The number of English learners (ELs) in U.S. schools has increased 51 % over the past 10 years, and the achievement gap between ELs and general population students has grown wider. The percentage of English learners who score “below basic” on standardized tests was 72% on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) math exam, which is three times lower than the general population of students. In addition, 66% of ELs live 200% below the poverty line.
A Stanford University study showed that that characteristics associated with effective teachers for students in general are not necessarily associated with effective teachers of ELs. Here are some of the characteristics that I believe define practitioners in our field.
Effective teachers of ELs are the following:
1. Certificated professionals
Multiple studies have shown the benefit of ESL teacher preparation and professional development. According to Staehr-Fenner in her book Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators, specialized preparation for working with ELs is essential. Professionally trained educators in the field of English language acquisition feel competent to teach ELs and are more successful in that endeavor.
2. Empathetic educators
Teachers of ELs model empathy to colleagues and general education students. They are able to put themselves in the shoes of others, understand what ELs are feeling, and demonstrate a caring and supportive attitude for the special needs of their students. An effective EL teacher helps their students build relationships and become a part of the school community. They understand the cultural background of their students and how it may affect academic achievement. Teachers of ELs need to appreciate the cultural differences of students and respond to them in a way that helps students acculturate to the U.S. school environment.
Personality traits and ability to relate to and communicate with other professionals about how to teach ELs is a key attribute of effective teachers of ELs. In my opinion, they have a calling to the profession. The effective teacher must be able to communicate with all of the teachers who work with ELs as well as administrators and the parents of this population. These educators provide a bridge between their population of ELs and their families and the school community. Research shows that teachers who have received professional development in teaching ELs are more successful with this student population.
An effective educator of ELs is the voice for students and their families within the school and the community at large. These educators are not afraid to stand up for their students in a public arena. They have the power to change the school ambiance and make ELs feel welcome and valued through advocacy. The effective educator advocates so that ELs in their district receive the services to which they have a legal right. Effective educators respond effectively when injustices occur. They also go beyond their schools to advocate: We see them on the state and national level getting involved with policy that affects ELs.
What do you feel are the characteristics of an effective teacher of ELs? Please add additional ideas in the comments.