Getting Political About Teacher Preparation for Multilingual Learners

Today’s blogger is Kathryn Strom, California State University, whose essay (co-authored with Tamara Lucas, Meghan Bratkovich, and Jennifer Wnuk) on professional development opportunities on ELL for inservice teachers appears in The Educational Forum.

Recently, I attended a superintendent “Listening Forum” with executive leaders serving districts in the East Bay of San Francisco.

One superintendent, who headed a district with a large migrant worker population, described observing a downward trend in attendance across her district among specific groups. Latino students and, in smaller numbers, other groups of immigrant populations, were not coming to school.

When she and her team spoke to principals, teachers, and parents to find out what was happening, they were told that undocumented families were avoiding their public schools due to fears of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests, which had risen in 2017. In response to this story, several other superintendents shared that they were grappling with racially charged speech and acts toward the same groups of students. While these types of incidents had occurred in the past in their districts, the superintendents collectively agreed that since the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, they had skyrocketed.

These stories reflect a national trend. In the month after the 2016 election, the Southern Poverty Law Center (2016) conducted a survey of more than 10,000 teachers. More than 90% reported a negative impact on their school climate, and 80% said their historically underserved students exhibited heightened anxiety.

While we might like to pretend that education is solely about the enterprise of learning and is unaffected by what is happening outside the classroom, stories like these demonstrate that it is not. Our educational systems, curricula, and classroom pedagogies are not somehow separate from the rest of the world, nor are they neutral. They are shaped by multiple external factors, including historical conditions, policy makers with specific political agendas, and current societal trends. Schooling and teaching are profoundly political, and perhaps nowhere is that more visible than in the education of multilingual learners, also known as “emergent bilinguals” or “English language learners” (ELLs).

As Lucas and Villegas (2011) detailed in their Linguistically Responsive Teaching Framework, the teaching of multilingual learners has important historical and sociopolitical dimensions that teachers need to understand to effectively educate these students. For instance, the United States has long valued English over other languages. This has resulted in multilingual students having limited access to dual-language or bilingual programs, and has led several states to mandate that multilingual learners would be taught exclusively in English—policies that contradict a large body of research on quality second-language instruction. Furthermore, teachers of multilingual learners need to understand their own possible biases and how these may translate into low expectations or deficit views of their linguistically diverse students—which, in turn, may influence their instructional decisions and interactions with these students.

Many initial teacher preparation programs in the United States now offer at least some coursework focused on instruction for multilingual learners. However, as shown in the recent review of literature regarding preservice preparation for second-language learner instruction by Villegas, SaizdeLaMora, Martin, and Mills (2018), most programs do not offer sufficient experiences to develop “sociopolitical consciousness,” or understanding of how social and political issues affect the education of multilingual learners. Similarly, in Lucas, Strom, Bratkovich, and Wnuk’s (2018) recent review of professional development opportunities for teachers of multilingual learners, the researchers found little evidence that inservice teachers engaged in learning aimed at increasing their understanding of how the current political context, societal divisions, and their own deep-set beliefs about language and diversity may influence the learning of their multilingual students.

As a country, we are more polarized than perhaps at any other time in recent memory. Already a politically fraught area in education, the instruction of multilingual learners is being further affected by the mainstreaming of xenophobia as part of an ethno-nationalist presidential administration. Across the professional continuum, teacher candidates, beginning teachers, and veteran teachers need learning opportunities not just about quality instructional practices; they also need sustained opportunities that explicitly address how the political climate and potentially their own internalized understandings of language and second-language learners impact their multilingual students.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Kathryn Strom’s essay with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through May 31, 2018.

 

References

Lucas, T., Strom, K., Bratkovich, M., & Wnuk, J. (2018). Inservice preparation for mainstream teachers of English language learners: A review of empirical literature. The Educational Forum, 82(2), 156–173.

Lucas, T., & Villegas, A. M. (2011). A framework for preparing linguistically responsive teachers. In T. Lucas (Ed.), Teacher preparation for linguistically diverse classrooms: A resource for teacher educators (pp. 55–72). New York, NY: Routledge.

Southern Poverty Law Center. (2016, November 28). The Trump effect: The impact of the 2016 presidential election on our nation’s schools. Retrieved from https://www.splcenter.org/20161128/trump-effect-impact-2016-presidential-election-our-nations-schools

Villegas, A. M., SaizdeLaMora, K., Martin, A. D., & Mills, T. (2018). Preparing future mainstream teachers to teach English language learners: A review of the empirical literature. The Educational Forum, 82(2), 138–155.

One thought on “Getting Political About Teacher Preparation for Multilingual Learners

  1. Wiley Brady MET says:

    Why is it that we have so much politics in education but very little education in politics. They once said “Those who can’t do anything else teach.” I say those who can’t do go into politics. So they can pass laws or put out speeches that make it nearly impossible to teach.
    The point of education is to produce an individual who will be an asset to society. The last time I looked a waste management worker was as much an asset as a Harvard or Yale graduate.

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