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The Invisible Burden Some Bilingual Teachers Face

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Finding bilingual educators has been a long-standing problem for school districts across the country. Now, a study out of Georgia State University explores why finding those teachers may be only half the problem.

The "invisible work" of translating and creating curriculum materials in languages other than English that falls on the shoulders of dual-language bilingual educators "too often goes unrecognized and is never remunerated." That responsibility could lead to teachers leaving the profession, concludes Cathy Amanti, a clinical assistant professor at Georgia State.

Using data from six interviews, the study reveals that most school administrators aren't even aware of the extra work. This "linguistic labor," as Amanti calls it, is work that many dual-language teachers must take on because of the scarcity of quality learning materials for English-language learners and students enrolled in dual-language programs—which are surging in popularity around the country.

The bilingual teacher shortage is an emerging issue nationwide, federal data indicate: 31 states and the District of Columbia have a shortage of teachers who work in bilingual, dual-language immersion, and English-as-a-second-language classrooms, federal data indicate.

For the study, Amanti interviewed six teachers in elementary school dual-language programs (four are Spanish-English programs and two are French-English programs). All the participating teachers had some curricular materials provided by their school or district in the language they teach, but the quality and amount varied by subject, school, and district.

Amanti, who cautioned against making widespread generalizations based on her work, thinks more extensive research is needed to explore whether educators working in these positions are leaving their jobs because of the lack of recognition and compensation for the extra work they incur.

In Amanti's study, two of the six teachers left their jobs at the end of the school year in which her study took place—one transferred to a school without a dual-language bilingual education program and the other left teaching altogether. Amanti reported that the teachers left various reasons, some of which are tied to the additional work involved and resources required for the job.

"It is unlikely that any [dual-language bilingual education] teacher is provided with all the instructional materials and resources they need," Amanti writes in the study. "But it is more likely that [dual-language bilingual educators] have less ready-made curriculum materials available to them than their counterparts who teach in English. This is an extra burden that directly impacts the working conditions."

Amanti, who has experience as a bilingual educator and currently teaches English-as-second-language and dual-language bilingual education courses at Georgia State, said teacher colleges should consider requiring more students to study curriculum development in languages other than English since they inherit the responsibility when they take new jobs.

"I see a lot of value in teachers creating their own materials because they are in the best position to know their students in the communities that they come from," Amanti said in an interview with Education Week. "I would love to see coursework in teacher-preparation programs that specifically focuses on creating curriculum materials, particularly culturally relevant curriculum materials that respond to local histories, local knowledge."

Related Reading

Bilingual Teachers Are in Short Supply. How Can Schools Cultivate Their Own?

Quality Learning Materials Are Scarce for English-Learners

Bilingual School Staff Who Want to Teach Face Bureaucratic, Financial Barriers

Photo Credit: Amaya Rodriguez-Lema, of Bilbao, Spain, conducts a reading lesson with 2nd grade students at William Lipscomb Elementary School in Dallas. Rodriguez-Lema is one 150 teachers from Spain currently working in the district.

--Brandon Thibodeaux for Education Week
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