This is my third attempt since 5:30 to post this entry, so sorry to those of you who wanted to reply before the Bruins tie up the series tonight!
In “Bringing Bilingual Education Out of the Basement and Other Imperatives for Teacher Education,” Sonia Nieto argues that all teachers, not just ESL and bilingual teachers, must be trained in teaching language minority students. She says that the majority of teacher education programs train teachers for monolingual classrooms, but in reality, whether one teaches in an urban, suburban, or rural setting, it is unlikely to go a teaching career without instructing students for whom English is a second language. Nieto goes on to say that teacher education programs, beyond providing prospective teachers with classroom strategies necessary for teaching language-minority students in a regular education setting, must most importantly “help teachers to develop positive attitudes and beliefs toward these students.” The three imperatives that Nieto gives for such programs are:
- Take a stand on language diversity
- Bring bilingual education out of the basement
- Promote teaching as a lifelong journey of transformation
On pages 471, she also gives a list of knowledge and skills that teachers must possess in order to effectively instruct language-minority students, which expands on page 472 if one happens to be an ESL teacher. One of the skills she spends the most time discussing is the suggestion that all teachers learn a second language, particularly a second language spoken by a substantial number of students in the community in which they teach. She mentions that this is not only a practice that will help put teachers in the shoes of students in the process of acquiring English but will also help teachers better understand and respond to the grammar errors that students make.
While I agree with both points, I am not sure that this is a plausible suggestion. While in a teacher education program, there is no way for a prospective teacher to know in what district let alone school he or she will begin teaching, so the second language acquisition could not happen then, and given the number of responsibilities that new teachers already have, it is difficult to imagine a new teacher taking on the added task of learning to speak a new language. One of my favorite quotes is, “Being a new teacher is like trying to fly an airplane while building it.” Can you imagine learning Japanese to this scenario, let alone the fact that many new teachers find themselves moving from school-to-school or district-to-district during their first years of teaching due to budget cuts while at the bottom of the seniority list. This is only my third year teaching, and I would have already had to learn Vietnamese, Haitian Creole, Tagalog, and Spanish! To be honest, I would love to learn any one or more of these languages, but finding the time to do so is another story.
Taking a stand on language diversity:
Nieto argues that bilingual education is political, and I believe there is no denying this. One only has to scan the daily headlines, including this article in today’s Boston Globe to see how true this is. Not only is political action necessary to change negative perceptions of language-minority students, but it is crucial to directing funds to these students in need. I love Nieto’s point about how the costs of teaching students a foreign language are rarely opposed in middle class neighborhoods, while ESL and bilingual budgets are seen as “too expensive or ‘wasteful’”(472).
Bringing bilingual education out of the basement:
The term “basement” in the title of this article is used both literally and figuratively to suggest that language-minority students are often relegated to the basement or other physically separated areas of the school. This separation not only creates a sense of alienation and marginalization for ESL students and teachers alike but also prevents collaboration with general education teachers while proliferating the belief that language-minority students are the sole responsibility of the ESL teacher. Nieto says that teacher education programs must emphasize language diversity issues and argues that currently, most do not. Probably because I participated in UMass Boston’s teacher education program which emphasizes social justice or because I was part of the Teach Next Year program which is geared towards urban education specifically, but I found these issues embedded throughout almost all of the coursework at UMass. Unfortunately I cannot speak to other programs on this issue, but I can say that I believe Nieto would wholeheartedly approve of the job that UMass does in this regard.
One comment that Nieto makes which annoyed me, however, can be found on page 475. She says, “It is by now a truism that most prospective teachers are White, middle-class, monolingual English speaking women with little experience with people different from themselves.” Ok, I agree that this is probably by and far true. However, she goes on to say, “and most of them believe—or at least hope—they will teach in largely White, middle-class communities.” It is my understanding that most people go into teaching because they want to help kids learn skills that will allow them to succeed and ultimately make our world a better place to live without any preconceived notions or aspirations about the skin-color or socioeconomic makeup of their classroom. When I was attending job fairs before receiving my first teaching job, the longest lines (by far!) were formed my those dying to get an interview with the Boston Public Schools. While I agree with Nieto’s point that teacher education faculty could use diversification, I do not believe that White teachers or White teacher educators are blind to the civil rights issues inherent in our current education system or unwilling to bring them to the forefront of conversation.
Promoting teaching as a lifelong journey of transformation:
Here, Nieto describes a “collective and institutional journey” “to help teachers and prospective teachers affirm the linguistic, cultural, and experiential diversity of their students while at the same time opening up new vistas, opportunities, and challenges that expand their worlds (476). The ideas that she expounds include having teachers face and accept their own identities (including a status of privilege when applicable), establish an identity as a teacher-learner, become multilingual themselves, confront racism and bias in school, and develop a community to collaboratively support language-minority students in school. I agree that all of these are necessary to transform our current education system and ultimately remove bilingual education from “the basement.”
The first part of this section stuck out to me the most and reminded me of an amazing course I took at UMass Boston called Socio-Cultural Perspectives taught by Velecia Saunders. In this class, we had incredibly difficult and enlightening conversations about our own identities, biases, and privilege. The class was, at times, excruciating, but ultimately life-changing for all involved. So after leaving you will this recommendation, I now give you some questions to discuss:
- What does ESL instruction look like in your school? Are language-minority students relegated to the basement either literally or figuratively?
- What do you think of Nieto’s recommendation that all teachers learn to speak a second language, particularly a second language spoken by a substantial number of students in the community in which they teach?
- Do you agree with Nieto’s assessment that, “most [prospective teachers] believe—or at least hope—they will teach in largely White, middle-class communities” (475)?
- What was your teacher education program like? Did you take any explicit classes on teaching ESL or bilingual students in a general education setting? Were these topics embedded into the majority or minority of your regular coursework? Was it mostly instructional strategies, or did it include discussions about attitude toward language-minority students and/or monolingual, White privilege?
- Does your school or any school you know of have a successful community of “critical colleagues”? Is the group formal or informal? What does it look like?