Fresh out of graduate school, Heather Griffith has only minimal Spanish skills, no teaching experience and no regular license to teach.
But Griffith and 40 other people like her are teaching students who speak little English in the Nogales Unified School District because of a chronic teacher shortage in the state and nation. Sixteen of those 40 don’t even hold bachelor’s degrees.
The practice of hiring uncertified teachers in Nogales and other districts violates state and federal laws that require teachers to be qualified for teaching non-English speakers.
Griffith must rely on the bit of Spanish she gleaned from her high school days. She often repeats directions in different ways so her students who speak little English will understand.
“It’s frustrating for me as a teacher to have to try to help them. I see students get frustrated,” said Griffith, who holds an emergency certificate.
Nogales, a district on the border with 80 percent limited-English students, can’t compete with other districts across the country for the few qualified teachers who graduate from universities each year.
More than half of all teachers nationwide have English-language learners in their class. Yet less than one in five of these teachers is qualified to do the teaching, according to the federal Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs.
Arizona is better off than most states because of strong university programs and a long history of bilingual education. Still, about 43 percent of teachers in bilingual education and English as a second language programs lack qualifications to be there, according to the state Department of Education’s 1998-99 report.
Nationwide, students with limited English skills are expected to double from 20 percent of the student population now to 40 percent in 2030.
A federal judge recently ruled that the state of Arizona is to blame for the lack of qualified teachers because it fails to give enough money to hire, train and recruit them. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Nogales parents against the state.
In Tucson Unified School District, Principal Maria Figueroa of Tolson Elementary School hired substitutes to teach two bilingual classes because she couldn’t find trained teachers.
“There’s a lot of guilt. When I go home at night, I worry about those children,” Figueroa told a state legislative committee in December. “It’s a watered-down program until I can meet those children’s needs.”
With such a shortage, local school districts offer incentives to prospective teachers and recruit heavily.
Nogales is moving away from bilingual education, partly because it can’t recruit enough teachers and because parents and board members want more English instruction. Nogales only has about two-thirds of the trained teachers it needs, despite extensive recruiting and stipends, said Analizabeth Doan, the district’s bilingual education director.
TUSD hires teacher aides to work with bilingual education instructors two hours daily. TUSD, Sunnyside and Nogales pay tuition for continuing education.
Some districts in California, before a proposition passed to eliminate bilingual education, hired teachers before they were done with college. Some districts import teachers from other countries.
TUSD and Sunnyside are among the Arizona districts that visit universities and set up booths at national conferences. Sunnyside holds orientation sessions and offers lunch for graduating bilingual teachers, giving them packets and offering them help.
“We try to make it real easy for them,” said Jean Favela, bilingual education director.
State universities are helping the local cause, too.
The University of Arizona received two federal grants this year to increase the bilingual teaching pool. One grant pays for tuition and books for students starting in Pima Community College’s Desert Vista campus and finishing at the UA. Another grant will pay tuition for teachers’ aides who want to become teachers.
In Nogales, Northern Arizona University offers bachelors and masters programs in bilingual education, said Maru Coppola, NAU-Nogales area coordinator.
Still, applications for degrees in bilingual education are falling at the UA College of Education, said Toni Griego Jones, head of the college’s teaching and teacher education department.
Usually, about 30 to 60 bilingual teachers graduate each year, never enough for local districts that need hundreds. But just five students are expected to graduate in bilingual education in December.
Griego Jones suspects the decline is tied to criticism of bilingual education, including the English for Children-Arizona initiative.
“Some of the worry is about, ?Are there going to be jobs?’ ” Griego Jones said.
It’s toughest to find teachers for bilingual education, the preferred method for limited-English-proficient students in TUSD and Sunnyside, because they must teach effectively in two languages. Less than a quarter of teachers in programs for students with limited English skills are qualified to instruct bilingual education.
Yet bilingual education is judged by what’s in place currently — so-called bilingual classes often taught by monolingual teachers without any training.
