Calling All Superheroes: How to Rescue Our EL Students in a New School

Andrea BitnerBlog, Connect Better, Lead Better, Manage Better


  • Superheroes work best when they have a plan and a team.
  • This post shares 10 questions to consider and get answers to when working with new EL students.

How to Rescue Our EL Students in a New School

POW! What do we do now? When Hua arrived at our school last week, many of our teaching teams were in a panic. He and his mom had just moved here from New York, and all they knew was that he spoke little to no English. How in the world were they going to teach him? They already had students with significant needs in their overload classrooms. How could they meet him and not feel like they would fail him?

Being the 'new kid' is hard enough. Learning a new language at the same time? That elevated him to superhero status. Click To Tweet

Teachers (and EL Students) Are Just Superheroes Disguised in Capes

As Hua and his mom cautiously walked towards the front doors to our main office on his first day, I watched as a single tear rolled down his face. His mom leaned down and whispered to him in Mandarin, and he nodded obediently.

He released his shaky grip from her hand, picked his fourth-grade head up, and took his first steps into his new school community. I was immediately proud of him for demonstrating this kind of bravery.

Being the “new kid” is hard enough. Learning a new language at the same time? That elevated him to superhero status.

As a support teacher, I know that our teaching teams are superheroes too! They show up and grow countless students with insurmountable needs on a daily basis. Hua’s adventure with them was just the beginning. Superheroes always seem to work best when they have a plan…and a team.

So…what’s the plan? And who should be on Hua’s team?

The short answer: One plan that includes everyone. When you receive an EL student, copy and paste these questions into an email and send them to your EL teacher. Panic will dissipate as answers arrive!

  • Was the student born here?
  • Do we have any records or information from their Home Language Survey?
  • What education systems have they participated in? 
  • What is their first language? Can they read and write in it?
  • Have any traumas occurred?
  • What curriculum items do we have to support them?
  • What language do their parents prefer to communicate in?
  • Do we have other bilingual students/teachers/staff to connect them to?
  • What is their WIDA ACCESS Score in reading, writing, listening, and speaking?
  • Have we introduced them to the office team, attendance team, counselor, administrators, cafeteria team, and maintenance team?
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Transformation Station? Yes!

Asking these questions will provide you with the information you need to begin designing instruction, communicating with parents, and accessing resources your student will need to perform…or rather, transform. 

Transform? Yes. Transform. 

In a year from now, Hua will be recognizably different.  It will be incredible to witness how he will be reading, writing, listening, and speaking English more than he is today.  You will see him become more confident and run into the school building without any tears. He will volunteer more, ask questions, and possibly even assist other EL students who are now beginners too.

Unleash Your Cape!

And what will have made the difference for him? 

The time and dedication to determining what he needed on his very first days and months in a new place by asking questions. 

Your teamwork in ensuring that everyone in the building knows how to best support your EL student, like Hua, who is navigating something new. 

Your refusal to make any assumptions until you have explored all of these avenues. 

And of course, your superhero cape!

About Andrea Bitner

Andrea Bitner is a proud wife and mother of two beautiful daughters. She lives on the East Coast among some of the fastest speaking people in the country! She has worked with students in grades K-12 through her twenty years in public education from all around the world. Her work as an English Language Teacher, Reading Specialist, Literacy Coach, Presenter, and High School English Teacher inspired her to continue to share the great news: Learning a Second Language is an asset, not a handicap! She hopes to inform, influence, and inspire all readers and leaders to continue to be a champion for all stakeholders in the education community around the world.