A guest post by Judith B. O’Loughlin and Bette Empol
Having attended several TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summits, Bette Empol and I, as the official CATESOL delegates to this year’s summit, continue to learn more and more about becoming an advocate for English learners. We, through our respective experiences as both Summit attendees and advocates in our specific levels, K–12 and adult education, feel that these three takeaways from this year’s Summit provide advocates with some tools to use year round, whether or not you were able to attend the Summit.
1. Learn about legislation that may affect your program and your students
It is important to know where the funding comes from, whether it is state or federal. There have been many budget cuts and redirecting of funds the past few years. Many programs across the country depend on the federal funding from the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) or the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity (formerly WIA) Act. Legislators need to be made aware of how important these bills are and how their vote can affect your school program.
A few websites can provide you with some background information about the legislation.
- NEA has a new resource called ALL IN!: How Educators Can Advocate for English Language Learners.
- Tools and Resources from the Office of English Language Acquisition and the U.S. Department of Education.
- gov: Limited English Proficiency: A Federal Interagency Website.
- Guidelines for developing a Seal of Biliteracy program—advocating and informing about students who are biliterate and qualify for the seal.
- Specific state data can be found on the Alliance For Excellent Education This information will help you with talking points about the state of education in your state. There are also webinars and Federal Flash series of videos on important developments in education policy.
2. Create connections with your member of Congress
You can develop relationships with your member of Congress by signing up for their newsletter and also attending local events. There is also a local legislative aide who handles education whom you can meet with in you district office. It is important to keep the dialogue going, even after the bill is passed or reauthorized. You can go to Contacting the Congress and find out who your representative is and where his or her local office is located. Members are in their district quite often and you can make an appointment to meet with them and/or their staff. They like to hear from constituents, and their vote should depend on the people they are representing. Remember, they work for us! Invite them to visit your school and your classes. There should be a link to request a visit on their official websites.
3. You’re invited! Keep the relationship going
To help your member of Congress better understand the educational needs of ELs, invite him or her to your school to observe your students “in action.” Seeing how students are learning helps your member to understand the need for funding programs to help ELs. It dispels many of the myths around ELs—their motivation to learn, the time it takes to become proficient in English, and the need for preparing all teachers to work with ELs.
What if you are not currently teaching?
- Arrange to visit schools in your area with the Congress member. Speak with local school administrators about their programs and let them know that you, as a TESOL/affiliate representative, would like to visit the school’s ESL program. The visit could include two to three classrooms with varying levels of English development.
- Invite your Congress member to a conference or workshop sponsored by your affiliate organization. Ask him or her as an honorary guest to briefly speak, but also to attend workshops that will best help him or her to understand what teachers are learning about teaching ELs and what all teachers need to learn.
Advocacy is empowering and helps to develop your leadership skills as well as provide a voice for the families, adults, and children you teach. You are the vocal and visible presence of their needs for educational opportunities and programs.
Consider attending the next TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit. You will not only learn about policy and have your voice heard by Congressional leaders, but also be able to connect to other affiliate advocates and become part of a larger network of advocates.
Judith B. O’Loughlin, an independent education consultant, has 25 years experience as an English, ESL, and special education teacher/learning disabilities consultant. She has taught ESL at K–12, adult education, and graduate levels in university endorsement programs. She co-own a website, Newcomer & ELL Services, and a Facebook page.
Bette Empol is the ESL and academic programs coordinator at Conejo Valley Adult School in Thousand Oaks, California. Bette serves on the CATESOL (California TESOL) board as the socio-political coordinator for adult schools, community colleges, and universities for California and Nevada. As such, she is in an advocate for all ESL legislation in California, as well as the WIA and WIOA federal grants.