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ESOL Training for Today’s Educator: It's Practically Another Degree

Teacher engages studentby Jacquie McGregor

Over the next 40 years, the Pew Research Center projects that more than 80 percent of the population growth in the United States will be due to an increase in immigration. By 2050, nearly one in five Americans will be foreign-born.

For today’s classroom teacher, this data confirms the new paradigm that has been shifting into play in schools across the country. Gone are the days when a teacher could assume he or she would be teaching students whose parents spoke, wrote and reinforced English at home. Teachers must assume that, in every class they teach, there will be students struggling to learn how to speak, read and write the English language.

More Training is Required 

In order to help teachers adapt and to ensure that all students are receiving the best quality education, many states have implemented certification requirements pertaining to TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) education.

In Arizona, for instance, all teachers are required to hold 45 seat hours of training in Structured English Immersion in order to hold a full Arizona teaching certificate. This includes teachers of non-core subjects as well as counselors and administrators.

In other states — Florida, for example — the certification requirements are slightly different. Rather than requiring all teachers to hold English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) endorsements, some states only require teachers with non-English speakers in their classrooms to get additional training.  Of course, when looking at the population projection, there is good possibility that every teacher will have English learners in the classroom.

A Tiered Approach to ESOL Professional Development

In addition to certification requirements for all teachers, many school districts and state boards of education require ongoing ESOL coursework for teachers whose subject content relies heavily on language integration. These districts have a tiered approach to professional development.

  • Category one: content areas that require the most ESOL training. Typically, elementary general classroom teachers and secondary English language arts and reading teachers fit into this category.
  • Category two: courses that are language based, but not language dominant. Math, science, social studies and computer skills teachers fall into this category. These teachers still have to meet rigorous requirements for training, but have the option to take fewer courses than category one teachers.
  • Category three: requirements involve basic coursework and professional development modules in ESOL instruction. Non-core subject area teachers — music, art, PE — along with administrators and counselors usually fall into category three.

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Who Should pay for ESOL Teacher Training?

As state and local governing boards place greater emphasis on English language learners in the classroom, it is logical that the educational requirements for teachers will continue to increase. If this is the case, teachers may be looking at ESOL certification and/or endorsement as a second degree in education. The average master’s degree requires from 30-45 credit hours; the average ESOL endorsement requires anywhere from 45-300 seat hours of training.

Consequently, the question of fiscal responsibility comes to the forefront. If teachers need further training in order to continue their state- or district-level employment, should the individual, the district or the state bear the cost of that training? Currently, many school districts offer professional development coursework in ESOL. However, this approach can become cost-prohibitive for school districts facing budget cuts. Some states also offer the training, but these programs typically require the individual teacher to pay the cost.

Options for ESOL and Teacher Education

One option for ESOL teacher training would begin at the teacher education level. If, as the projected numbers indicate, we will be seeing greater numbers of ESOL students in the classroom, shouldn’t our future teachers be front-loaded with the necessary skills? In fact, university education programs across the country are moving to just this model. Some include the courses as part of the basic teacher education degree. Others offer ESOL certification as an optional addition to the undergraduate degree.

Two new program ideas are now available that may help rectify this situation.  One way to decrease the cost of these training programs is to offer them as online courses, rather than as in-person programs. This way, districts can pay for the course license, and teachers can take the courses, as they are available. This eliminates both the physical costs, as well as any out-of-class time that may occur when teachers attend training during the school week.  There are for-profit companies offering this option to districts, and the response has been positive from those involved.

Educators aim to create an optimal classroom environment that allows students to learn at the highest possible level. Doing so across languages can be difficult. With the right training and support, we can continue to provide individualized education, where necessary, and the most effective learning experiences, whenever possible, for all of our students. 

Jacquie McGregor has taught a wide variety of subjects in 15 years as an educator, including music, art, language arts and life skills. She currently works in online education as a course mentor, teacher and curriculum writer, at both the K-12 and university levels. She is completing her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focusing on arts programming in educational free markets.

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