The student population in the U.S. is rapidly changing; in 2004-2005, approximately 5.1 million or 10.5 percent of the student population were English-language learners (Pearson, 2006). The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES, 2003) revealed that 47 states provide English language services to English language learners (ELLs) enrolled in public schools. California alone educates 1.6 million ELLs, one-third of all the nation’s ELLs, while in Texas more than half a million students received ELL services, one in seven students (NCES). The problem is that a great number of these students are being served by teachers new to the field or that lack training in teaching linguistically diverse students. According to Zeichner (2003), “only about one fourth of teachers who work with English language learners nationally have received any substantive preparation with regard to ESL teaching strategies and language acquisition theory” (p. 494). Indeed, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2002) declared that the professional development area in which teachers were least expected to participate was that of addressing the needs of linguistically minority students; of the 41 percent of teachers nationwide with language minority students in their classrooms, only 12.5 percent participated in eight or more hours of professional development related to ELLs in the past 3 years. The National Education Association (NEA, 2002) has also expressed concern that districts across the U.S. are facing difficulties stemming from the small percentages of bilingual/ESL teachers relative to the growing number of culturally and linguistically diverse students. Yet certification of bilingual/ESL teacher candidates continues to be a challenge for teacher preparation programs.
Moreover, institutions of higher education and school districts are also faced with the provisions of Race to the Top and the No Child Left Behind Act, which require states to identify ELLs, measure their English proficiency, and to include them in state mandated assessments. School districts are also required to have a “highly qualified” teacher in each classroom. As a result, there is an urgent need to produce and prepare sufficient numbers of highly qualified educators that can serve the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students; teachers who are familiar with the language acquisition process, who understand how culture influences learning, and who can work with students and parents from various cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The ambitious plan of NCLB, of having all students educated by qualified teachers, is and will continue to be in jeopardy if we do not find ways to deal with the issue of the teacher shortage.
This study focuses on Texas due to its growing ELL population. According to the Texas Education Agency (2009), in 2008, more than 800,000 students in Texas’ public schools (approximately 15 percent) were ELLs and were served in bilingual or ESL programs. These figures compare to 5.1 million English language learners nationally, about 10.5 percent of all public school students (Pearson, 2006). Texas, like many parts of the nation, has also been challenged with the issue of teacher shortage in the area of bilingual/ESL education.
The survey requested information about the institutions of higher education and the specific programs offered in relation to bilingual/ESL. In addition, the instrument gathered information on the administrators’ perceptions concerning the importance of the bilingual/ESL program.
From the 34 responses, only one respondent expressed that bilingual/ESL teacher recruitment was not important at all (2.9%) to his/her college of education; this institution reported having an enrollment of less than 20 students in the bilingual/ESL program. For 22 institutions, the recruitment of bilingual/ESL teacher candidates is extremely important (64.7%); and the remaining 11 institutions reported it as somewhat important (32.4%) to their teacher preparation program.
It was noted that preparing all teacher candidates to work with language minority students is becoming an increasingly important issue in teacher preparation programs. All interviewees agreed that there is a need to prepare All teacher candidates to work with language minority students. One participant expressed that all pre/in-service teachers need to “understand the process of second language acquisition; know strategies, what things to do to support learning for ELLs; and understand the needs of ELLs, that way teachers could have a positive attitude to work with them.” Most importantly, as another participant underscored, “teachers need to know that they are responsible for all children and how significant they are in the success of these students.”
While the number of language minority students in our schools is increasing, the teacher shortage in the area of bilingual and English as a second language is rising (NEA, 2002). Although, the challenge of bilingual education “remains a systematic one at the societal level,” as one participant in this study affirms, and it is true that there is a need for “ensuring a stable political environment supportive of bilingual education,” as another participant added, it has been demonstrated in this study that bilingual/ESL education is an essential program component for 22 of the 34 participating institutions. These institutions are aware that today more than ever there is a need for bilingual/ESL teachers. However, as pointed out by one participant, “unless the state of Texas and the federal government begins to live up to its constitutional commitment to fund education at more appropriate levels, minority programs such as Bilingual Education/ESL will fade in accordance with current political whims.” External funding is necessary for the success of the programs: there is close relationship between external funding and success in attracting candidates to the bilingual/ESL programs.
The recruitment and retention of bilingual/ESL teacher candidates needs to become a priority. Institutions need to provide effective role models for these students, as well as a receptive and responsive faculty. In addition, the opportunity to attract federal and state funding and receiving a higher budget from the department will bring positive results to the enrollment of bilingual and ESL teacher candidates. Nevertheless, the institutions need to provide multiple avenues for the recruitment and retention of bilingual/ESL teacher candidates. There is a close relationship between the number of recruitment and retention services and the number of students enrolled in the bilingual and ESL programs.
Until recently, the education of English language learners was a challenge that mostly affected states like California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Arizona, and New York; this is not today’s reality. Therefore, teacher recruitment and retention in the area of bilingual/ESL education is an increasingly important issue for school systems.
However, the issue of recruiting and retaining good bilingual/ESL teachers has rarely been considered by researchers and policy makers, much less the influence of recruitment and retention at the university level.
Due to the growing demand for qualified teachers who can address the needs of English language learners, universities need to embark in a more thoughtful, lasting, and efficient approach to recruit and retain college students in the area of bilingual and ESL education. It is necessary that universities take part in the preparation of qualified bilingual/ESL teachers to assure that the growing population of English language learners learn and perform at high levels. In addition, it is necessary that the federal government take part in the issue of bilingual/ESL teacher shortage by providing incentives to recruit and train teacher candidates in these fields, as it did for math and science educators under the National Defense Act and as it has been doing for the past thirty years for medicine and the military.
Teacher preparation programs need to reflect our changing society to better meet the needs of our schools. Universities must be primed to examine their philosophy, pedagogies, and recruitment/retention practices, in order to address teacher shortages in the areas of bilingual and ESL education. It is time for teacher preparation programs to pay close attention to the disparity of teacher supply. Many teacher preparation programs continue to over produce teachers in fields with little or no demand while schools continue to struggle with finding teachers in areas of high demand. Efforts should be made to channel teacher candidates to areas where they are needed; and nowadays, with the growing population of English language learners, an area of great needs is bilingual and ESL education.
Today’s schools are becoming more and more diverse. The 21st century is bringing changes to our society, and these are reflected in our schools. We are now living in a global society which has opened the door to a variety of languages and cultures. As a result, demographics of the student population are rapidly changing. Institutions of higher education need to work hand-in-hand with public schools to prepare qualified and effective teachers who can teach all types of students, from mainstream to culturally, linguistically, and socially diverse students.
The future of our nation will be in the hands of our current students. If we under-educate our student population, our nation and its economy will be negatively affected in the long run. As Berry et al. (1999) articulated, “teaching is the profession that shapes America’s future. Few other tasks are of greater importance to the nation” (p.224). For this reason it is the duty of teacher preparation programs to train teachers to educate today’s students to live in tomorrow’s society. The future of our nation will depend on how well our society can compete and survive in a globalized world. It is time that policymakers, institutions of higher education, and society change their views towards bilingualism, and take a positive stand on second language education. What Fishman (1965) expressed twenty years ago is still relevant, “It is high time that the diversity of American existence were recognized and channeled more conscientiously into a creative force, rather than be left as something shameful and to be denied, at worst, or something mysterious and to be patronized, at best. Rethinking our unwritten language policy and our unproclaimed ethnic philosophy in this light may yet bring forth fresh and magnificent fruits.”
Teacher preparation programs need to find ground-breaking means to meet classroom diversity and to bring more teacher candidates into the high need disciplines of bilingual and ESL education.
This study has demonstrated the need for proactive teacher recruitment policies in order to better serve the needs of today’s schools. It is necessary to create cooperative efforts where many constituents take part. Policy makers and education supporters need to endorse programs that target areas of high need, as well as to engage in policies that will help ameliorate the problem of teacher shortage. School districts need to work hand in hand with teacher preparation programs in order to implement practices that will result in an increased number of well-prepared bilingual/ESL teachers, from supplying teacher candidates from a pool of in-service teachers and high school students to offering teacher candidates the opportunity to work with school aged children, particularly ELLs, as part of their field experience. In addition, teacher preparation programs must take responsibility and aggressively implement recruitment and retention strategies that will increase the production and retention of teachers in the area of bilingual and ESL education.
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Zulmaris Diaz is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education at the University of Texas Pan-American. Her research is focused on teacher training, specifically in the area of bilingual/English as a Second Language (ESL), and the development of math literacy in bilingual children.
Lakshmi Mahadevan is an assistant professor and extension specialist for Special Populations. She coordinates the activities of the Career Technical Special Populations Training and Resource Education Center (CTSP Center) — a Texas Education Agency/Texas AgriLife Extension Service collaborative project.
Adapted from “How to Recruit and Retain Bilingual/ESL Teacher Candidates?” published online by Academic Leadership Live (Volume 9 Issue 1 Winter 2011). www.academicleadership.org