Friday, May 12, 2017

Oh Where, Oh Where Have the ESL Teachers Gone?

I'm often amazed by articles like this one, which states that there is a shortage of ESL teachers. This is an ongoing issue. I know because when I started as an English teacher it was almost impossible for me to find a position. When I became certified in ESL I got appointed immediately. I would never have moved except for the fact that my boss wanted to force me to teach Spanish or lose my second job.

Now of course it's a good idea to train and hire more ESL teachers. We have a whole lot of students who don't speak English and they need all the support we can give them. I'm proud to play a small part in that by doing my job every day. Alas, the piece does not, as far as I can tell, really think things through. It mentions a teacher with an MA in English who teaches them global history. Hey, I'm all for teaching kids global history. And the article gets one thing exactly right.

Two years ago, state regulations began requiring that students learning English be taught, at least part-time, by someone specially certified.

But it misses a much larger point. The fact is that these students are learning global history at the expense of direct instruction in English. English language learners, or ELLs, have had their direct English instruction cut by a factor of 33-100%. This is because the geniuses in Albany have determined that language instruction is somehow beyond the pale. Why waste time teaching children English when we can just dump them right into global? That way we can give them a state exam, and if it doesn't work out we can just close the school and give it to Eva Moskowitz. It's a WIN-WIN!

I love teaching ESL and I'd recommend it to anyone. But ironically, one of the reasons I'm free to teach it is that I happen to be certified in English. Because of this, I can teach without a co-teacher. It's different for quite a few of my colleagues, who have to sit with beginners just like those described in the article and help the English teacher while they study To Kill a Mockingbird, or Hamlet, or whatever.

This, of course, is because of Part 154, which degrades the teaching of English as a Second Language. New York State feels language teaching is somehow bereft of content. This is a very odd attitude in a country where few people bother to really learn a second language. To take those of us who actually teach it effectively and render us assistant social studies, science or English teachers is to render us second class teachers.

Teaching is pretty tough nowadays, and the odds are stacked against us in many ways. For decades the papers have vilified us pretty much no matter what. We now have a federal government more hostile to public schools and teachers than I've ever seen, and that's saying a lot because Obama was no bargain either.

So while I love what I do, I have to think twice before advising a young person to follow in my footsteps. There are few things more rewarding than watching the rapid progress of newcomers, but everything I know, everything I've experienced, and everything I've read suggests that dumping them in a global history class upon arrival will impede rather than encourage progress in English.

If NY State really wants to help ELLs, they will not only reverse the insane mandates of Part 154, but also expand direct English instruction. If it were up to me, I'd give every newcomer a year of intensive English immersion and save the state-tested academic stuff for the following year. Language acquisition is not about studying global history. It's about affect, it's about feeling. Imagine how you would feel it you went to China and someone handed you a global history book written in Chinese. That's exactly what the kids this article speaks of will have to do.

Language is a fundamental tool. It's not just something you use to pass a state test. Anyone who feels otherwise is uninformed. And frankly, it's a disgrace that people in Albany, people who are charged to help our students, are so uninformed. If I were that uninformed, I'd be incompetent.

I'm just a teacher. I can't find words right now to describe Regents who are that uninformed.
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