#MNPSVoices: Alethea Gurabardhi, ELL Teacher

MNPSVoices_AlethaGurabardhi Among the most diverse cities in the country serving most of Nashville’s children, Metro Nashville Public Schools reflects that incredible diversity with more than 140 different languages spoken.

Metro Schools’ English Language population is faced with trying to learn in a language that is not their own – a struggle that Alethea Gurabardhi, an EL teacher at Caldwell Elementary, is quite familiar with.

Gurabardhi was raised in Taiwan and moved to the United States at the age of 14 with her family. After attending college she went back overseas to teach English in Romania and Albania.

Three years ago, she made the decision to relocate to Nashville and teach for Metro Schools. She worked for two years as an itinerant EL teacher at Kirkpatrick Elementary and Caldwell Elementary, and now serves the EL population at Caldwell full-time.

“It has been exciting to watch [Caldwell’s] population grow enough to need a full-time EL teacher,” Gurabardhi said.

Because of the nature of Gurabardhi’s job, she spends a fair amount of time with her students and their families outside of school to ensure they are understanding and able to support their child’s education.

“What I really enjoy is bonding with my students, both in school and during home visits,” Gurabardhi said. “I have found this to be a key component in motivating students to do their best. I try to ensure that my visits are for good news reports as well as areas of concern. This bridges trust between my parents and me.”

With limited resources for international families trying to understand a complex education system, Gurabardhi draws upon her own experiences as a transplant in a country where she also didn’t know the language to help her students. Last fall, she and her co-workers noticed letters from teachers were not being signed because of language and cultural barriers. The school brought in a translator and held monthly meetings for parents and teachers to converse with each other.

“This meeting was very helpful to both the parents and teachers because it gave them an opportunity to air concerns,” Gurabardhi said. “These have helped parents to navigate school expectations for medical insurance needs, questions about teacher expectations, school calendar dates, how the school would contact parents in the event that their child became sick and even how to traverse the surprises of adolescence in the United States.”

Despite the challenges of teaching students whose first language is not English, Gurabardhi has found her calling in a district filled with a diverse student population from all over the world.

“I have poured my affection mixed with careful scholastic grounding into these precious children,” Gurabardhi said. “It is my desire that my students and their parents are able to successfully transition into American citizenship and learn to blend their native cultures with the American one. It is my ambition for all of them to take that blending, and improve life for all of us.”