ANAHEIM, CA—Calling the statewide shortage of bilingual teachers nothing less than tragic, leaders of the California Association for Bilingual Education kicked off their five-day convention Wednesday.

More than 5,000 people are attending the convention at the Anaheim Hilton Towers, but that number is dwarfed by the 12,000 to 16,000 classrooms in California that the association says are led by teachers who can’t communicate successfully with their students.

“If the teacher can’t communicate enough to teach, then the students are not getting equal access to a quality education,” said Norma Zamora, president of the Orange County chapter of the association.

As the number of students who come to school speaking little or no English skyrockets — both statewide and in Orange County — the number of teachers qualified to teach them lags far behind.

Chuck Acosta, president of the state association, said the convention’s main goal this year is to establish programs both to retrain current teachers and to increase the entry of new bilingual teachers.

The association believes that students who speak little or no English should begin learning English immediately, but should at first receive instruction in other subjects in their native languages.

Zamora said non-English-speaking students learn very little in a class where only English is spoken.

Furthermore, Zamora said, the students are likely to feel unsuccessful and unappreciated, and might become high risks to drop out.

The ideal situation, the association believes, is for teachers of non-English speakers to be fully bilingual. Second-best is for the teacher to have had training in teaching English as a second language.

But there also is a shortage of monolingual teachers with the special training, Acosta said.

Acosta said he realizes that a quick end to the shortages is unlikely. “Maybe not in my lifetime,” he said.

But he said the association is now working to encourage bilingual high school students to go into teaching.

And the group also is trying to get the California universities with teacher-education programs to better train future teachers in languages and language instruction.

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