Opening Up to the Issues: Preparing Preservice Teachers to Work Effectively with English Language Learners

By Giambo, Debra; Szecsi, Tunde | Childhood Education, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Opening Up to the Issues: Preparing Preservice Teachers to Work Effectively with English Language Learners


Giambo, Debra, Szecsi, Tunde, Childhood Education


A variety of trends in second language teaching have left many English Language Learners (ELLs) in the United States with well-intentioned teachers who, unfortunately, have limited understanding of the second language acquisition or cultural diversity issues that affect the ELLs in their classrooms. In this article, we present the current situation, offer recommendations made by researchers and professional organizations, and share teaching strategies from a college classroom.

The number of ELLs has increased dramatically in the United States. Over 5 million ELLs, approximately 10 percent of the total school population, were enrolled in public schools in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 in 2003-04. This figure represents nearly a 44 percent increase from a decade earlier (National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition [NCELA], 2005). The number of ELLs has been increasing in states with historically limited ELL enrollment (e.g., Idaho, Nebraska, Alabama, and Georgia) (Ragan, 2003), as it already has in states with a traditionally high percentage of ELLs (i.e., Texas, New York, California, and Arizona).

Frequently, the home language and culture of ELLs are not reflected in the background of their teachers, among whom the demographic change has not kept pace. In Texas, approximately 50 percent of students are minorities, compared with 23 percent of teachers (Reyna, 1993). Also, the number of bilingual teachers in California remains far below that of ELLs (California Department of Education, 1995).

General education teachers, especially those in states with recent increases in ELLs, are often under-prepared to educate ELLs without additional support or professional development (Zhao, 2002). As of July 2004, 42 states and Washington, D.C., provide teacher certification or endorsement in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), and 27 states and D.C. provide certification or endorsement in bilingual education. Remarkably, however, even in states with available certification or endorsement, only 22 states require ESOL teachers to be ESOL-certified, and only 17 states have the equivalent requirement for bilingual teachers (NCELA, 2004).

Among the states with the highest enrollment of ELLs, only Florida requires general education or content area teachers to have an endorsement to the basic teaching certificate indicating preparation in working with ELLs or to complete it in a specified time frame. Additionally, school personnel working with ELLs have a time allotment for training in related issues.

Heralding the need for change, accreditation and professional organizations continue to call for teacher preparation that includes adequate attention to ELL needs. In fact, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) Standards include the requirement that "the unit (i.e., the college) designs, implements, and evaluates curriculum and experiences for candidates to acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to help all students learn. These experiences include working with diverse ... students in P-12 schools" (NCATE, 2002). Professional organizations, such as the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI), the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the International Reading Association (IRA), and Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), also firmly advocate for improving the education of culturally and linguistically diverse children. For example, TESOL advocates that teacher preparation should include coursework on meeting English language language learners' academic needs (TESOL, October 2003), and Sunshine State TESOL recommends that school districts incorporate bilingual programs whenever feasible and desirable within the community (Sunshine State TESOL, 2005).

Theoretical Framework for Teacher Preparation Courses

The research literature, related theories, and professional organizations recommend that linguistics, theories of second language acquisition, and elements of cross-cultural studies be incorporated in teacher preparation programs (TESOL, June 2003). …

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