Language, Schooling, and the Preparation of Teachers for Linguistic Diversity

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In classrooms across the United States, students like Elena, a 10-year-old whose family recently moved to North Carolina from Mexico, spend hours hearing language that is meaningless to them. Elena enjoyed going to school in Mexico and often did well in her classes, but now she sits at the back of the classroom and rarely interacts with anyone, including the teacher. While she tries her best to concentrate on the flow of speech around her to decipher some of what is being said, she is constantly fearful that the teacher might call on her, or another student might ask her a question she can’t understand. She often wishes she were invisible so she could avoid looking stupid. Two other students in her class explain some things to her in Spanish, but she usually finds their explanations confusing. Elena, like many students not yet proficient enough to learn academic content in a mainstream class conducted in English, often feels anxious, frustrated, and embarrassed. As much as she tries to pay attention in class, she simply cannot understand enough of what is said to stay engaged. Elena’s teacher-like many others with English language learners in their classes-is also anxious and frustrated about how to teach Elena. She has developed considerable knowledge and skills through her teacher preparation program and her teaching experience, but she has had little opportunity to build her understanding and instructional repertoire for educating English language learners (ELLs). She has talked to the ESL teacher a few times, but since he is in the school only a few hours, three days a week, he has not been very helpful. The teacher recognizes she is ignoring Elena at times, but she is not sure how to meaningfully engage her in learning. It has been clear for some time that classroom teachers who are not specialists in the education of ELLs1 should be prepared to teach them. The demographic trends have been evident for decades (see Valdés & Castellón, this volume), and a number of educational scholars and policy-makers have argued over the years for the necessity of preparing classroom teachers to educate ELLs (e.g., AACTE, 2002; Abramson, Pritchard, & García, 1993; Brisk, 2008; Penfield, 1987; Rhine, 1995; Villegas & Lucas, 2002; Zeichner, 2005). Yet there is still little guidance and no generally accepted approach for preparing teachers to teach students who speak languages other than English at home (Lucas & Grinberg, 2008; Zeichner, 2005). Only three of the 50 states (Arizona, Florida, and New York) require all teachers to have some preparation for working with ELLs. Without such policies in the other 47 states, there is “no uniformity” in the approach taken to ensure that teachers are prepared to teach ELLs, and efforts to do so are “at best spotty” (Education Week, 2009, p. 28). This piecemeal approach to preparing teachers to teach ELLs is unacceptable given the increasing likelihood that all teachers in the U.S.-not just those on the coasts and in the Southwest-will have ELLs in their classes (see Frey, 2001; Regional Educational Laboratory-Appalachia, 2008). In this chapter, I begin to lay a foundation for a more thoughtful, coherent approach to such preparation-a foundation that is reinforced and extended by the other chapters in the book. I examine the central role of language in school to show why all teachers need special preparation for teaching ELLs. I then discuss three fundamental elements of such preparation-curriculum content, program design, and program coherence.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTeacher Preparation for Linguistically Diverse Classrooms
Subtitle of host publicationA Resource for Teacher Educators
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781136911408
ISBN (Print)9780415997911
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2010


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