"Friday Faculty Focus with Brandon McDermott” airs each Friday at 7 a.m. and noon on all-classical 90.7 KVNO, a broadcast service of the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). This weekly program features educators from across the University of Nebraska system.
On Friday, Dec. 2, KVNO aired McDermott's interview with Sandra Rodríguez-Arroyo, assistant professor of Teacher Education at UNO. They discussed the importance of readying future educators for teaching English language learners.
Listen to their conversation here, or read the transcript below:
Brandon: Dr. Sandra Rodriguez-Arroyo, thanks for meeting with me.
Dr. Rodríguez-Arroyo: Thank you so much for the invitation.
Brandon: Talk about the importance of ESL jobs with more than 60 million Americans speaking a language other than English at home.
Dr. Rodríguez-Arroyo: Right now, the field of English as a Second Language or ESL as it’s commonly called, is an ever expanding field. It has never been more important. We have had immigrants for years, but I feel like there have been many different gaps in the process, that people would address it temporarily, without permanent training of teachers at all levels and what I mean is a lot of it is early childhood up to adult education.
Brandon: There's been about a 34 percent boost over the past 10 years in Nebraska schools of English language learners (ELL). Is that growth of students being met with ESL teachers or is there a shortage?
Dr. Rodríguez-Arroyo: There's definitely a shortage - especially in rural Nebraska. They are struggling because they didn’t expect a growth and if you see the map of the Department of Education Nebraska has, which addresses the different areas. It goes from east to west and of course you have Omaha as one of the biggest areas, as well as Lincoln. But you also have Scottsbluff and areas closer to Colorado that have a large number of English language learners and they're mostly rural locations. That's where the need is the biggest and the (place for) preparation is not quite close. So, there is not a university close enough to address the need to prepare those teachers and what I have been encountering too, has been the school districts are not only asking for an ESL teacher, but a teacher that is prepared to teach English language learners with an endorsement, which is what Nebraska offers, is an added endorsement to your teachers certification. But we have schools, for example, I go with my students to Field Club elementary here in Omaha and 60 percent of the kids are English language learners. So, what do you do? Are you going to just hire ESL teachers or are you going to hire a teacher that is prepared to address a need inside the classroom?
Brandon: How do we roll out those changes? How do we prepare future and current teachers to work with the growing rate of English language learners here in Nebraska?
Dr. Rodríguez-Arroyo: I think one of the biggest problems that we have is that the Nebraska Department of Education doesn’t require even a course for future teachers or current teachers. I lived in Pennsylvania for 10 years and as I was moving out to come to Nebraska, they were requiring this “Foundations of ESL” course for all the teacher candidates - similar to what we require for special education and similar to what we require for other fields. However (this is not the case) in Nebraska. We don't have a requirement. The ESL endorsement is actually required by the districts, but is “recommended” by the state. So the state does require you to have that preparation if you're definitely going to be working with an English language learner - but it's not a requirement at the state level.
Brandon: As a professor in the Teacher Education Department, what are some things you instill in students?
Dr. Rodríguez-Arroyo: One thing that I instill in the students is that there's a large diversity in the English language learners, that they are going to be working with. We're not talking about those are just immigrants; we're talking about those students who are already here. We also have those students who are coming with their parents who are educated. Then we have those students with what is called the limited or interrupted formal education - student’s who’ve gone through a lot in their lives and have been barely able to go to go to school. So if you go to a place like a teen literacy center you're going to find high school students taking reading or writing classes at the very basic level from learning the alphabet to numbers. Then we have students that are able to learn English a lot quicker because they had a background in English in their home countries. Or they come from a highly educated background. What are the family structures? How do they address learning at home? What are the things that they like and do not like? How do they discipline kids? Those are things that are going to affect them more than actually having to “dress like a Mexican” because that is very stereotypical.
Brandon: Is there something else you'd like to touch on or something you'd like to cover before we go?
Dr. Rodríguez-Arroyo: I think that one of the biggest needs that we have in the ESL field is that we have our student’s think of the English language learners as somebody they’re going to be helping. I like to take that away a little bit, because I don't like them mentality of helping. We are providing a service, we are learning from them. We have tons of resources coming from the parents that we are not tapping. Because we just feel that there are the “others” we're going to be helping them, but I think it's more than help if we take the opportunity to get into the field. It’s just one of those areas that you're always going to encounter - you have to be flexible. You have to be open to new ideas, you have to open to new cultures and embrace it with all your heart.
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