Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Problem of Underqualified Bilingual Teachers

One of the greatest problems facing bilingual education in the United States is the shortage of qualified teachers who are completely fluent in the language of instruction. The advanced requirements for becoming a public school teacher include a BA, a teacher preparation program and the completion of a series of tests designed to prove their knowledge and teaching ability. These requirements make it difficult for educators from other countries to become employed as classroom teachers in the United States. Independent schools that offer immersion programs have a much easier time finding outstanding teacher candidates for their immersion and bilingual programs. French schools usually hire their teachers from Canada or from France. Their teachers are true native speakers who were not only raised in the French language but have advanced degrees and pedagogical experience in the language of instruction.

While there are some fluent bilingual teachers in many of the Spanish bilingual programs in the United States, it is much more rare to find a teacher that has an advanced level of Spanish skills. The result is that the quality of the Spanish programs suffers. Few teachers are really qualified to offer students a rich, academic Spanish level that will push their vocabulary and writing skills. This is because the majority of Spanish Immersion teachers are English dominant. They attended an English speaking college or university and their teacher training was in English. Normally, their skills in English far surpass their Spanish language skills. It is clear that our expectations of the language ability of teachers who instruct in Spanish does not parallel our expectations of the ability of teachers who instruct in English. This has created a great handicap to bilingual programs as the majority of students in Spanish bilingual programs do not have a sufficient amount of Spanish-speaking role models.

If bilingual programs in public schools are to be successful, we will need to start considering the possibility to accepting teachers who are accredited in their country of origin. There are many teachers here in the United States who have years of experience and bring their expertise but are unable to teach due to the restrictions placed on teachers trained in other countries. Many states even have restrictions on teachers trained in other states. A teacher who instructs children in a language other than English should not have to prove advanced English language skills. This would be similar to an English teacher in Japan being expected to speak fluent Japanese. Conversational Japanese would be sufficient so as to be able to understand and communicate with students. To make bilingual programs the best they can be we will need to rework teacher requirements to ensure that students are learning from well trained teachers with the highest level of ability possible in the language of instruction.

1 comment:

Nicole said...

Often private schools hire "native speakers" from Canada and France who do not have advanced degrees in pedagogy. The native speaker status does not automatically qualify someone to teach to American students, and often their lack of knowledge about American customs and how our students learn prevent them from connecting with students. Native speaker status does not automatically qualify someone to teach, and it is not impossible to find Americans fluent in another language, who had to learn the language and can understand the difficulties English speakers face while learning.