Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Understanding the Perceptions of Arabic and Chinese Teachers toward Transitioning into U.S. Schools

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Understanding the Perceptions of Arabic and Chinese Teachers toward Transitioning into U.S. Schools

Article excerpt

Abstract: Arabic and Chinese are 2 of 13 languages designated as "critical" by the U.S. Department of State. There is an urgent need to expand the teaching force in these languages. Understanding how best to prepare critical language teachers from abroad is imperative. This study examined the perceptions of 16 pre- and in-service teachers (6 Arabic and 10 Chinese) who attended four interactive professional development workshops and a weeklong online learning community that focused on learner-centered approaches to language teaching as highly effective tools for teaching "critical" languages. Results indicated that teachers clearly acknowledged and were aware of the differences between their own schooling and how they were expected to teach in the United States.

Key words: Arabic, Chinese, critical need languages, cross-cultural differences, learner-centered instruction, teacher education, teacher beliefs

Introduction

The U.S. federal government has recognized the need to build the nation's language capacity in languages that have been deemed critical to our economic growth (Committee for Economic Development, 2006) and national security (U.S. Department of Education, 2008). In the post-September 11th era, many languages that educators previously referred to as the less commonly taught languages (LCTLs) are now referred to as critical need languages (CNLs). CNLs include Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Russian, and the families of Indic, Persian, and Turkic languages (U.S. Department of Education, 2008). In an effort for the United States to keep pace in a rapidly changing global society and produce highly proficient speakers of CNLs, language educators must focus on developing new programs at all levels while increasing enrollments in existing programs and making appropriate teacher training availableFto both native and nonnative speakers. The problem of teacher shortage, particularly with the rapid growth of Arabic and Chinese programs, has been so severe that many school district representatives are traveling to China and to various Arabic-speaking countries to recruit teachers.

The demand for "highly qualified" teachers continues to play a vital role in the design of No Child Left Behind and poses new challenges in the search for highly qualified CNL teachers who can provide standards-based instruction. Arabic and Chinese lag behind the commonly taught languages, such as French and Spanish, in both teacher preparation and standardsbased curriculum/materials development (U.S. Department of Education, 2008). One obvious obstacle when addressing the paucity of licensed Arabic and Chinese educators lies in teacher preparation. In the United States, the vast majority of would-be Arabic and Chinese teachers are native speakers who were formally educated outside North America. They are faced with the daunting realization that teaching in U.S. schools is tremendously different from their own schooling experiences. There are numerous mitigating factors: working with culturally, linguistically, and cognitively diverse learners; classroom management and discipline; planning for today's standards- based classroom; learner-centered instruction and assessment; bridging oral and written discourse; and the teacher's role and position in the school community and beyond. Therefore, it is necessary to provide access to appropriate training and professional development that will help these teachers acclimate to the culture of U.S. schools, including Western pedagogical methods and approaches that place the learner at the center of instruction (Asia Society, 2005, 2010; Ging, 1994; McGinnis, 1994; Schrier, 1994) and will enable them to be successful in U.S. classrooms.

The present study examined the perceptions of 16 Arabic and Chinese teachers (6 Arabic and 10 Chinese) who were actively engaged in four professional development workshops and a weeklong online learning community that focused on learner- centered approaches to language teaching. …

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