A guest post by Luciana C. de Oliveira
In this blog, Luciana de Oliveira explains why now is a prime time to value English language teachers more than ever and help them lead and grow professionally.
Teachers and the programs that train them have battled some scrutiny lately.
Those of us who work in teacher education programs have seen a major decline in our student population. People are not choosing to go into teaching. Or, if they are, they often choose alternative programs that lead to certification.
It is no surprise that people are not choosing teaching as a career. Teachers aren’t paid enough, and they’re not given adequate time for all of the tasks they must complete. Teacher salaries in the United States are only 60% of those of other U.S. workers with college degrees. U.S. teachers spend more time per week teaching students than teachers in high-performing countries. Continued professional learning is a must, but U.S. teachers are not always provided these opportunities.
One critical dynamic that teachers must address is this: There are increasingly more students who speak a language other than English at home in U.S. classrooms. In fact, more than 10% of the K–12 student population is composed of ELLs, which represents more than five million students in U.S. schools.
The largest numbers of these students are found in California, Florida, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Puerto Rico, and Texas. However, states including Arkansas, Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia have experienced more than 200% growth in the numbers of ELLs in schools from 1995 to 2006. The need to prepare teachers to work with these students in all U.S. states is more pressing than ever.
These changes put pressure on teacher education and professional learning programs to prepare teachers to work with ELLs. All school professionals, including mainstream content-area teachers, school counselors, speech pathologists, and administrators, need to be prepared to work with ELLs, not just specialist ESL or bilingual professionals. Often, this student population is blamed as one of the many “problems” facing schools.
Instead, ELLs should be seen as opportunities—opportunities for teachers to learn to differentiate their instruction, to learn about different languages and cultures, to understand issues that immigrants and refugees face—in order to become even better professionals. We need to recruit and retain more teachers, in general, and especially diverse teacher candidates with great potential to succeed. And we must continue to prepare ESL and bilingual specialists who are considered professionals with special expertise!
As a member of the Board of Directors for TESOL International Association, the main international association of professionals advancing the quality of English language teaching worldwide, I know about these issues firsthand. We work with professionals in the United States and internationally and know that they serve a critical role as “ambassadors” and advocates for ELLs in schools and communities. Just recently, we joined TeachStrong, a coalition of more than 50 diverse education organizations that have come together to agree that it’s time to modernize and elevate teaching. An elevated teaching profession can do so much for teachers, and so much for ELLs.
Let’s encourage more people to go into teaching; provide more time, tools, and support for teachers to succeed; design professional learning to better address student and teacher needs; and create career pathways that give teachers opportunities to lead and grow professionally. This is a prime time to value teachers even more and help them #TeachStrong.
Luciana C. de Oliveira, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of Miami, FL. She prepares preservice and in-service teachers to work with English language learners in K–12. She is a member of the Board of Directors for TESOL International Association.