“I would say the lack of qualified teachers has probably contributed to the perception of many people that bilingual education has been ineffective,” said Joseph Aguerrebere, a Ford Foundation deputy director who specializes in schools’ human resources.
One place that doesn’t suffer from a teacher shortage is Miami, Fla. The district can offer model bilingual programs because more local residents are bilingual and become teachers.
But Arizona can learn lessons from one of Miami’s programs. At Coral Way Elementary School, with the oldest bilingual program in the country, only half of the teachers have to speak two languages. That’s because half instruct in Spanish most of the day, while the rest teach in English.
TUSD sometimes pairs teachers when it can’t find enough qualified teachers to fill all positions. In those cases, a qualified bilingual teacher will help an untrained teacher for part of the day, said Leonard Basurto, TUSD’s bilingual education director.
In Arizona, districts receive an extra $162 for each student learning English so long as the student is receiving the services mandated by the state and federal government. This cost Arizona $35 million last year. But districts don’t get any extra money for students without trained teachers.
A study in 1988 found that $162 is not enough. The average cost to run a program for English-language learners is $424 per student.
Opponents of bilingual education say school districts keep students in these programs too long just so the districts can cash in on this money.
“To me, it’s a pork program,” said Margaret Garcia Dugan, treasurer of English for the Children-Arizona and principal of Glendale High School in Glendale.
Optimistic bilingual educators say the nation can find enough teachers if political leaders make it a priority.
“Is it probable at this time? I don’t know,” said Jaime Zapata, spokesman for the National Association for Bilingual Education.
In the meantime, the numbers continue to slide.
This year, 50 Arizona districts, with three-fourths of the state’s limited-English-proficient students, were unable to fill a total of 296 slots for bilingual or ESL teachers. In the next five years, these districts will need 3,336 more bilingual and ESL teachers, according to a survey by Arizona Association for Bilingual Education.
Statewide, one teacher with minimal qualifications was in place for every 23 English-language learners last school year. In TUSD, the ratio was 18 to 1.
But bilingual classes are larger than that because they also include native English speakers. The reason:Limited English speakers learn best alongside native English speakers.
Some schools are able to attract many of the qualified teachers, while other schools do without any.
One reason is that TUSD and other districts have little authority to shuffle teachers, said Basurto.
“Teachers are people. They are not electrical circuits or computers that we can move around to use them where we need them,” Basurto said. “They go work where they want to go work.”
6,800 get no services
Statewide, about 6,800 English-language learners receive no services. In TUSD, these students account for 20 percent of students who speak little English, states TUSD’s Bilingual Education Status Report for 1998-99.
The number of endorsed teachers in TUSD is rising to meet the need, especially since 1996 when the district reached an agreement with the federal Office of Civil Rights. The number jumped from 642 in 1997-98 to 669 last school year.
But demand is outpacing the supply of teachers. Last year, the number of non-endorsed teachers with limited-English students almost doubled from 41 to 80.
To bridge some of the gap, the district links endorsed teachers with non-endorsed teachers in schools with bilingual programs, Basurto said.
TUSD, which had 12,345 English-language learners last year, is finding that limited-English students who go without services fare poorer in school than those receiving help.
Last school year, students with services earned more A’s and B’s and fewer F’s than those without services, according to the TUSD report, students in programs posted higher attendance and promotion rates than those who did not receive services.
The next step for bilingual education advocates is getting the Legislature to act on the court ruling in the Nogales case, said Tim Hogan, the plaintiffs’ attorney. Legislators did not act on bills to spend more on limited English students in the spring session.
Meantime, new bilingual teachers like Maritza Fernandez are in high demand. She is one of nine students who graduated in December from the UA’s bilingual education program.
Fernandez, a bilingual education student when she attended Sunnyside schools, knew going into the program that she would have her pick of jobs.
She accepted one of two offers she received and now teaches third grade at Menlo Park Elementary School.
“Being bilingual,” said Fernandez, “you’re definitely needed.”