Tatyana Kleyn with Estrella Olivares-Orellana

Dr. Tatyana Klein

Dr. Tatyana Kleyn

Tatyana Kleyn is an associate professor in the Bilingual Education and TESOL programs at the City College of New York. She served as acting Co-Principal Investigator for the CUNY New York State Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals, which supports administrators in developing school-wide bilingual ecologies.  In 2007, she received an Ed.D. in international educational development at Teachers College, Columbia University.  She is the author of “Immigration: The Ultimate Teen Guide” and a co-author of “Teaching in Two Languages: A Guide for K-12 Bilingual Educators” with Adelman Reyes. Her most recent publication is Translanguaging with Multilingual Students: Learning from Classroom Moments, which she co-edited with Ofelia García. Tatyana has also made two films. She is the co-producer and director of “Living Undocumented: High School, College and Beyond,” a documentary that explores the lives of diverse undocumented immigrant youth and “Una Vida: Dos Países: Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico”, a film that shares the stories of children and adolescents living between two countries, cultures, languages and education systems.  In this conversation with Estrella Olivares-Orellana, Tatyana explains the origins of her interest and investment in bilingual education and the many fascinating turns her academic and professional career have taken.

 

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

Tatyana, thank you very much for your time. Esteem promotes dialogue between educators and one of our guiding questions deals with the ways educators, including teachers and education graduate students, use the inquiry process to engage in meaningful and active learning experiences outside of the classroom environment. While your career is fairly young, you have already engaged in very meaningful and exciting research outside of the classroom. Can you talk about your inquiry process and the reasons for pursuing topics related to bilingual education and multicultural education?

Tatyana Kleyn

I came to bilingual education through what I didn’t experience as opposed to what I did experience, meaning that I did not experience bilingual education growing up. Consequently, I always felt like I was stupid, and I was often pulled out for some kind of extra help. I was born in the former Soviet Union, in Latvia. My family came to the United States as political refugees when I was almost six years old. We were sent to Columbus, Ohio. I came without knowing any English. They put me in school and I think there was no ESL (English as a second language) or bilingual education at the time there. I struggled to learn to read. I never learned how to read in Russian, so when I tried to read in English I was just making sounds. I didn’t know the sounds were supposed to make meaning. It was kind of torture to be honest. I always struggled in school because literacy is the foundation for everything. If you can’t read, you can’t do social studies, science, or math, etc. I was constantly pulled out for extra help and I never got good grades in school. I grew up thinking I wasn’t very smart. It wasn’t until I started my doctoral program at Teachers College in bilingual education that I learned about the importance of the home language as a foundation for everything else, and I thought “oh wait, I’m not that stupid after all, I just didn’t have the foundation.”

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

Tell me about your first teaching experience. Was your teaching certification bilingual?

Tatyana Kleyn

No, it was not. I had an elementary teaching certification, and I got a job teaching third grade in in a fancy, private bilingual school in Honduras, in Central America. That was my first job. I wanted to do something a little different so I attended an international job fair. I thought it would be interesting. I had originally thought I would go somewhere in Europe, like Spain, but they didn’t even give me an interview because I didn’t have any experience. Only the schools that didn’t have enough money to pay higher salaries would interview me. So I went to the Honduran school for an interview thinking “Oh! I’ll just practice interviewing.” It was February in Ohio, which is always freezing. They started showing me pictures of the school campus and there were palm trees and I thought “Oh my goodness I want to go there so badly.” The director asked me what I would say if he offered me the job and I answered that I would take it. I then had to go look on a map where Honduras was and that’s when I started learning Spanish. I got to the airport and I had shipped some boxes so I learned that the word for boxes was cajas, so I just kept repeating cajas, cajas looking for my boxes. The school was a private bilingual school for the rich families in the city of San Pedro Sula. The students had bodyguards and maids. It was a very different environment in one of the poorest countries of the western hemisphere. I saw how these kids were becoming bilingual and I thought, why aren’t we doing this in the United States. Why didn’t I have access to this? Why do so many kids not have access to this? I taught there for a year. I then taught three years in Atlanta, Georgia to bilingual students but not in a bilingual program per se. I started integrating Spanish into my classes. I thought why not. Just because it’s not labeled as a bilingual program, it doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t have access to different languaging opportunities.

