Patricia Tippetts entered a world of foreign words when she came to the United States from her native Mexico some 30 years ago. Although she had studied English, she yearned for teachers at her new American school who understood the struggle to master grammatical intricacies of another language.
“Having teachers like that would have been so helpful,” said Tippetts, an education student at Weber State University. “It’s hard to learn English. It’s really hard.”
That’s one reason Tippetts wants to be a teacher. She’s experienced firsthand the need for educators who can help students with limited English skills. And the need is growing.
On the heels of federal probes into ESL-education deficiencies in six Utah school districts, Weber State University, the University of Utah and Brigham Young University are developing programs to train teachers to work with students coming into schools speaking English as a second language.
The need for ESL teachers is staggering.
Consider: Last year, the Salt Lake School District had about 50 teachers qualified to teach its 6,373 students with limited English proficiency. Jordan, the largest Utah district, listed 40 ESL teachers for 3,908 students. In Ogden, where some 2,000 students are not native speakers, fewer than 60 teachers have English-as-a-second-language endorsements. Surrounding districts had similar counts.
An ESL endorsement, which requires training in cultural awareness and bilingual teaching techniques, is offered in Utah only at the three schools.
“There is a definite need for that — ESL-endorsed and teachers who come from bilingual and culturally diverse backgrounds,” said Sandra Herrera, the Ogden district’s coordinator for federal, state and community partnerships. “People with those skills go to other states where they can get higher salaries and stipends for their language skills.”
Ogden is tapping into a 3-year-old program at Weber State that boasts students like Tippetts and Graciela Alejandre, who was nationally recognized for her advancement through schools in poor areas to become a teacher at inner-city Dee Elementary School.
Weber’s program — called “Teacher Assistant’s Path to Teaching” — is for bilingual classroom assistants who want to become teachers. They assist ESL teachers in the morning and attend college classes in the afternoon. Director Marilyn Lofgreen said not all are totally fluent in two languages, but all have “an interest in working with under-served students.”
“The language diversity in the state’s schools, whether rural or urban, is greatly increasing,” said David Greene, dean of WSU’s education college. “These students understand the intricacies of learning a second language.”
BYU’s endorsement program is an upgrade of a current minor in teaching English to speakers of other languages. BYU started to offer the minor this fall, which includes an option for endorsement for teaching ESL pupils ranging in ages from kindergarten through high school.
Student at the private Provo university are required to take classes that teach techniques to involve parents in day-to-day learning and how to help students learn another language.
Educators at the U.’s Graduate School of Education launched a partnership with Salt Lake, Murray, Davis, Granite and Jordan districts this fall. Over a four-year period, the U.’s $3.4 million Distance Education ESL Endorsement Program will incorporate university courses with hands-on training at 35 teaching sites across Utah over a four-year period.
About 300 teachers from the five districts are enrolled in courses this semester, said Susanna Anderson, assistant program director. Classes are funded by the districts with reduced tuition costs from the university. Teachers also pay a $45 fee for each course and the cost of textbooks.
“It seems like a good part of the teachers are involved in diversity in their classrooms already,” Anderson said. “We’ve really had a good response. The teachers are really excited.”
“This is truly a school-university partnership that creates a wonderful model for developing high-quality professional development for educators,” said Nedra Crow, associate dean of the U.’s Graduate School of Education. “The districts will get well-educated teachers, the community will get children who speak English yet retain their native languages and we all will get a better understanding of cultural awareness.”