Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Faculty First: The Challenge of Infusing the Teacher Education Curriculum with Scholarship on English Language Learners

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Faculty First: The Challenge of Infusing the Teacher Education Curriculum with Scholarship on English Language Learners

Article excerpt

The number of pupils who are English language learners (ELLs) in the United States increased dramatically in the past half decade. The 9.6% enrollment of ELLs in public schools in 20002001 indicates a 32.1% increase from the percentage enrolled in 1997-1998 (Kindler, 2002). If it is not already true, each classroom in the country will soon be deeply affected by the changing demographics of America's students (Nieto, 2002). This has created a need for all teachers to be prepared to teach bilingual pupils who are now part of English-only classrooms (Gersten, 1998). At present, the overwhelming majority of teacher education (TE) graduates do not have licensure or any significant training in working with ELLs (Menken & Antunez, 2001; U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2002).

Most new teachers are powerfully influenced by their own experiences of school, as pupils or when they were student teachers (Feimen-Nemser, 1983). For the predominantly White, middle-class teaching force in the United States, that experience may not have included any challenges to their personal assumptions and beliefs, nor insight into supporting the success of ELLs in their classrooms. They may never have experienced themselves in an educational setting where the lack of proficiency in the language of instruction challenged their ability to progress in school. Feimen-Nemser (1983, p. 157) faulted teacher preparation programs for not challenging aspiring teachers to examine the powerful influence of their personal beliefs before they arrived for their 1st year in the classroom. TE programs need to become the site at which TE students' preconceived beliefs about linguistically and culturally diverse pupils and practices are interrogated. Unfortunately, most TE programs have yet to respond to this need. The first step toward this goal is for TE faculty to recognize teaching ELLs as a salient and nuanced topic that needs to be included throughout the TE curriculum.

This article describes the first of a 3-year project offered to the faculty of a TE program, as well as the ideas of and feedback from the institute participants as they worked together to change individual course syllabi. It is anticipated that most of the full-time faculty members teaching required courses for certification will have participated in the faculty institute by the spring 2005 semester and made changes to the course curriculum via the syllabi. This is significant in that the TE faculty can then begin to more fully examine the effectiveness of their program in preparing students to teach ELLs.


Most TE programs include themes or courses that treat multiculturalism and multilingualism as "an addition to, rather than a transformation of teacher education philosophy, curriculum and structure ..., outside the sphere in which teacher education is defined, implemented and reformed" (Nevarez, Sanford, & Parker, 1997, p. 163). Change in TE programs is needed in order to provide space within the TE curriculum for knowledge about theories and practices that facilitate success for ELLs in schools. To accomplish such change, efforts must be made to engage faculty first. Indeed, initiating and sustaining comprehensive faculty development prior to and during curricular change is essential (Nevarez et al., 1997). Successfully engaging faculty in a learning activity requires careful attention to four broad factors: the culture of the academic department, the source of change efforts, the external influences at play, and the process of faculty education.

The culture of a university academic department, a factor in faculty education, holds five core values: collegiality, autonomy and academic freedom, expertise as the basis of collegiality, trust in reason (traditionally substantiated in the form of scientific method), and local values unique to individual departments (Walvoord et al. …

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