I then applied to TC and somehow they accepted me. That’s when my journey started. That’s why I say that I came into the field of bilingual education because of what I didn’t have and what I thought was right and what was missing from my education and missing from the education of so many kids in this country. That was the springboard for me to learn first about multicultural education, which is what I did my dissertation on, then later, to immigration, which I now have done some multimedia work in. It all kind of stemmed from my experiences. We are all in the field that we are in because of some experiences we have had, whether positive, negative, or a combination and then you take that and you run with it. Opportunities come up and you get to collaborate with people. I had a direction but I didn’t have a very specific, concrete plan. Things just evolve and I like that. It’s exciting to me.

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

I think it’s great that your curiosity comes from your experiences and those experiences shape the questions that then frame your research and your work.

Tatyana Kleyn

That’s why I think academia is such an amazing place, because you have all this freedom to ask questions and answer them in creative ways. There are some studies I have been involved in that have been imposed or asked of me but the ones I feel most passionate about are the ones that come from my own personal wonderings and that are more connected to the real world and are about making the world more just for our students. So I feel that we are really fortunate to be in this field that allows us to create this path where we ask the questions we want to ask and at the same time contribute to the field.

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

In 2007, you received a doctorate in International Educational Development at Teachers College, Columbia University. Your dissertation, which by the way earned an Outstanding Dissertation Award for NABE, focused on the intersections of bilingual and multicultural education in Spanish, Haitian, Chinese and Russian bilingual classrooms.

Tatyana Kleyn

Yes, at the time those were the four languages in bilingual programs in New York City public schools. Now, fortunately, many other languages are offered, so a comprehensive study such as that one would be more difficult.

At the time, I took note of the divisions my idol Sonia Nieto mentioned: books and journals with articles on bilingual education, and then journals and books for multicultural education. There were conferences for one field and conferences for the other field, and in some ways the two fields were being kept like separate entities. I saw that there were so many overlaps and I wanted to see how they could come together, specifically in ethno-linguistic classrooms, and what the similarities and differences were. I knew there wasn’t just one way to teach kids. I wanted to explore how we integrate multiculturalism and bilingual education for students from different ethno-linguistic groups. That was my focus.

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

Can you briefly explain those intersections and what your most unexpected findings during that study were? Sometimes we go into a research project with certain expectations and assumptions and then we are hit with some unforeseen discoveries. Did you have any such experiences during that study?

Tatyana Kleyn

Well, it’s been a while! But something that was hard for me was to do the Russian group, because that was my own group. I actually felt I was the most critical of that group and somehow because it was my group I felt I could be, whereas with the other groups I had to be more careful. That was very interesting.

Something else that stood out to me was that just translation wasn’t enough. There was an example that a Haitian Creole teacher gave me from a standardized exam in Haitian Creole, where students were asked a question about a gumball machine. Something about having four red and two blue and what the odds were of getting red gum, a question about probability. The student got stuck on the gumball machine, because to that student a machine didn’t sell gum, a person sold gum. They couldn’t move past that even though the test was in his home language. I remember those little moments that show you how inequitable things are even when we have bilingual education.

There were also the hierarchies within the groups. In Spanish bilingual education programs, for example, there were children from Mexico, and the Dominican Republic, and children born here to parents from those different countries, etc., and sometimes hierarchies were created even when the whole group was oppressed by society. That was something that stood out to me.

Also, the fact that overall, teachers know what they are doing. When we give them too many instructions and we tell them what to do and what to say and for how much time, etc. those things never take into consideration bilingual learners. That’s especially the case in bilingual classrooms. Teachers are professionals. We need to trust them and not hold them to reading scripts, because they understand students’ cultures.

