multilingual illustrations of children around the world

Language Matters: Why iTutor Has Shifted Our Language to Reflect Multilingual Learners and Students With Disabilities

When my Avó and Avô were planning to immigrate with three children to the United States, they decided on a tight-knit Portuguese community in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Despite this established community, the education system was not set up to support students who spoke another language. My father, seven at the time, was sent to a kindergarten class because he did not speak English. He learned English at school, spoke Portuguese at home, and to this day feels he has not mastered grammar or literacy in either language. Fast forward to 2013 in Boston where I earned a Sheltered English Immersion Endorsement in my Master’s program. I was teaching in kindergarten and fourth grade classrooms serving English Language Learners in isolation with different primary languages and different levels of English language skill acquisition. Fast forward to 2015 in New York City where second graders are sent to Kindergarten to complete phonics as an intervention at their ‘level.’ Fast forward to 2018 in a different New York City community where most families speak Spanish as a primary language, there is no instruction in Spanish, and students are publicly dismissed to “ELL” afterschool while others go to the bus. While the percentage of people in the US who speak languages other than English has increased significantly in the last 50 years, it seems that the challenging and limiting circumstances under which many schools operate can prevent in-school practices from changing at the same clip.


Throughout my higher education and professional career, I have chosen to study comprehensive supports for unique subgroups of diverse learners. We are all diverse learners! Me, you, my child, your mother, everyone! Though the language surrounding these topics has evolved alongside my knowledge and experience in supporting these learners, for many in education, the status quo of labels and language learned as children or in teacher preparation programs, often remains. Those that know me as a teacher know that language is of the utmost importance to me. What we choose to say and how we choose to say it matters. 


I came to iTutor because I believe in supporting all learners. Whether you are known as the speed reader in your class or someone who needs supplemental support and all diverse presentations in between, there is 100% a place for you to grow with an iTutor Educator. As we have actively supported diverse learners in a virtual setting for nearly a decade and as we continue on a rocketship of growth it is important for us to reflect on our own practices. We have shifted our language from English Language Learner (ELL) → Multilingual Learner (ML) and from Special Education (SPED) → Students With Disabilities (SWD).


It is of the utmost importance to me and our team that we ensure our practices and language are based on current research and are inclusive and respectful of the population we serve. The term multilingual learner is an umbrella term to encompass subgroups that better reflect our country and the diverse needs of students who are learning more than one language. Similarly, grounding ourselves in utilizing Students With Disabilities ensures we are humanizing our language and speaking person-first. It is our mission to celebrate the diversity of our country that is reflected in the students we serve. Schools face insurmountable challenges that prove difficult when attempting to change practices – the examples in my family and in my professional life have shown this. As a partner to schools, we have the opportunity to be flexible in the ways we support and celebrate students at every opportunity.