Understanding bilingualism helped shape her approach to teaching

Rakhee Dodia’s first encounter with Erikson was at Brentano Math and Science Academy, one of the Chicago Public Schools, where she previously worked as a special education teacher. Erikson’s Early Math Collaborative provided professional development to Brentano teachers, and Dodia was impressed by the depth of knowledge Erikson staff brought to the experience.

So when she decided to earn her master’s degree, Erikson was her choice. As a student, she was immersed in a curriculum rooted in child development, which she says was both challenging and eye-opening. Particularly enlightening was her professors’ emphasis on how culture shapes a child’s development.

“For example, my ESL courses started with the understanding of how dual language learners develop linguistically,” Dodia says. “It’s not the same as mono-lingual children. Dual language learners can’t even be lumped into a single group. A lot of variables impact how they learn, including their families’ experiences and access to resources.”

For Dodia, earning her ESL endorsement was both practical and personal. Not only are teachers encountering more students and families who speak multiple languages, but Dodia also is bilingual, speaking both English and Gujarati, a dialect of Hindi. Understanding bilingualism from a developmental perspective has helped shape her approach to teaching and understand new ways to reach dual language learners in the classroom.

A transformative experience

As an Erikson student, Dodia was regularly pushed outside her comfort zone, which she said helped her grow as a professional and learn new ideas. She completed her internship in a preschool classroom, a new teaching experience for her, as the earliest grade she previously taught was kindergarten. But the classroom also incorporated the Reggio Emilia Approach, a teaching philosophy that emphasizes children’s individual interests as guides to learning that Dodia had never encountered.

“That was brand new for me, and it was really challenging,” she says. “It opened me up to a new approach to teaching. And the wonderful thing was that it was really aligned to Erikson’s approach. Erikson really doesn’t tell you what your teaching philosophy should be, but rather there is an emphasis on constructivism, that children should build their own learning rather than teachers building it for them.”

Reconnecting with Early Math

Her internship also brought her back in contact with Erikson’s Early Math Collaborative, which was working to help teachers at the school become more comfortable with foundational math concepts.

As an Erikson alumna, Dodia is once again working with the collaborative on its Collaborative Math program, a partnership with the City of Chicago with support from the National Science Foundation. The program is a new professional development model designed to establish excellence in early math teaching in early childhood programs, and Dodia will help implement the new model at one of 28 Head Start sites in Chicago.

She says she feels privileged to work side by side with professionals who were her mentors while she was teaching at Brentano Academy and while she was a student at Erikson. Plus, she gets to apply the knowledge she acquired as a student to a program in the community that is impacting how educators teach and young children learn.

“Erikson really transformed my approach to teaching 180 degrees,” she says. “The professors see teaching as a profession that requires a lot of experience and knowledge. The most important thing you get as a student is a deep foundation in early childhood, from birth to third grade. I don’t know of any other programs that do that. That’s critical.”