Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Beyond the Classroom: Maintaining and Improving Teachers' Language Proficiency

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Beyond the Classroom: Maintaining and Improving Teachers' Language Proficiency

Article excerpt

Abstract: The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the ACTFL suggest that a high proficiency in the Spanish language is essential for all Spanish teachers. With the growth of the Spanish-speaking population in the United States and the diversity of Hispanic culture, teacher education programs need to ensure that teacher candidates are better equipped to face the increased demands of language proficiency. This study investigated both native and nonnative high school Spanish teachers' language practices outside and inside the school setting such as their level of involvement in target language activities. Results from a survey (106 completed questionnaires, 60% return rate) reveal several important implications for teacher educators and Spanish teachers as well as recommendations for future research.

Key words: Spanish, high school Spanish teachers, language proficiency, native and nonnative language teachers, professional development, teacher education

Introduction

The question ''What makes a good language teacher?'' has been at the core of numerous articles written in both the foreign and second language education fields and in the field of teacher education at large. One of the most-often-cited components, near-native or native-like language proficiency, perhaps unintentionally privileges native speakers (NS) as better language teachers and has often been referred to in the literature as the ''Native Speaker Model '' (Braine, 1999; Llurda, 2005; Medgyes, 1994, 1999, 2001). Banno (2003) cited several studies identifying sufficient proficiency, standard accent, and clear pronunciation as the essential characteristics of a ''good language teacher.'' The ACTFL places a strong emphasis on language proficiency. For example, no matter what level of Spanish an individual teaches, the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines declare that the minimum level of proficiency should be advanced low, which sets the standards high. In fact, the current emphasis on exclusive use of the target language in the classroom requires that foreign language teachers have strong language skills.

Unfortunately, a large number of teacher education programs fail to provide language teachers with adequate support to reach this level of proficiency (Schulz, 2000, 2002). Most teacher preparation programs do not have a system in place to address nonnative language teachers' need to maintain and improve what Shulman deemed ''pedagogical content knowledge,'' that is, the ability to successfully fuse and implement content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge (Cruickshank & Associates, 1996). Peyton (1997) argued, ''Regardless of the skills and knowledge that foreign language teachers posses when they commence teaching, maintenance and improvement must be an ongoing process'' (p. 3). Similarly, Schulz (2002) asserted that ''a major weakness in foreign language education is that numerous foreign language teachers in the schools have neither the communicative competence nor the confidence to use the target language as means of classroom communication'' (p. 291).

Even though the most important national organization for teacher education (the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education [NCATE]) and the most important national organization for foreign language education (ACTFL) emphasize the importance of language proficiency (especially oral proficiency) for all language teachers, the literature in foreign language teacher education (Cooper, 2004; Lafayette, 1993; Schulz, 2000) has suggested that foreign language teacher education programs do not offer many opportunities for language teachers to maintain or improve their language skills. It seems that these programs exclusively provide methods classes designed to target pedagogical knowledge. How can Spanish teacher candidates reach ACTFL advanced low proficiency? What is more, once these pre-service teachers become in-service teachers, one might ask what they do to maintain their proficiency in the language. …

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