Pre-Service Teachers' Attitudes regarding ESL Students

By Smith, Philip C. | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Pre-Service Teachers' Attitudes regarding ESL Students


Smith, Philip C., Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

What attitudes do preservice teachers have regarding ESL (English as a Second Language) students, and do these attitudes change by taking an introductory ESL course? A survey was conducted with university students enrolled in an introductory ESL course to answer this question. The survey was administered as a pre- and post-course questionnaire to a total of 164 students. The post-course survey contained an additional section that asked the participants to rate how much they felt their perceptions had changed and what they felt had contributed to that change. The results indicate that an ESL introductory course, and particularly the field experience connected to it, can contribute to preservice teachers' confidence in being able to help ESL students, and help overcome the fear of having them as students in their mainstream classrooms.

Introduction

Present demographic trends in the United States indicate that by the year 2026, one in every four children in our public schools will be an English language learner (Garcia, 1999). This increases the demand for mainstream teachers to be skilled in educating ESL students in their mainstream classes. The purpose of this study is to examine the effect of an introductory ESL methods course on the attitudes of preservice teachers regarding ESL students. The following questions are addressed: (1) What impact does an initial ESL education class have on preservice teachers' attitudes regarding ESL students? (2) What attitudes change the most? and (3) What factors contribute to preservice teachers' attitudes regarding ESL students?

Review of Literature

Teachers' attitudes play an important part in the over-all learning process (Bloom, 1976; Diaz-Rico & Weed, 2002; Garcia, 1999; and Krashen, 1981). Second Language Acquisition (SLA) theory informs us of the importance of providing a good learning environment for all ESL students. The teacher's attitudes have a direct effect on the students' motivation, self-esteem, and anxiety level (Krashen, 1981; and Garcia, 1999). Studies have been conducted regarding preservice teachers' expectations for ESL students (Terrill & Mark, 2000), attitudes toward diversity (Agnello & Mittag, 1999), attitudes toward urban schools (Mason, 1999), and zone of concern and comfort with multiculturalism (Montecinos et al., 1999). Several studies and articles have been written about teachers' attitudes toward ESL students (Byrnes et al., 1996; Clair, 1995; Layzer, 2000; Markham et al., 1996; Terrill & Mark, 2000; and Youngs & Youngs, 2001), but no studies known to the investigator have examined the effect that ESL courses have on preservice teachers' attitudes toward ESL students. The importance of teachers' attitudes is emphasized in the Professional Standards for the Accreditation of Schools, Colleges, and Departments of Education by NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education). This document not only recognizes that knowledge and skills is valued in teachers, but dispositions as well (Standard 1: Candidate's knowledge, skills, and dispositions). This inclusion reflects the growing awareness nationally of the importance of attitudes and beliefs for beginning teachers (NCATE, 2001).

Method

This study was conducted with university students enrolled in an introductory ESL course. For many of these preservice teachers, this course is the first time they worked with, or even thought about ESL students. This course gives participants an over-view of ESL policies and practices, cultural awareness, SLA (second language acquisition) theory, methods of teaching ESL, and ESL student assessment. This is a required course for Elementary, Early Childhood, Secondary English, Foreign Language, and Special Education majors. The development of the survey instrument was a multi-step process that began with a compilation of actual statements made by preservice teachers.

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