Solving the Bilingual Teacher Shortage
Today's post is the practitioner perspective on Monday's post: How a Bilingual Educator Pipeline Gets Built.
Portland Public Schools (PPS), the largest school district in Oregon, has long recognized the critical role dual-language teachers play in increasing equity and opportunities for historically underserved students.
At the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, however, we faced a difficult challenge to our commitment to dual language immersion: We simply didn't have enough bilingual teachers to expand our districtwide language immersion offerings. We thought hard about what we could do to recruit more dual-language educators to continue to serve our increasingly linguistically diverse student body.
We decided to focus on alternative licensure as a strategy to place more bilingual teachers in our classrooms—which led to the formation of the Portland Dual Language Teacher Fellows Program in 2016. By allowing dual language teacher fellows to pursue their degree and licensure while already working as classroom teachers, this approach helps build a solid bilingual teacher pipeline. All program participants are bilingual college graduates from the local community, and many already work in the district as educational assistants. The district provides fellows with various supports as they make their way through the program.
Early on, we realized the need for research support to help us better understand our needs, analyze the program, and incorporate evidence-based practices. We joined a research-practice partnership, the Oregon Bilingual Teacher Pipeline Collaborative, with Portland State University and REL Northwest, which served as an external, independent partner, as a means to build on the collaborative groundwork we had already laid with the university through our Portland Dual Language Teacher Fellows Program.
As one of the first steps, REL Northwest helped us define what we wanted to accomplish and then supported us as we established our preliminary timelines. They served as a neutral third party and offered a fresh perspective on program dynamics for everyone involved.
In addition, REL Northwest conducted a research review on effective practices for recruiting and retaining bilingual teachers. This summary of articles on research-based classroom practices for dual-language programs has been an excellent resource to share with principals and reinforce our work. Importantly, REL Northwest also provided support on developing a participant survey and analyzed data from focus groups with fellows to help us analyze the Dual Language Teacher Fellows Program.
Use Of Research Findings In Practice
This analysis helped us understand what was working well and which areas needed improvement. The focus group data revealed that our two-week dual-language summer institute that focused on classroom management and lesson planning was one of the most effective and practical supports the Fellows program provided throughout the year.
Based on that feedback, we added a third week to the institute, which included a student lab that let participants apply what they were learning in a summer program classroom.
We also learned through the data that the fellows were sometimes overwhelmed with supports. To correct this, we had our new teacher mentors and our teachers on special assignment (who provide leadership in professional development, curriculum, and/or classroom instruction) work together more closely to streamline the support and messages the fellows receive.
In addition, through the data, we learned that the fellows needed more flexibility in terms of attending classes. Since fellows teach at different schools throughout the area, it was sometimes difficult to make it to their classes on time while fulfilling their obligations at school. Thus, we added another partner, Oregon State University, which offers an online program for teacher certification—but brings students together on weekends to maintain an in-person cohort.
The Portland Dual Language Teacher Fellows Program has had an overwhelmingly positive impact across PPS. For example, parents who speak the partner language and whose English might be limited are now able to communicate with their child's teacher and become more engaged.
The program is also helping PPS diversify our workforce—currently, more than 80 percent of the fellows are teachers of color, and 100 percent are highly bilingual.
As we look ahead, we will continue to evaluate participant feedback as a way to provide adequate supports to our fellows. We would also like to use participant feedback and work with REL Northwest to identify ways that we can improve as a program in developing bilingual teachers. Eventually, we would also like to be able to measure the effect of the program on students through data collection.
Our experience shows that by partnering with external researchers, PPS can make continuous improvements that strengthen our program and move us closer to creating a strong, stable, and lasting dual-language teacher workforce.