Learning How To Teach the Language

ESL Classes Benefit Instructors, Students

After having read in English a story about a magic fish that granted wishes to a fisherman, a group of Spanish-speaking first- and second-graders at East San Jose Elementary Tuesday morning busily painted smiling fish and other sea creatures on large sheets of orange and white paper.

“They’re doing different activities to reinforce their reading of the book,” said Pat Gonzales, a kindergarten teacher from Dolores Gonzales Elementary.

The hands-on activities the children happily engaged in were designed to strengthen their English-language abilities. They also were part of Gonzales’ training to be certified as an English as a Second Language instructor.

Gonzales is one of 32 Albuquerque Public Schools teachers and University of New Mexico education majors going through UNM’s six-week ESL Endorsement Institute.

Through a partnership with APS, UNM’s College of Education is sponsoring the institute in its first year to make it easier to get ESL certification. In future years, the institute will be funded by a three-year, $788,000 federal grant.

“There’s a great need for ESL teachers,” said Holbrook Mahn, the institute’s director and an assistant professor of ESL and Bilingual Education at UNM.

Because of teacher shortages, the state Department of Education this past school year issued 500 teaching licenses for bilingual education and ESL to individuals not qualified to teach in those areas.

In ESL classes, students are taught by a teacher who speaks only English. This is in contrast to bilingual education classes, in which students get some or all of their instruction in their native language.

Institute students take three classes, taught by UNM professors, which this summer are taught at East San Jose Elementary in Southeast Albuquerque. The school was chosen as the institute’s site because it offered summer school for ESL students. It also has a large population of students who speak little or no English. Next year’s institute could be held at another location.

Besides their class work, institute students help the East San Jose ESL teachers with their classes, teach classes themselves and help some of the parents of children in summer school learn English.

By going through the institute, students earn nine credit hours and need just two more courses to earn their ESL certification. Mahn said normally it would take a teacher two years to get certified. The institute cuts that time in half.

Gonzales said that by getting her ESL certification, she’ll know more about the theory and history of working with children whose first language isn’t English. Dolores Gonzales Elementary, where Gonzales teaches, has one of the school district’s highest population of limited-English students.

While the children in Gonzales’ class were learning English, some of their parents were doing the same in a nearby portable building.

As the group of about five mothers practiced their English by reading a children’s book, institute student Richard Kochmann asked them what one of the story’s words soar meant. He flapped his arms like wings until the mothers said in unison it meant to fly in the air.

“I care about this subject,” said Kochmann, who is a special education teacher at Sierra Alternative High School. “This is important to me.”

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