Preparing Classroom Teachers for English Language Learners: The Policy Context

Ana María Villegas, Tamara Lucas

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The rapidly growing number of students in U.S. schools who speak languages other than English at home and their increasing inclusion in mainstream classrooms is raising urgent questions, not only about the type of schooling provided to them, but also about how mainstream classroom teachers are and should be prepared to educate them. Normative questions such as the latter are of special interest to policy-makers responsible for establishing guidelines and requirements for the preparation of teachers in U.S. schools. While the relationship between policy and practice is always indirect, policies do have major-if sometimes unanticipated-consequences. For that reason, an examination of the policy context is an essential part of the foundation for understanding the preparation of teachers for teaching English language learners (ELLs). Consistent with the notion that dimensions of policy are like layers of an onion to be peeled away (Ricento & Hornberger, 1996), we view policymaking as a complex phenomenon with inter-related levels influencing each other in often unanticipated ways. Local implementation rarely mirrors the vision of those who conceive policy at national or state levels; policies inevitably evolve as they are interpreted and implemented both across bureaucratic boundaries and over time. When they conflict with the values and beliefs of those charged with implementing them, policies may not be implemented at all. The application of language-related policies is especially likely to be shaped by school-based educators, given the deeply entrenched attitudes toward languages other than English within local communities in the United States (Varghese & Stritikus, 2005). The conception, design, and implementation of policies related to the preparation of classroom teachers for teaching ELLs are greatly influenced by the prevailing demographic and political contexts, as well as by other policies and practices related to teacher certification and to the K-12 education of language minority students. Even when policies are in place, teacher educators may not have the knowledge of ELL education needed to implement them effectively. The task of understanding this multifaceted policy domain is made even more complex by the fact that, “because human society is constituted of, by, and through language, all acts and actions mediated by language are opportunities for the implicit (or explicit) expression of language policies” (Ricento & Horngerber, 1996, p. 420). Further complicating an analysis of teacher education policy is the variability in the nature and quality of teacher education programs and the typical lack of coherence across such programs (Darling-Hammond, Pacheco, Michelli, LePage, & Hammerness, 2005). We cannot hope to fully explore the multitude of dimensions or influences on policy here. Our approach in this chapter is to examine the role played by the policy context in intensifying the need to prepare teachers to teach ELLs and the influence of existing policies on the nature and extent of that preparation. We briefly discuss relevant aspects of the demographic landscape, the political climate, and the national policy context that constitute the larger environment within which teacher education policies are situated. We then examine particular national and state policies that directly and indirectly influence the preparation of mainstream teachers for teaching ELLs. We conclude with recommendations for policy and research based on our analysis of the realities of the policy context and of teacher education.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTeacher Preparation for Linguistically Diverse Classrooms
Subtitle of host publicationA Resource for Teacher Educators
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781136911408
ISBN (Print)9780415997911
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2010


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