Uni­ver­si­ties need to prep teach­ers for ESL stu­dents

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - NEWS - By Chelsea Schon­visky Chelsea Schon­visky is in her sev­enth year of teach­ing high school so­cial stud­ies.

I am for­tu­nate to work in a school district that prides it­self on be­ing one of the most di­verse in Con­necti­cut. Our school is home to stu­dents from all over the world, with over 30 dif­fer­ent lan­guages spo­ken at home.

Many of our stu­dents are learn­ing English as a sec­ond lan­guage, of­ten start­ing that process when they ar­rive. As this hap­pens more across this coun­try, as ed­u­ca­tors, we need to ask our­selves: Are our teach­ers ac­tu­ally pre­pared to sup­port the needs of stu­dents who come to our schools with vary­ing lev­els of English pro­fi­ciency? This past year, I be­gan to re­ally con­sider this ques­tion.

I was given two Level One ELL stu­dents, which meant they had lit­tle to no un­der­stand­ing of English. I have had sev­eral ELL stu­dents be­fore, but never a Level One. They came from Egypt and Brazil.

That night I lay in bed, think­ing, “What in the world am I go­ing to do?” All I knew was that they were not go­ing to sit in my class­room all year learn­ing noth­ing and feel­ing like out­casts.

I reached out to our ELL depart­ment and was pro­vided with links to re­sources to help me de­velop les­sons for the stu­dents. I spent hours comb­ing the in­ter­net, in­clud­ing the web­sites I was given, but these were mostly geared to­ward stu­dents who speak Span­ish or French. (This was a trend that I con­tin­ued to see). I came up with noth­ing. I found a few read­ings on­line, but with­out a proper trans­la­tion, I was not com­fort­able giv­ing these to a stu­dent.

I reached out to other staff mem­bers for help with les­sons or trans­la­tions, and al­though peo­ple were ea­ger to help, results were lim­ited. This was a case that left many of my col­leagues scratch­ing their heads.

I be­gan to re­al­ize that many of my col­leagues were in no way more pre­pared than I was for the needs of a stu­dent who didn’t speak, read, or write English, no mat­ter what their first lan­guage. I felt let down by my teacher prepa­ra­tion pro­gram, which had taught me how to work with the gifted and tal­ented and those with IEPs and 504s, but not with stu­dents who were learn­ing English as a sec­ond lan­guage.

Un­der the Equal Ed­u­ca­tional Op­por­tu­nity Act of 1974, “no state shall deny equal ed­u­ca­tion op­por­tu­nity to any in­di­vid­ual, by the fail­ure by an ed­u­ca­tional agency to take ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion to over­come lan­guage bar­ri­ers that im­pede equal par­tic­i­pa­tion by stu­dents in an in­struc­tional pro­gram.” If our teach­ers are ill pre­pared to ef­fec­tively teach ELL stu­dents, how are we pos­si­bly meet­ing this fed­eral law?

When on­line re­sources are not enough and there is no room in the bud­get for qual­i­fied staff or train­ing, how can we as teach­ers sup­port stu­dents who have just ar­rived in this coun­try?

Per­haps the so­lu­tion does not lie in web­sites or ex­pen­sive third-party pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment, but at the root of teacher train­ing. If teacher ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams pro­vided course­work and train­ing in TESOL (Teach­ing English to Speak­ers of Other Lan­guages) for teacher can­di­dates, I be­lieve we would be ready to meet the needs of these stu­dents, pro­vid­ing them with an en­vi­ron­ment where they can learn and feel val­ued.

At the Univer­sity of Texas, their Master of Ed­u­ca­tion teacher prepa­ra­tion pro­gram has a fo­cus called UTeach Ur­ban Teach­ers. This pro­gram is fo­cused on teach­ers who de­sire to work in ur­ban or cul­tur­ally di­verse school districts.

These teacher can­di­dates are re­quired to take cour­ses rang­ing from “Sec­ond Lan­guage Ac­qui­si­tion” to “Meth­ods of Teach­ing English as a Sec­ond Lan­guage.” Teacher can­di­dates also take the ESL en­dorse­ment exam.

Teacher can­di­date tes­ti­mo­ni­als ar­gue that the rig­or­ous cour­ses help them to un­der­stand the chal­lenges fac­ing ur­ban teach­ers as well as pro­vide them with the prac­ti­cal skills nec­es­sary to de­velop cur­ric­ula that can meet the ever-chang­ing needs of a lin­guis­ti­cally and cul­tur­ally di­verse com­mu­nity.

Texas teacher prepa­ra­tion pro­grams have evolved due to the in­creas­ing num­bers of ELL stu­dents ar­riv­ing at their pri­mary and sec­ondary schools. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Cen­ter for Ed­u­ca­tional Statis­tics, Con­necti­cut is also be­gin­ning to see this trend. In 2004, the num­ber of pub­lic school stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ing in pro­grams for ELLs was 26,865, or 4.9 per­cent of the stu­dents in pub­lic schools. In 10 years, that num­ber has grown to 33,525, or 6.6 per­cent of all stu­dents. These statis­tics have con­tin­ued to grow.

Schools like the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut and Cen­tral Con­necti­cut State Univer­sity turn out hun­dreds of teach­ers a year, many of whom re­main to teach in lo­cal schools. In 2010, I was one of them.

I am sur­prised to see that the course­work re­quire­ments have not changed since I grad­u­ated seven years ago, even though schools around the state and the pop­u­la­tions of those who at­tend them have. The course­work of­fered in­cludes a fo­cus on multicultural ed­u­ca­tion, but with­out a fo­cus on the lin­guis­tic com­po­nent. Such cour­ses ex­ist but are not re­quired. They are elec­tives.

Teacher ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams in Con­necti­cut and across this coun­try must take note. The time has come to step up and take a new look at the way teach­ers are pre­pared to meet the needs of all of their stu­dents.

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