Days after science teacher Gerry DeRienzo ended the school year for summer break, she was back in class as a student.
DeRienzo, a 17-year teaching veteran, is spending part of the summer learning how to be sensitive to the needs of limited-English students.
She recalls the tips she has learned: In Spanish, sentence structure puts adjectives after nouns, so a Spanish-speaking student who is learning English might say “car big” rather than “big car.”
In some Middle Eastern cultures, the hand sign “OK” signifies a woman’s womb and could make a child uncomfortable. And in Southeast Asian cultures, a child might smile when criticized out of politeness.
“A smile in our culture might be interpreted as disrespect when you’re correcting a child’s work, but in their culture it’s acknowledging their mistake and saying, ‘Thank you, I accept your criticism,’ ” DeRienzo explained.
DeRienzo is one of about 500 Orange County teachers working this summer for a special certificate to teach students who are learning to speak English.
The teachers have enrolled for two reasons: The new initiative hasn’t changed state requirements for teachers working with limited-English students, and some predict that more teachers will be working with these kids.
“Students are going to leave their self-contained bilingual classes,” said DeRienzo, a seventh-grade teacher at Rancho Santa Margarita Middle School. “We need new tools to help them.”
Proposition 227, passed in June, aims to put limited-English students in all-English classes after one year. The initiative doesn’t address teacher credentials, so districts are continuing to train their new and veteran teachers.
Orange County districts such as Santa Ana, Anaheim and Saddleback Valley require teachers to complete special training to teach limited-English students. Some districts also give veteran teachers a time limit to complete a course specially designed for experienced teachers.
Yet while the initiative’s ambiguities are being worked out by the state Board of Education, teachers are drawing their own conclusions about teacher training.
Cathy Liska, a veteran teacher at John Marshall Elementary in Anaheim, says courses that require teachers to learn Spanish or deal in bilingual theory are obsolete.
“With the conversion to immersion, we’re not teaching kids to read, write or say anything in Spanish anymore,” said Liska. “Teachers don’t need to take the training.”
At Liska’s school, about 72 percent of the students are limited-English and all learn through English immersion. She says her 16 years of experience at Marshall are more valuable than 45 to 60 hours of training.
“We all deal with LEP (limited English proficient) kids,” said the third-grade teacher. Liska for philosophical reasons refuses to take a special 45-hour course for veteran teachers. “It’s a waste of my time. The multicultural and diversity fanatics want to brainwash you into bilingual education.”
In Orange County, the number of teachers signing up for summer training classes has dropped. Last year, about 700 teachers enrolled for CLAD, or Crosscultural Language and Academic Development training – which qualifies teachers to teach English-immersion classes, compared with 500 this year.
“There’s a misunderstanding about Prop. 227,” said Estella Acosta, the county’s CLAD coordinator. “Teachers may think there’s no longer a need for certification, but the state board has to give us clarification.”
The state board has been meeting weekly to clarify gray areas in Prop 227, such as: Will year-round schools be exempt from the initiative the first year? What is going to happen to bilingual teaching assistants? What criteria must students meet before they are mainstreamed?
The board has talked briefly about teacher credentials, but has yet to address the issue. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing did not return calls last week.
However, in a June 18 memo, Delaine Eastin, the state superintendent of public instruction, advised county and district superintendents that “Proposition 227 did not repeal or amend teacher credentialing statutes.”
“If anything, more teachers will need the CLAD,” said Norm Gold, director of the state’s bilingual compliance unit. “As you move students into the mainstream, more teachers will have to know how to deal with limited-English students. Some students will be intermediate or advanced in their learning of English, but until each student has been identified as fluent English proficient, each teacher they have will need to be certified.”
The state has been trying to overcome its 21,000 bilingual teacher shortfall. Gold says with the initiative’s parental choice clause, bilingual teachers will still be needed to meet demands of parents who want to give their kids an alternative to the immersion method mandated by Prop 227.
The state has a surplus of about 2,200 CLAD-certificated teachers – teachers skilled to teach English immersion. But districts with a heavy concentration of limited-English students often allow teachers working on the bilingual portion of the CLAD to teach in primary language classes.
Much of the CLAD shortage is being filled by newer teachers trained in CLAD during their college or university coursework.
At California State University, Fullerton, veteran teachers learned to help limited-English students organize their thoughts through visual and hands-on activities at one recent training session. Most Fullerton teaching students are required to take this class.
Teachers cut and stapled bright pink, yellow, blue and green construction paper to make flip charts, colorful idea organizers. They tossed about pizza-shaped projects, filled with magazine montages of Leonardo DeCaprio and World Cup players. These “pizza analyses” help students write the main themes for essays.
“These strategies develop study skills for all students,” said Norelynn Pion-Goureau, who teaches at Loara High School in Anaheim. “Some kids remember ideas through visuals and colors. I’m that way.”
Many who will spend the summer learning linguistic theory, cross-cultural values and teaching methods for English learners are teachers who graduated from college without the CLAD, are new to a district or have emergency credentials and hope the certificate will enhance job security and promotion opportunities.
“There’s job security in having the training,” said Kim Brewer, a new teacher at Acacia Elementary in Fullerton. “But we’ll be seeing more (limited English) students in class and, as teachers, we want to help them the best we can.”