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What Kind of Training Makes Sense for Teachers of ELLs?


Most teachers in Indiana assigned to teach English as a second language don't hold a certification in the subject, according to an article published in the Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne, Ind.

Under new guidelines in 2006, Indiana requires teachers who teach English as a second language to students in middle or high school to hold a certification in the subject. Elementary school teachers who teach ESL, however, aren't required to have training to work with English-language learners. And many teachers assigned to teach ESL who were hired before 2006 don't have a certification in the subject. The Nov. 23 article discusses how some teachers believe that experience is more important than certification and others believe that all teachers of ESL should be certified in that subject.

The article doesn't raise the issue of whether mainstream teachers who work with ELLs should have had special training to work with them, such as is required in Arizona, California, and Florida. A number of school districts have chosen to require training for all teachers in strategies to work with ELLs, even if their state education officials and legislators haven't recognized a need for it.


With all of the cries for highly qualified teachers in America, one would think that English learners should be taught English by a teacher who is qualified to teach the subject. Too many administrators assign EL students to English teachers, forgetting that teaching English to native English speakers is much different than teaching non-native English speakers. Imagine going to Germany and taking a class on the German language that is designed for native German speakers. Good luck! This is what we are doing to our English learners when we put them in an English class designed for native English speakers.

This is a very bad situation throughout the country. There needs to be a demand for states to require certification in Teaching English to Speaker of Other Languages or TESOL. There is no excuse not to. Experience does count after one gets training to teach the subject. Many who claim their experience trumps any certification probably don't know what they are unaware of. It seems that every untrained TESOL teacher thinks teaching grammar is the way to go and has little to no access to research and knowledge of language acquisition. I can almost guarantee that Indiana set up their certification requirements based on whether TESOL teachers needed to know linguistics or English grammar to teach those middle and high school students. Elementary students wouldn't "need to be infused with grammar" so what was the point of having certification? It's a deadly stereotype that promotes deadly classrooms. In adult teaching, even in NY, the only thing required for ESOL teachers is ANY teacher certification. The directors often like English teachers because they think it is the same. Most training for English teachers is in history of literature, literature, composition and grammar. They don't even receive training in teaching students how to read. Some English teachers in the middle school I teach in recoil when I say I'm teaching some kids to read Arnold Loebel books, use picture books and we grow from there. They often can't comprehend why advanced ESOL students can't comprehend Anna Quindlen short stories or what hyperbole is. The students are still developing reading skills in English and can't concentrate on some more abstract learning that native speakers wait years before they have to learn.
Training, by which I mean true certification in TESOL, is essential. Experience, prior knowledge and continuing training and development are also essential bits, but can't supplant the certification. We don't argue this for other certifications and I'm shocked educators still argue about this with this profession.

There will always be exceptional individuals who can do things very well without the training others may need. When some of us are confronted with a need for knowledge in an area we are deeply committed to serve, we seek it with a fervor that exceeds the minimum required in any planned preparation program.

Nevertheless, teaching does not rest only on the shoulders of self-starting, self-sustaining, lifelong learners. Teaching requires a very large cohort of individuals, some of whom are ignorant (but not necessarily unsympathetic) with regard to the needs of second language learners (or math learners, or computer technology learners), but may benefit from input from those who have knowledge and experience that is relevant.

Regrettably, some teachers will accept any position to remain employed, with little or no consideration for the needs of those they teach to have sympathetic, supportive, knowledgeable guides to support their academic, social and personal success in schools.

Appropriate training should be required, but there should be some alternatives for those who have achieved much of the knowledge imparted through the training in other places and at other times.

Meeting the needs of those exceptional individuals who have sought the knowledge they needed in alternative ways should not remove all requirements from those who would not go to those lengths to ensure their professional competence by becoming qualified for the jobs they seek or hope to retain as our national demographic changes.

Would we appoint any teacher with a certificate in something to teach computer applications, if that person had given no indication of having any interest in or aptitude for computer use?

Teaching second language learners successfully, appropriately and sensitively requires considerably more than the "rocket science" required to teach literacy to native speakers of a language, surrounded by a culture and social environment they understand and feel accepts them fully as welcome participants.

I wish I could point to the beginning of the erosion of the TESOL profession. In Florida, over the last three years, I have sadly watched its professionals marginalized and expert input ignored. Experience matters, but fundamental understand of the submect matter is the foundation. I have witnessed experienced teachers recommend ELLs to Ex Ed programs because they believed not speaking English quickly was a neurological issue. I recall an elementary school principal who accepted 14 year olds because that was where she thought the best placement for them was versus the middle school where they belonged. And then, I recall the high school refused to enroll a 15 year old Haitian and sent him to the adult school denying him access rather than providing him an education. Each of these events were done by experienced people who had no training. The last two examples were remedied by higher levels of authority.

I was looking for some information regarding the kind of training that is best suited for NNESTs teaching English to non natives when I chanced upon this writeup & subsequent coments. Very Interesting.
Here I am wondering why most of the English teachers in my country, despite being English majors & in the job for quite some time, are still not fluent & accurate.
What I fail to understand is that why aren't NNESTs (esp in govt. schools) not quite succeding in teaching YL Eng, after all they have gone through it all themselves (probably learnt the language more while teaching rather than while learning) and know where the pitfalls are.
I feel the problem lies in the fact that while employing Lang. Teachers a degree in the language & teaching (We call it B.A Bachelor of Arts & Bachelor of Education) is considered enough. In my opinion most non-native speakers (not students of elite colleges)do not quite get the hang of the langugae as learners , it is only when as teachers they are expected to demonstrate their prowess that they are compelled to acquire or fall back upon whatever they have picked up in school/college.
But the bottomline is whether native or non-native, a language teacher must be trained to teach speakers of other languages. Maybe it could be part of the degree itself or an additional compulsory diploma, whatever it should not be beyond reach for the not so well off.

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