TESOL Educators as Policy Makers

It’s an election year in the United States, so U.S. teachers are constantly reminded of their role in the political process and the need to cast their votes for the elected officials that serve them. Often, educators feel like they are caught in the cross-hairs (an English idiom meaning, “in a position to be attacked” or “with nowhere else to go”) between the realities of school teaching and the policies being enacted far outside of the school context.  In a June 2015 report (PDF) from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, executive director Kathryn Basset noted, “The reality is many teachers don’t feel engaged or listened to when it comes to decisions that affect their classrooms” (Brown, 2015).

TESOL educators in the United States and internationally might feel this impact doubly, because they are on the receiving end of educational policies AND language policies. In fact, Diane Ravitch (2012) noted a gap between what teachers know and what educational policymakers do (as cited in Strauss, 2012). So how can TESOL educators create autonomy in light of the policies that affect them?  And why should they be involved in policy-making?  Brown (2015) of the Center for American Progress offers three reasons why teachers should be involved in the policy making process:

  1. policy makers who are not educators need to hear authentic perspectives from the classroom;
  2. teachers need to provide their input before, not after policy decisions are made; and
  3. teachers can increase their knowledge of the political context by participating in the process.

TESOL International Association dedicates extensive time to advocating for ELLS among policy makers, and publishes position statements on much of the legislation affecting culturally and linguistically diverse students.

If you are not interested in an active role in public policy, it’s important to remember that teachers are still policy makers in their own right.  Menken and García (2010) argue that teachers have as much responsibility as policy makers in terms of enacting policies in the classroom; along with the policy itself, what the policy actually looks like in the classroom will be influences by teachers’ life experiences, and their cultural and linguistic communities.  Some policies might be planned or de jure policies, such as when and how often students must take a test, or which school subjects are offered in which language.  However, many policies are enacted as de facto policies, or those that are unplanned but exist nonetheless.  These may be policies such as the “spaces” teachers create for their students’ home languages as well as English, or the types of materials used, or the way that coteaching arrangements are executed between ESL specialists and subject-area teachers.

Wherever you may be, be aware of the policies—both official and unofficial—that impact you and your students.  For U.S. teachers, Colorín Colorado has a site worth exploring that details historical and contemporary views on language policy. Reflection is also an important piece of evolving in your role as a policy maker—which policies are in place at your educational setting?  How do they play out in your classroom? How might you change or reinforce current policies that will benefit your students?


Brown, C. E. (2015, June 24). Making classrooms work: Why teachers need to be involved in education policy decisions. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/opinion/knowledge-bank/2015/06/24/why-teachers-should-be-involved-in-education-policy-decisions

Menken, K., & García, O. (Eds.). (2010). Negotiating language education policies: Educators as policymakers. London, England: Routledge.

Strauss, V. (2012, April 12). What teachers know vs. what education policymakers do — Ravitch. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/what-teachers-know-vs-what-education-policymakers-do–ravitch/2012/04/11/gIQAZdJeBT_blog.html

About Kristen Lindahl

Kristen Lindahl
Kristen Lindahl holds a PhD in linguistics with a specialization in L2 teacher education from the University of Utah. She is currently assistant professor of bicultural-bilingual studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she teaches pre-service ESL/TESOL educators at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. Dr. Lindahl has taught K–12 and college ESL, and actively pursues consulting and coaching teachers of English learners in public and English language schools around the globe.
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One Response to TESOL Educators as Policy Makers

  1. Tabby Riley says:

    As an educator, making the classroom more engaging is always something that I am trying to do. I have recently started using iClickers in the classroom to use as a way to review the previous weeks lectures. This allows me an opportunity to see if the students understood the materials and a way for me to realize what needs to be discussed again. What are some things that other instructors are doing?

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