As a TESOL teacher educator, I often consider how effectively we are preparing future teachers for the important job of teaching ELLs. At the university level, we do not always hear from principals or teachers once they’ve left our setting and entered the “real” world—we send our graduates out with the best training we can possibly offer and the hope that they fulfill their professional goals.
Recently, I had the chance to ask a panel of U.S. public school administrators working in schools with very high numbers of ELLs what they wished their teachers knew before arriving at their campus. They shared several insights not only about the knowledge base of the teachers, but placed equal importance on the values and ideologies they hoped the teachers would bring with them. The principals said that teachers they would hire should ideally have:
- Training in how to support language support development
- Strategies for sheltering content
- Ability to write effective content and language objectives
- Knowledge to pass the required state teacher certification exams
- Knowledge of state and district curriculum standards
- Cultural efficacy
- Core values about all children being able to learn
- Initiative to be life-long learners
- Investment in expanding their own knowledge
- Readiness to work collaboratively with other educators
- Planning ability to serve all learners
- A sense of who one is (as a teacher) and what one represents
- Willingness to “fight the good fight” in terms of advocating for ELLs
As I listened to the administrators’ answers, they resonated with me and reminded me of three key movements in English language teaching right now:
1) Emotional Intelligence
Administrators may be recognizing the need for emotional intelligence in English teaching, an important component in connecting to students and colleagues in a way that goes beyond teaching strategies and classroom management. Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to recognize and regulate emotions in ourselves and others, particularly in terms of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship building (Goleman, 2006). MaryAnn Christison and Denise Murray offer an extended discussion of emotional intelligence and ELT in their book Leadership in English Language Education (2012), wherein they discuss the impact that someone’s EQ–rather than their IQ—has on their role as an educator and leader.
2) Language Ideologies
The principals also mentioned language ideologies they hoped teachers would bring with them, language ideologies being values, practices, and beliefs associated with language use by speakers (Schieffelin, Woolard, & Kroskrity, 1998). In mentioning that they hoped teachers would come with the attitude that all children can learn, regardless of language background or difference, the administrators demonstrated a belief or attitude toward language that they hoped teachers would have. They also expressed that the value of learning extended beyond children to adults as life-long learners.
As voices from the field, the administrators were aware that teaching ELLs is no easy task, and sometimes (if not daily!) teachers act as advocates for their students in terms of language, as school and home culture connections, and as policy makers in their own classrooms and schools. A strong sense of identity as a teacher, as well as an awareness of local, institutional, and government policy affecting ELLs, may be important tools for teachers to build and maintain strong careers without feeling like they themselves are only cogs in the wheel rather than true change-makers.
It is important for teacher educators to consider how we build these skills in ourselves and our students as part of the pedagogical skill base. Teaching is not simply something we do—it’s really who we are!
Christison, M., & Murray, D. E. (Eds.). (2012). Leadership in English language education: Theoretical foundations and practical skills for changing times. London, England: Routledge.
Goleman, D. (2006). Emotional intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam.
Schieffelin, B. B., Woolard, K. A., & Kroskrity, P. V. (Eds.). (1998). Language ideologies: Practice and theory. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.