For more than a decade, the student population has grown more diverse, and the increase in diversity shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the Pew Research Center reports that white students no longer make up the majority of the student population in U.S. schools as of 2014.
English language learners (ELLs) are the fastest-growing group in American public schools, according to Grantmakers for Education’s “Educating English Language Learners.” By 2020, it is likely that half of all students in American public schools will not have English-speaking backgrounds. This translates to an growing demand for teachers of English as a second language (ESL).
The Important Role of ESL-Trained Teachers
This dramatic growth in the number of English language learners leads to the need for more ESL-trained teachers in the community. Grantmakers for Education explains that ELLs need qualified teachers who care. Here are the four things ELLs need to be successful in school:
- Learn enough English to participate in classes taught in English.
- Get support to access the same curriculum as their English-speaking peers.
- Gain support outside of school, such as summer programs and extended-day programs.
- Receive help to bridge their own culture and language with their new culture.
Teaching ELLs involves more than helping them navigate between their native language and English. Providing them with the assistance they need to access the curriculum requires teachers to use strategies that aid students in comprehending the curriculum. They can achieve this through the use of visuals, modified materials and scaffolding to close the learning gaps.
When educators interact with ELL communities to bridge culture and language gaps, students can benefit. Teachers of ELLs can guide students as they adapt to their new communities and become more involved in the world around them. When students feel included, their success rate improves.
The Need for Diversity Capital in Teachers
Sherick Hughes, assistant professor in the College of Education at the University of Toledo, recommends diversity capital teaching skills, which are different from, but build upon, teacher capital. In the Harvard Family Research Project, he explains that teacher capital is a teacher’s knowledge, skills and disposition.
“Teacher diversity capital is intended to name the type of teaching enhancement that embraces emotion and drives teachers to seek new opportunities and ideas for building positive relationships with students and families from culturally diverse backgrounds,” Hughes writes. “Diversity capital can in turn afford teachers the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed for a sustainable commitment to, validation of, and exchange with culturally diverse students and families.”
ELL students and students from underserved communities need teachers with diversity capital teaching skills to bridge school and the home. Teacher capital comes from education and experience.
How Teachers Can Develop Diversity Capital
Educators who want to work with ELLs can gain needed ESL teacher capital with an ESL-focused Master of Education degree. Such a program gives them the knowledge and hands-on field experience to develop their skills to help ELLs connect with their communities and become involved in the world they live in.
An online M.Ed. program in Curriculum and Instruction: English as a Second Language, like that offered by LSU Shreveport, contains coursework to prepare teachers for teaching in a multicultural classroom. Student success depends on teachers helping ELLs feel more at home and involved both in school and outside of it.
A course like Introduction to Learning and Culture looks at interactions of language, attitudes toward languages and social aspects of language. Another course, Curriculum and the Multicultural Classroom, shows teachers how to adapt curricula for multicultural classrooms and discover ESL materials.
How ESL Teachers Can Make a Difference to ELL Families and Communities
Teachers who develop skills to adjust curriculum for a multicultural classroom will help not only ELLs but also the general student population. More parents want to enroll their children in schools with a diverse population. Moreover, major employers value employees who have had immersion into a diverse environment as explained in “How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms Can Benefit All Students.”
ESL teachers can integrate ELL students into the school and the ELL communities in the following ways:
- Reach out to parents of ELL students by using their preferred language or a bilingual interpreter.
- Translate communications sent home to parents.
- Explain how the school system works.
- Provide information about the student’s school hours, rules, holidays and administration.
- Describe the curriculum, materials, benchmarks and standards.
- Identify expectations for students and parents.
- Outline the parents’ rights for access to available translated materials, free lunch programs, supplementary services and ELL curriculum.
- Set up home and community visits.
- Invite parents to school for a tour and introductory program in their native language.
- Inform them of any community learning programs for adults such as free English classes.
General education teachers may not have been exposed to education or training to work with ESL or multicultural students. ESL teachers can share their knowledge and diversity capital. Together, both general education and ESL teachers can find creative ways to help all students succeed.
Learn more about LSUS online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction: ESL.
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