English-Only Teachers Need Not Apply

Los Angeles Times
Saturday, July 19, 1997

I am a fifth grade teacher at one of the 100 lowest-performing schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Part of the performance problem with the schools is the district's bilingual program, which has resulted in a high proportion of novice teachers clustered in the worst schools. In the district's frenzy to hire bilingual teachers, emergency credentialed teachers are pushing out experienced, dedicated, fully credentialed teachers.

Why? Most of those highly experienced teachers do not speak fluent Spanish. Teachers with lifetime credentials and 20 or 30 years of experience are being redesignated "teachers in training." In order to keep our current positions, many of us are being required to sign a contract stating that we will become fluent in Spanish in a specific time. (A promise most of us will not be able to keep). Meanwhile we are listed as "misassigned."

And with the district's new bilingual master plan just implemented, we are told that seniority, a long fought for right, no longer counts in our assignments; a bilingual teacher just out of college and with an emergency credential and no teaching experience can "bump" a fully credentialed monolingual teacher from a position.

There are two salary tiers: Teachers who speak Spanish are paid a $5,000 stipend over teachers who are monolingual English speakers. Seasoned elementary teachers are looking to other districts for jobs or seeking early retirement.

It has been made very clear to us that, regardless of our teaching experience, we are not valued at our schools because we speak only the language of this country. Many good, experienced teachers have left my school, replaced by novices. The demand for Spanish-speaking teachers rapidly increases as the district continues to fail to transition into English the ever-growing numbers of Latino children. The positions for English-only teachers shrink.

The message: Only those who speak a foreign language are qualified to teach California's students. It is commonly said that it takes five years to begin to be a good teacher. Many of the new bilingual teachers will also become effective teachers. But who will pay for those years?

Kathleen Salisbury Teaches at Hooper Avenue Elementary School.