Now needed: A 'no teacher left behind' law
Ohanian Comment: On the face of things, it is absolutely equitable to hold bilingual teachers to the same standards as mainstream educators _ appropriate pedagogical training and demonstrated expertise in the subject matter taught, regardless of the language of instruction delivery. The reality of the matter is something else.
By Esther J. Cepeda
The final weeks of March came with the fall of the guillotine on untold numbers of bilingual educators across the country as school districts raced to inform teachers considered not highly qualified that they will not have a job in the fall. Even as the number of students who have limited English skills climbs, the number of teachers who are able to deliver instruction in their native language is plummeting. This native language is overwhelmingly Spanish.
The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act, which took effect in 2003, requires that all teachers of core academic subjects in public elementary and secondary school meet the "highly qualified" requirements by the end of the 2005-2006 school year. To be highly qualified all teachers must hold a standard teaching certificate, and have a bachelor's degree with a major, or equivalent schooling, in the core subject taught.
On the face of things, it is absolutely equitable to hold bilingual teachers to the same standards as mainstream educators _ appropriate pedagogical training and demonstrated expertise in the subject matter taught, regardless of the language of instruction delivery.
In reality, however, most bilingual educators do not go through the traditional channels to become a teacher. They are fluent speakers of Spanish who, after attaining their undergraduate degrees and working in their chosen profession, made the enormously costly decision to leave their jobs to dedicate themselves to teaching students who are overwhelmingly poor, who attend low-performing schools, and who have few or no English language skills.
To do this, these professionals embarked on a seemingly endless journey of attaining an initial bilingual teaching certificate, taking teacher preparation classes, passing state examinations, and spending untold hours of preparation to face the needs of such students. The road is even tougher for those who, for example, attained an undergraduate degree in psychology, but desire to teach math or science. They face the task of being a full-time teacher, a protege to their school's mentor, and a night student, struggling against a ticking clock to finish up classes in the core subject they teach.
Schools are in no different straits _ administrators all over the country are looking everywhere they can for math, science, language, social studies and arts teachers who are fluent in Spanish and have successfully maneuvered through endless red tape to get the appropriate endorsement in bilingual education.
As the NCLB requirements tighten their stranglehold on the U.S. educational system, the race to leave no child behind is leaving behind thousands of Hispanic teachers who have paid a high personal cost to give back to their community.
How many will be able to finish up those last science or math or English courses over the summer so they can be considered "highly qualified" and return to the classroom? How many will miss the cutoff, but somehow persevere and manage to finish the requisite course load in time for the 2007-2008 school year?
The realities of having enough money to subsist and, in many cases, support a family, will find untold numbers of passionate, dedicated Hispanic teachers out on the street, dusting off the resume and preparing to return to the private sector for employment. They are lost to untold generations of students who come to this country hoping for better educational opportunities than the ones they had back home.
These same teachers _ who have poured their savings and effort into becoming dynamic teachers, skilled at delivering culturally and linguistically tailored instruction to their students _ will have to watch as school districts struggle to find elusive bilingual teachers.
During the course of the average school year, most school districts are understaffed. They must resort to long-term substitute teachers to fill bilingual classroom vacancies.
What will happen if late July comes and 50 percent or more of all bilingual teacher vacancies remain open, with no one qualified enough to teach science, math or English to students who know very little English?
Perhaps the federal government can enact a No Teacher Left Behind law to bridge the gap and continue to provide curriculum instruction to the Hispanic community. It has been proven that when students with limited English proficiency are provided with instruction in their native language, the path to high school completion and higher education becomes a reality.
(Esther J. Cepeda, of Chicago, is a teacher and a freelance writer. E-mail chihuahua33(at)hotmail.com.)
Esther J. Cepeda
Hispanic Link News Service
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES