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Teacher Interns and English-Language Learners

Common sense is evidently in short supply in deciding who is allowed to teach in California. Prior to a recent decision by the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, college graduates with a degree in any subject and with minimal training were permitted to teach limited English-speaking students ("Stricter state controls placed on teaching interns," Los Angeles Times, Mar. 8).

School districts maintained that they needed this flexibility in order to meet the needs of the growing number of English language learners. But I fail to see how a college graduate with a degree in, say, art is competent to teach science. I'm talking now about classes composed of both native English speakers and beginning English speakers. Yet that was happening. What finally brought the issue into the limelight, however, was that California's 4,400 interns were disproportionately assigned to students with insufficient English and learning disabilities.

To be effective, teachers need to know subject matter and pedagogy. I don't think anyone can say with authority what exact percentage should be assigned to each, but I believe it is a travesty to allow teachers who are deficient in either area into the classroom. That goes for all students. I don't dismiss the idealism of new college graduates. I'm sure their desire to "make a difference" is sincere, but it is not enough. Reality has a way of intruding.

That's why I've been skeptical about Teach for America. Its intent is laudable, but I doubt that five weeks of training can prepare most of its candidates for the rigors of the classroom. Of course, there will always be exceptions. I've written before about those I call "naturals." But they are outliers. Perhaps in recognition of this view, California's Commission on Teacher Credentialing unanimously decided to place stricter state controls on interns. It's too bad it took so long for such changes to be implemented.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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