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

You published a book called “Immigration: The ultimate teen guide”. What was your main objective with that book?

Tatyana Kleyn

I was really excited to write that book because it was a book for teenagers. The main audience was youth. So much of what we do around immigration in schools is historical and that is important. Students should know the history of immigration but it can’t stop there. We need to go beyond Ellis Island, which is a fascinating case but it is not reflective of our students’ immigration histories and their families’. The purpose of this book, while it does give a slight historical immigration background, is more current immigration issues and immigration policy. It also looks into subgroups of immigrants, such as refugees and undocumented people, and the issues they face when they get here, like language learning, culture, schooling, and real life immigration issues. Immigrant youth can relate to those topics and that those who aren’t immigrants can learn about and understand the things those who are not born here have to go through. There was also a curriculum guide we did with a class at Teachers College that Lesley Bartlett and Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher were teaching. I worked with three of their graduate students on a curriculum for the book. We created a full unit plan to accompany the book. What I found really interesting was that I initially thought the book would be easier to write because it was for kids rather than for academic journals, for which you use the “big words.” However, I wanted to explain the same concepts and I had to explain them in ways that were comprehensible to everyone. I actually found that harder than writing for an academic audience. It was an interesting challenge.

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

That is so interesting. And the book you published prior to that was meant for teachers right?

Tatyana Kleyn

Yes. Teaching in Two Languages: A Guide for K-12 Educators with Sharon Adelman Reyes. There were books for dual language bilingual schools, but most classrooms in New York and even in the United States that are are transitional bilingual models. We wrote a book about the things you should be aware of, in general, when teaching in a bilingual program. We meant for it to answer the big questions, like how do I teach in two different languages? Is content different across the two languages? How does culture matter differently in a bilingual classroom and in a general education classroom? etc.

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

Would you say that still now there are more transitional bilingual programs? Is it also because some transitional bilingual programs may go undetected as schools may set them up as a temporary remedial situation when they find they have a large numbers of speakers of another language rather than out of an interest in producing bilingual and biliterate children?

Tatyana Klein

Yes, if you look at the numbers, yes. A couple of years ago, my colleague Jesús Fraga and I, gave a five day seminar for the New York City Department of Education to teachers in schools that were starting or had transitional bilingual programs. We tried to reframe the conversation and look at things differently by first framing both the home language and home language literacy as important, even when we know that students will eventually be transitioning. We need to emphasize the importance of the home language. Even when bilingual teachers are not available, a teacher who speaks the students’ home language and/or allows students to use it is better than having students in a monolingual situation. We shouldn’t have any programs called monolingual. A teacher may be monolingual but we have to look at students in the classroom and if they are multilingual, then they should be able to use their languages. That’s the work of the translanguaging movement. Actually, Ofelia García and I have just come out with an edited book called Translanguaging with Multilingual Students: Learning from Classrooms Moments. It looks at the work of the CUNY-NYSIEB, the CUNY-New York State Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals worked with schools across the state to restructure their ecologies, pedagogies and programs for students on the continuum of becoming bilingual. For example, we have cases from a middle school science classroom, a bilingual English language arts classroom, and an English as a second language classroom, and we explore how translanguaging looks, for the teachers and the students. We look at the benefits and the challenges. This is kind of the next step in looking at multilingualism in education with regard to these programs.

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

It sounds wonderful. I look forward to be able to use it with my students, since they will be teachers in bilingual classrooms.

My next question deals more with you as a researcher and with researcher subjectivities. Like you, I am very much interested in immigrant youth populations. Currently, I am analyzing data from a study for which I documented the perspectives of immigrant youth classified as having educational gaps. My interest stems from the intersection between my personal experiences as a former immigrant undocumented youth and a current educator of immigrant youth populations. I cannot underestimate the impact of those realities. Therefore, the acknowledgement of my subjectivities and preconceived notions must be ever present in my inquiry process. I often struggle with the idea of having preconceived ideas of what a particular population’s needs are. As researchers we tend to begin our work with many notions that are then disrupted by our data. Has this or something similar happened during your inquiry process and if yes, how have you confronted these challenges?

