Bilingual teachers in short supply

Clovis High School bilingual language teacher Ron Elguera directs a rehearsal Wednesday at the high school. The Spanish for Spanish speakers class is working on three skits to be performed at the school. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

A stint as a student teacher is a necessary step on the road to a classroom of their own, so aspiring educators pass through the Clovis Municipal Schools routinely. Occasionally, an individual seeking endorsement as a bilingual teacher passes through, too.

Jim McDaniel hates to see those teachers slip through his hands.
“Come see me,” the Clovis Municipal Schools personnel director often instructs them with a lighthearted smile.

But the playful hint belies a serious shortage of bilingual teachers in Clovis and nationwide.

There are roughly 750 English Language Learners — or students for whom English is not a first or native language — in the Clovis school district, according to school officials. There are only 24 certified bilingual teachers equipped to meet their needs.

The vast majority of bilingual teachers are housed in a single school, La Casita Elementary, which in seven years will offer only dual-language instruction. But school administrators have tentative plans to extend the dual-language program at La Casita to Lockwood Elementary, where a strand of the program should soon be available in response to increased demand, administrators said.
“Every school personnel director in the United States is looking for bilingual teachers. … It is difficult to find teachers who are fluent in two languages, and by fluent, I mean can read, write, listen and speak in two languages,” McDaniel said.

Scrambling to fill the need, Clovis Schools recruit bilingual teachers at a bilingual conference held annually in Santa Fe. They provide a $1,569 stipend to any teacher who has achieved bilingual endorsement from the state and plan to increase the stipend gradually to $2,500 in order to compete with states who offer that amount already.

An additional $25,000 is spent annually to teach teachers how to properly teach students who are not proficient in English, through Eastern New Mexico University’s English as a Second Language program, which an estimated 50 teachers attend annually with school funds, school officials said.

“Ideally, I’d like to see 100 percent of our staff have that (ESL) endorsement so we are able to work with any student who walks into our classrooms,” said CMS Director of Federal Programs David Briseno. Briseno is also an endorsed bilingual instructor and a member of the New Mexico Bilingual Teachers Association.

He said demographics in the United States are shifting. In schools and elsewhere, populations once considered the minority are becoming the majority, he said. According to U.S. Census Bureau projections, by 2050, Hispanics will account for more than 20 percent of the U.S. population.

Meeting the educational needs of these evolving populations is becoming more and more pertinent, Briseno said.

“When we look at the research done over a number of years, the most effective method of teaching ELL students is through a dual-language, two-way immersion program. The least desirable is the sink-or- swim method,” Briseno said.

A 1997 study conducted by educators Virginia Collier and Wayne Thomas shows students who receive ESL instruction and then receive instruction in English finish school between the 10th and 18th national percentile, or they do not even complete high school. Conversely, students who receive a form of bilingual education finish their schooling with average scores or exceed the 30th national percentile.

“What we are talking about, “Briseno said, “is not just acquiring a language. What we are trying to do is teach not only English, but science, social studies and math. If all we do is teach in English, then (ELL students) will not learn the other subjects and concepts.”
Multiplying the demand for bilingual educators is also a shift in mentality, Briseno said.

“One of the things the business world has already recognized is that we live in a global economy. Those individuals who have the ability to communicate in more than one language have a step up,” Briseno said.