Friday, February 5, 2016

Why Does it Matter?

You may be wondering, why am I interested in ELLs?  Well, I'll tell you what sparked my interest.  One of the required courses for education majors at Cal U is called Supporting the English Language Learner, which I took in the spring of 2014.  I immediately loved the course and felt that the information was even more relevant to my training and my personal learning experience since I am a foreign language learner in Spanish.  Many of the strategies, activities, and practices used for ELLs are ones that I have been taught as a Spanish speaker.  For example, repetition!!!!!  As the saying goes, "practice makes perfect," and I couldn't agree more.  For this course, my professor, Dr. Susan Morris-Rutledge, assigned a group project, and mine had the topic of mainstream teacher attitudes towards ELLs.  We researched the literature, interviewed a local ESL Specialist, and sent out surveys to mainstream teachers across the state; finally, we created a video to present all of this information and learned many things in the process (see below).  Later on, I presented my own research that built on the group project at the National Collegiate Honors Council Conference in November 2015 in Chicago.  This was a great experience, and I got feedback and had conversations with people from all over the United States.  It was so interesting to hear from people in other states, especially Texas where the population of ELLs is one of the highest in the country.

Presenting my research at the NCHC Conference in Chicago.

Now, you may be wondering, how does this affect you as a mainstream teacher?  Well, I am here to tell you just how important ELL education is, and that it does affect YOU and EVERY teacher in the United States.  For one, we need to understand the goals and process of the public education system in the United States.  In its 2007 report, The Center on Education Policy attributed these main themes to the mission of public education:
- To provide universal access to free education
- To guarantee equal opportunities for all children
- To unify a diverse population
- To prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society
- To prepare people to become economically self-sufficient
- To improve social conditions (Kober 7).

When one reads these mission statements, it seems pretty clear that public education is for the greater good of the country and every single student can benefit.  It should make you proud to be a teacher in this system.  But does the system always follow this mission?  Does public education really create "equal opportunities for all children?"  

Historically, ELLs have been the ones to suffer in the public education system, especially in the mainstream classroom.  Although federal law "requires programs that educate children with limited English proficiency to be: based on a sound educational theory; adequately supported, with adequate and effective staff and resources, so that the program has a realistic chance of success; and periodically evaluated and, if necessary, revised" (Questions and Answers), ELLs have been overlooked and displaced in the system.  Our mission and goal as teachers in the public education system is to do everything we can to successfully educate the youth of America no matter their race, socioeconomic status, gender, disability, or first language.  Every child in America deserves a teacher who will fight for them and do everything humanly possibly to put them on the right path to succeed in school and in life.  We wouldn't be teachers if this wasn't our ultimate goal...well, we wouldn't be good teachers at the least.  I want to leave you with one final statistic.  In the 2012-2013 school year, a whopping 4.4 million, or 9.2%, of K-12 public school enrollment consisted of English Language Learners (The Condition).  This number, as we know it, is on the rise, and ELLs need quality teachers to help them flourish and get that opportunity like every other student.  Will you be someone's champion?  Will you give a little extra attention to the quiet Vietnamese boy in the back of the room?  What about the Mexican girl who can't sit still?  Who will you be?  If you're scared and you don't know how to handle ELLs in your classroom, you are NOT alone.  I hope I can help provide you with the resources and strategies that you need to stand up and help ELLs succeed.     

-Korber, Nancy.  "Why We Still Need Public Schools: Public Education for the Common Good."  Center on Education Policy.  2007.  ERIC.  Web.  5 February 2016.    
-"The Condition of Education: English Language Learners." National Center for Education Statistics.  May 2015.  Web.  5 February 2016.  
-"Questions and Answers on the Rights of Limited-English Proficient Students."  U.S. Department of Education.  16 October 2015.  Web.  5 February 2016.  

If you're interested, here's the video my group created called "A Look at the Attitudes and Perceptions of Mainstream Teachers towards English Language Learners." (16:07 minutes long).


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