Tatyana Kleyn

That is very important. The first thing is to admit it. We all have our views. We all have our biases. That’s kind of what’s really nice about qualitative research, that it allows us to position ourselves to our readers. On the other hand, we do go through quite a rigorous process to design our study and our questions so that the data drives what we do. We still have our lens. We look through the data but your analysis of a certain set of data, and my analysis of the same data may be different, because even though the data is the data, the analysis is our analysis. We just have to be true to our methodology and to our process. I remember when the immigration book was about to come out; someone reviewed it and slammed it as completely biased. And I thought, yes, it is biased. I cannot write a neutral book on immigration. It is biased and it takes a very specific stance and if you want the other side, then you just have to read another book. We follow the research process but we are all human beings with unique lived experiences and we have to balance that. It’s challenging. We are not just working with numbers. We are working with real people and we are real people too.

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

I watched your documentary called “Living Undocumented: High School, College and Beyond” and as a former undocumented youth, I really enjoyed it. Can you talk about your research process and the theoretical framework outlining your investigation and also why a film rather than something printed?

Tatyana Kleyn

Yes, I actually recently gave a paper at AERA this year and my questions were, is film a research method? Is film a way to disseminate research? Is film a service? And I said it could be all of the above. I didn’t approach Living Undocumented as a research study. I was giving a presentation for the DOE, with a panel of students who were Dreamers1, and the person filming the session, Ben Donnellon, came up to me after and said “this is so powerful, I’d love to work with you on something a little different.” I discussed it with the undocumented students and we kind of brainstormed what would be useful. Many of them wanted to talk about their time in high school, when they didn’t know who to talk to, or people didn’t have the correct information. So we decided to make a film that could fit within a class period, that has a lesson plan, and that anyone can access because everyone should know about the realities, the challenges, and the opportunities that come up when you are undocumented, specifically in New York. That film was more like a service. Then my second documentary, Una Vida: Dos Países: Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico was different. I applied for a Fulbright Fellowship and included the film within a larger research study looking at different developmental levels, elementary, secondary, and college students who were either born in the US and brought to Mexico or returned after living in the US for many years. I wanted to do a film and was fortunate to collaborate with Ben Donnellon again, as well as fellow Fulbright Scholars William Perez and Rafael Vásquez. Therefore, the process was very systematic. I had a clear research question about how these kids acclimate to a country that is completely or almost new to them. It looks at identity, languaging, school, and then policies. But that film was a part of a larger study. I still plan to write a book about the entire research study.

It has been very interesting how this whole thing has evolved, because I never originally went into film as a way to do research but it has turned into that. What I really love about film is that it allows me to share my research in ways that writing does not. It allows me to cross borders such as education levels and languages and age groups that writing would prevent. This film can be seen by fifth graders and ninety year olds. And because it is available online, people have access to it. It has been an interesting process and what it has brought me to see is that anything I do now, I want it to be multimodal. I don’t think writing is enough in this day and age. Film has been a very powerful medium and I am kind of starting to see it as research and that has surprised me (laughter)…it reaches people in a way that I don’t think anything I’ve ever written has, which is a little sad to say but I think it’s the reality.

Una Vida Dos Paises: Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico from Ben Donnellon on Vimeo.

 

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

That is indeed very true. And talking about Una Vida: Dos Países, when you were doing that film, did you find programs or places in Mexico for deported youth to get help? That’s what I thought about when watching the film. Fortunately, the people the film follows had their families for support. What happens when they don’t have anyone? I have heard of cases where only one young person in a family gets deported after living in the US from a very young age and due to their undocumented status had never left the US before. Young people who lack the language and familiarity with their home country.

