding multilinguals and enhance how they engage with multilingual students and their families.

They are going to be recognized.

David reads the title En Donde Viven Los Monstros loudly, picking up the book excitedly and asking if he can help read to others. I nod and tell him ‘Claro que sí, sería un gusto!’ (“Of course, it would be my pleasure.”) As we take turns, David confidently reads his page with emotion, pausing occasionally to repeat words he reads in Spanish, translating them into synonyms in English he learned during school that day, stating, “Ojos se dice eyes en inglés, eyes empieza con ‘E’ pero no la ‘I’ como en español.” (“Eyes is said eyes in English, the word eyes starts with /E/ but not the /I/ like in Spanish.”)

Three important moments occur during this first evening of relationship building and learning. First, teachers who know students from their classrooms as silent participants see them transform into confident orators, turn-taking with me in Spanish. Second, they watch how students connect the Spanish words they know to English vocabulary they are hearing and learning in classrooms to create meaning and understanding. Third, teachers are positioned as vulnerable learners, reversing roles with their students who take the lead in teaching them.

A powerful moment of connection occurs when teachers are asked to name the images read in the text, practicing vocabulary and letter recognition in Spanish. One educator cannot remember and tells her young maestro that she doesn’t know how to say this word in Spanish. He turns to her and, in a blended use of language, says, “A veces, some words I try to say them, y no puedo en inglés, I just can’t say them really good, so I just try my best, ahora you try.” (“Sometimes some words I try to say to them, and I cannot in English, I just can’t say them really good, so I just try my best, now you try.”) When she attempts pronunciation of the word, he smiles broadly saying, “You see, I teach you.”

She hears him, and he feels proud. He recognizes her intent, and she, in turn, feels proud.

Building identity and confidence is a task for healthy growth and development, not only in our young multilinguals but also for our teachers. They all need support. When voices are not heard or validated, frustration can turn into giving up. The resulting effects impact students who are left with teachers who lack confidence in their skills and knowledge.

Teachers experienced a connection between two worlds, one of their own teaching experiences and one of their student’s lived experiences.

The pilot program designed to enhance teacher efficacy removed barriers and resurfaced a heart and will to learn. Teachers experienced a connection between two worlds: one of their own teaching experiences and one of their students’ lived experiences. Opening their minds to learning from their students, they were able to take anecdotal impacts back to their classrooms. Its success has expanded, and cohorts of educators statewide are beginning to engage in similar personalized learning opportunities.

Educators, don’t be caught in the shadows. Ask your administration about micro-credentials designed to enhance engagement with multilinguals. Support teacher efficacy and edify multilingual student growth and development.

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Lydia Carnesale is the mother of four children and is currently completing her doctorate in language and literacy at the University of South Carolina College of Education. She serves as an Education Program Specialist with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. She has also worked in Title I child development classrooms and within early Head Start and has conducted statewide technical assistance in early childhood settings.


Heineke, A. J., Vera, E. M., Hill, M., Israel, M. S., Goldberger, N., Anderson, B., Giatsou, E., & Hook, K. (2022). From preparation to practice: Enhancing in-service teachers’ work with emergent bilingual learners through graduate teacher education. Teacher Education Quarterly, 49(2), 8–32.

López, F., & Santibañez, L. (2018). Teacher preparation for emergent bilingual students: Implications of evidence for policy. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 26(36).

This story is published as part of a recent storytelling retreat hosted by CarolinaCrEDhoused in the University of South Carolina’s College of EducationMira Education, a CarolinaCrED partner, facilitated the retreat and provided editorial and publication support. Learn more about this work and read additional stories by following @Carolina_CrED and @miraeducation.