Oregon’s Need for Teachers of English Language Learners

What’s being done about it?

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According to a 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Education, Oregon is in dire need of teachers with the capabilities to teach multilingual students.

We spoke with Dr. Tonda Liggett, associate professor and ESOL program coordinator in the Department of Education at Marylhurst University, to learn the reasons behind the ELL teacher shortage and what’s being done to address it.

Are you seeing an increased demand for English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teachers in Oregon? Why?

Tonda Liggett: Yes, we are personally witnessing a greater need for teachers who can work with students who are nonnative English speakers. School administrators are very specific about the growing need for bilingual teachers and teachers with ESOL endorsements.

The demographics within our schools are changing. Oregon is seeing an increasingly diverse student body. In the near future, all teachers will have some English language learners (ELLs) in their classrooms, and they’ll need to be prepared. Oregon’s teachers need these skills to ensure all our young people are literate and prepared to contribute to society.

What are colleges and universities doing in teacher education programs to prepare Oregon’s teachers?

TL: All Oregon universities with teaching programs offer ESOL endorsements. At Marylhurst, we weave in half of the ESOL endorsement courses into the M.A. in Teaching (M.A.T.) program, so that our graduates will be better prepared to teach multilingual and multicultural students. We also offer a stand-alone ESOL endorsement for current teachers to enhance their skills in this area.

In our ESOL endorsement program, we focus on culturally responsive practice tied to current research in language, culture, assessment and immigration. We also focus on teacher identity and self-awareness, so that teachers learn how to create and develop learning environments that support and provide greater access for ELLs and bilingual students to participate in the classroom/school community. We see parents and care-givers as key components to student success, so we incorporate language and literacy strategies that foster positive relationships with these community members.

There are immediate and long-term benefits for the teachers, too. Both preservice and inservice teachers in an ESOL endorsement program have the opportunity to become part of a broader professional community and to develop their skills as teacher leaders. In the teaching profession, salary steps are often based on educational levels and years of experience, so there are potential financial incentives as well.

So, what should teachers look for when comparing ESOL endorsement programs?

TL: One key aspect of an ESOL endorsement program is its commitment to social justice and the ways that the courses weave these values into curriculum design, teaching practice, and work with local school districts. In addition, teachers, or teachers in training, should look for a program that challenges them to make multilayered connections between their own personal experiences, their cultural group orientations, and the broader national and international context wherein they work and live. Such examinations enable and foster more accurate understandings of multilingual students and their families, so that teachers can keep their instruction engaging.

Action research is a key component, too, with coursework based on research that has action-oriented outcomes; research that can be immediately applied in the classroom. When possible, inservice teachers have the opportunity to complete practicum requirements within their own classrooms.

Of course, it’s important when comparing programs to choose one they’re able to see through to completion. So finding a location close to home or work, with the option to attend part-time, at a time of day convenient for them – all of those are important considerations.

Dr. Tonda Liggett’s research focuses on the intersections of English language education and critical multicultural education. Within this nexus, she examines issues of race, culture, and language in relation to teacher identity and teaching. She has been researching and traveling to Southeast Asia to better understand the role of globalization on language learning and cultural context. She recently returned from Chiang Mai, Thailand on a Fulbright Scholarship where she was able to teach and research at Chiang Mai Rajabhat University.

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