Schools Cry Out For Bilingual Teachers

Education: An estimated 6,000 are needed statewide. And recruitment and incentive efforts are heating up as districts compete for a small pool of certified instructors.

During the school year, David Siebler spends his days as a fourth-grade teacher at Rio Real Elementary School in Oxnard. But several nights a week, he becomes a student, studying Spanish in an effort to be more effective in his bilingual class.

Siebler has kept up his taxing schedule for four years, and he estimates that he has at least another two years before finally earning his certificate as a bilingual teacher. In the Rio Elementary School District where Siebler teaches — as in other districts around the county — teachers in bilingual classes are required to work toward earning the certificate.

Siebler says the extra effort is worth it.

“I take classes mainly to help me with the kids,” said Siebler, 32, who teaches with the help of a part-time bilingual aide. “My district requires me to take them, but I’d take them anyway, just because it helps.”

Siebler recalled a new student from Nicaragua who illustrated his need to learn the language and cultures of many of his students. Not only did Siebler have difficulty communicating with the student, but his bilingual aide had trouble understanding the child’s dialect.

“We were dealing not only with a language but with a cultural barrier,” Siebler said. “Many of these kids haven’t been in school very much, and they really do need an awful lot of help.”

Across Ventura County and the state, school districts face an increasing need for bilingual teachers. An estimated 6,000 bilingual teachers are needed statewide.

Ventura County has 219 certified bilingual teachers trained to teach children who speak little or no English, said Cliff Rodrigues, coordinator of bilingual education for the county superintendent’s office.

Another 55 teachers have language development specialist certificates, which qualify them to work with students who speak some English, he said. And there are about 480 bilingual aides in the county who help teachers who are not bilingual.

But that is not nearly enough, Rodrigues said.

Countywide, at least 300 more teachers already working in bilingual classrooms need bilingual training, Rodrigues said.

Statewide, recruitment and incentive efforts are heating up as districts compete for the relatively small pool of bilingual teachers. The search has taken some districts as far as Spain to find Spanish-speaking candidates.

And last year, the Los Angeles Unified School District began paying teachers with credentials a $5,000 annual bonus.

Helen Bernstein, president of the United Teachers-Los Angeles, said the district has offered bilingual teachers bonuses for the past four years. At least 2,000 Los Angeles teachers last year got the extra pay, she said, and more have been hired from nearby districts.

With the number of limited-English students increasing 7% to 14% a year, Ventura County’s 20 school districts also have stepped up recruiting efforts.

But few offer pay incentives, even though some districts request — or even require — teachers to work toward the credential when they are hired.

The lack of pay incentives presents a recruiting problem for Ventura districts, some school officials said.

“Some teachers may be reluctant” to seek the credential, said Peter Rogalsky, superintendent of Oxnard’s Rio Elementary School District. “They already have a job. They are getting paid the same amount. They have more flexibility. So why go out and get a credential?”

Salary incentives “would go a long way toward solving the problem,” Rogalsky said. “I know Los Angeles Unified offers them and that contributes to the difficulty we have in attracting bilingual teachers. They could go to Los Angeles and get $5,000″ more.

A stipend would be beneficial because “you have an extra skill and you’re using that skill constantly,” said Sandra Echavarria, president of the Assn. of Mexican-American Educators and a teacher at Oxnard’s Haydock Intermediate School. “It’s a double load and you’re not getting any extra pay for that.”

Hiring policies for bilingual teachers vary from district to district.

In the Santa Paula Elementary District, for example, bilingual teachers with credentials are credited with an additional year of experience under the salary schedule. The pay boost varies depending on the teacher’s education and experience, said Supt. David Philips. A $500-a-year stipend that would increase by $100 annually is also under consideration in negotiations with the teachers association, he said.

In Simi Valley, which in 1989-90 had 12 bilingual teachers on its staff, school board members in July said the bilingual teacher shortage may force them to hire teachers without Spanish and language development skills and help train them for the credential.

In the Hueneme Elementary School District, new teachers must sign an agreement to earn the credential within two years, said Yolanda Benitez, administrative assistant for language development. Half the 20 new teachers hired last year had the credential, she said.

Many districts ask that new teachers who will work in bilingual classes sign agreements, but do not make it mandatory.

“We do not require them to sign a waiver if they are reluctant,” said Yvonne Davis of the Moorpark Unified School District. “We like to use a positive approach.”

But even in those districts, some teachers feel pressured to sign the waivers, said Siebler of the Rio district. “If you have two teachers for the job and one’s willing to sign a waiver and one’s not, you know who you’re going to hire,” he said.

Many Ventura County teachers, like Siebler, are taking courses offered by the county superintendent’s office to earn a credential, and have passed sections of the three-part test that covers culture, teaching English as a second language, and Spanish. About 160 teachers took the courses last semester.

But some teachers are reluctant to seek the credential, even though they may speak Spanish, said Patty Peinado, head of the Ventura County branch of the California Assn. of Bilingual Education.

“Once you are a bilingual teacher and you get into a bilingual class it’s hard to transfer” to an English-only class “because you are so needed,” Peinado said.

Administrators and teachers say there are several problems with offering pay incentives to bilingual teachers.

Some teachers — and union officials — argue that if bilingual teachers are paid more, it would only be fair to offer higher salaries to other teachers with special or high-demand skills, including special education, math and science teachers, Peinado said.

Jennifer Robles, bilingual specialist for the Ventura district, said it’s not “a good idea to separate bilingual people as the only group of people who have a special skill.”

But the greatest hurdles are too few teachers with bilingual credentials and too little money because of budget shortfalls at both state and district levels.

Carol Vines, superintendent of the 290-student Briggs Elementary District in Santa Paula, said “the whole crux of the problem is there aren’t enough bilingual teachers. And only districts with growing enrollment can afford to offer stipends. Our enrollment is declining.”

Moreover, incentives may force districts to compete among themselves even more fiercely for the limited pool of teachers with credentials.

Some Ventura County teachers said better living conditions, including less traffic and smog, have already attracted many teachers from the Los Angeles area to Ventura. Former Los Angeles-area teachers — like Peinado, Siebler, and Robles — say they would not return, even for higher salaries.

“I don’t think $5,000 makes a difference,” Siebler said. “I don’t think a lot of people want to teach or live in Los Angeles. I think a lot of people want to live in a community like Ventura County.” Besides, Peinado, said, a desire to help the children often outweighs financial concerns.

“I don’t care about the extra $5,000,” Peinado said. “I love teaching in a bilingual class, and I think that’s how most of us feel.”

BILINGUAL TEACHERS Number of bilingual teachers at selected Ventura County school districts

(1988-89) % of No. of certified No. students with School district bilingual teachers needed limited English Hueneme Elementary 30 11 15% Ocean View Elementary 16 6 31% Oxnard Elementary 64 94 35% Pleasant Valley Elementary 10 6 7% Rio Elementary 12 15 20% Santa Paula Elementary 21 28 24% Oxnard Union 3 37 9% Santa Paula Union 0 13 8% Fillmore Unified 19 28 30% Moorpark Unified 21 11 13% Simi Valley Unified 0 12 3% Ventura Unified 21 7 7%

1988-89 Countywide total of students with limited English: 12,899

SOURCE: Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Office

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