Tatyana Kleyn

Well yes their so-called home country would feel like a foreign country to them. There are migration offices in different states but they are very small and not very well funded. I didn’t see any specific programs. These offices say they do many things to help, but in terms of on the ground level, we didn’t see any specific programs. We did start a group in a high school, called the New Dreamers. We based it off of the Dream Teams happening here, which started at the college level and are now in high schools too. The issue is that a lot of these kids who are back in their countries of origin, if they make it back to school, they are spread out. It’s not like they are all together. They are spread out throughout different states and cities, so it’s hard to have something concentrated for them. There is limited support for them, especially for deported youth over eighteen. It is very traumatic. They are kind of just thrown back. They may not know anyone and have just $20 in their pockets. I think this is an important research area to look into.

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

What was your most significant finding with Una Vida: Dos Países? And with that what is your most substantial message?

Tatyana Kleyn

Well, I’m still working it all through but I can tell you that although the presumption is that all of these kids want to come back to the U.S., that’s not true for all of them. The majority wants to come back. But some of them experienced such racism, such hatred for just being who they were when they where here, that they are actually happy back in their other countries…this is something I have been a little scared to say because I wouldn’t want people to think “Oh well they are fine there”, because many are not. They struggle in immense ways. The reality is that some of them can’t even afford schooling there. I worry about the financial and policy obstacles that are in place for their future. We have these kids who are very bright and understand immigration and policies in ways that adults never will, because of their lived experiences, and I worry about what their future will be and whether they will be able to live up to their potentials.

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

I found the story of the two brothers very interesting because one of them wants to come back to the US and the other one seems to be happy back in Mexico.

Tatyana Kleyn

Yes, the interesting part with those two brothers is that they are part of a mixed status family. The one that was born in the United States is happier in Mexico because that’s what he knows as he went back rather young, although he can return here because he has papers. The one who was born in Mexico wants to come back badly and can’t do that easily. That’s all he talks about and I don’t know how to help him. What this tells us is that your national citizenship is not the same as your cultural citizenship, which is where you feel you are from and where you feel you belong. So I think I’m still mulling it over but these are some of those moments I think about. To me, it was a privilege to work with these kids and to be able to help tell their story.

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

What has been your most significant professional accomplishment so far and why?

Tatyana Kleyn

I have been able to do things in ways that are impactful and that can make a difference in ways that are not necessarily traditional in academia.  I am very fortunate that I am at The City College of New York because they accept and value what I do. My college president, Dr. Lisa Coico, is behind me and I am proud of that.  I have worked in partnerships with amazing people and have been able to share the work in different ways. I am very lucky to have been able to forge this path.

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

What is next for Tatyana Kleyn?

Tatyana Kleyn

Well, I am not a long-term planner (laughter) but my next plan is to write a book about the different challenges and issues of the people who were part of the last film in Mexico. That’s my immediate plan. Then I’ll see what types of opportunities present themselves, and hopefully seize the moment!

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

Well, I look forward to it. Thank you so much for this wonderful conversation, you work is very inspiring to me.

1Dreamers are undocumented immigrant students who are under the age of 31 and entered the United States before age 16. It stems from the Dream Act.

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

Estrella Olivares-Orellana (contributing editor) is a doctoral candidate in Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. She is the author of “Equitable ways to teach Science to emergent bilinguals and immigrant youth,” which appears in a new collection titled, Excellence through equity: Five principles of courageous leadership to guide achievement for every student. Her scholarly interests are in the areas of bilingual and bicultural education, science education in bilingual settings and the academic experiences of immigrant students. Presently, she is conducting qualitative research with students who have been classified as presenting interrupted formal education. She is also a part-time instructor in the department of Arts & Humanities at Teachers College and a full-time bilingual science teacher at a high school in the suburbs of New York. Estrella holds an Ed.M. in International Educational Development from Teachers College and a B.S. in Biochemistry from SUNY, Stony Brook. She is a native of Chile but lived many years in Argentina before migrating to the U.S. in 1994.

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