The Importance of Preparing Teachers to Educate Vulnerable Populations


Preparing Teachers to educate English Language Learners
Although teacher requirements and preparation vary across the nation, most states fail to adequately prepare teachers to educate Americans, in particular vulnerable populations like English Language Learners (ELLs). Current demographic shifts in the U.S. show that it is likely that all teachers, at some point in their careers, will encounter a student who is not fully proficient in English. Many teachers do not have the adequate preparation to provide highly effective instruction to this population of students (Ballantyne et al. 2008).
Rosalinda B. Barrera, former assistant deputy secretary and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the Department of Education, has emphasized the fact that there is a shortage of prepared teachers who can effectively address the needs of ELL students in the classroom (Barrera 2011). Moreover, the data presented in Appendix A shows many states are not focused on teachers of ELLs or their participation in professional development. The chart at Appendix A also supports Ms. Barrera’s statement presenting that only thirty-three states have English language standards and out of these states only three (Arizona, Florida, and New York) require all teachers to show competence in English Language instruction (NCES 2009). Failing to meet the most efficient requirements within standards, will not only affect individual students, but also the competency of our country.

ELLs constitute a significant portion of the school-age population and encounter additional educational challenges from their counterparts. For example, controlling for other factors, these students’ academic performance is far below that of their peers reflecting extremely high dropout rates. Looking at the academic career of this population, teachers prove to be an important factor in improving their academic performance. An increasingly large body of research has established the importance of professional development for student learning as it allows teachers to share their concerns and support one another in finding ways to work effectively with ELL students (Roekel 2010).

Teachers of ELLs are in need of practical, research-based information, teaching strategies and development to evaluate and educate ELLs. In 2005, a survey of California teachers showed teachers’ frustration with the absence or minimal professional development or in-service workshops regarding ELL students (Gándara et al. 2005).

English Language Learners require teachers that are skilled in a variety of instructional, pedagogical and cultural strategies. Recent research on teacher preparation suggest that general education teachers who do not hold a license or certification for bilingual education or English as a Second Language (ESL), are not prepared to meet the needs of these students. This is a challenge, which must be overcome, given that most general education teachers have at least one ELL student in their classroom, but only 29.5 percent of those teachers have been exposed to any kind of training in the field. In addition, as the ELL student population continues to increase across the nation, only twenty states require incoming teachers to receive training for working with ELLs (Ballantyne et al. 2008). It is vital to address the need of professional development for ELLs, as many more educators will encounter the challenge of providing effective second language instruction in their classroom.

According to OELA, teachers and principals are not being trained, and more teachers without an ESL background are now responsible for teaching ELLs. In addition, only one out of five professional development programs offer a full course on English Language Learners and 30 percent or less of all teachers have had any relevant training pertaining to the education of ELLs (Barrera 2011). Clearly, there is a great urgency for development programs.

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