Teaching Profession

Bilingual Teachers Are in Short Supply. How Can Schools Cultivate Their Own?

By Corey Mitchell — March 19, 2019 2 min read
Ahmed Hassan, left, a bilingual communication support specialist at Talahi Elementary School in St. Cloud, Minn., mediates a conflict between Adnan Ahmed, 10, center, and Zeyle Mohamed, 10. Hassan provides linguistic and cultural support to school staff members and Somali families.
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The national shortage of multilingual educators has caught the eye of Congress and led school districts to travel overseas and off the U.S. mainland to fill vacancies or newly created positions.

Now, a Washington-based think tank has released a guide to help school districts and states that want to identify, develop, and hire bilingual educators in their own communities.

In recent years, the Education Policy Program at New America has studied schools in Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington state to learn about the design and implementation of successful grow-your-own programs—partnerships that prepare residents to work as teachers in their own communities.

Their new two-page resource synthesizes findings from those communities and recent research, outlining key practices and policies for states and districts to consider when launching or fine-tuning their efforts to train and hire bilingual teaching candidates.

The bilingual teacher shortage is widespread: 31 states and the District of Columbia have a shortage of teachers who work in bilingual, dual-language immersion, and English as a second language classrooms, federal data indicate.

The proposed policies and practices include creating data systems to track recruitment, job placement, and retention outcomes and developing teacher certification and licensure systems that offer multiple pathways for candidates to earn teaching credentials. The guide recommends that districts focus on recruiting “linguistically and culturally diverse candidates” who are reflective of the need of the community and offer potential candidates paid work experience under the guidance of mentor teachers.

The guide also aims to expand the definition of grow-your-own programs because some districts restrict their recruitment and development efforts by only grooming bilingual high school students as potential hires. That misses a wealth of candidates already working in schools as paraprofessionals or other working adults looking to make career changes, said Amaya Garcia, the deputy director for English learner education with the Education Policy Program at New America.

In previous reports, New America has explored the bureaucratic and financial barriers that paraprofessionals face when they want to transition to a lead role in the classroom and partnerships that help prospective teachers earn paychecks while getting on-the-job training.

“Grow-your-own is a much bigger term and concept that is really rooted in this idea of community and that you’re pulling people from the community to be teachers, and that part of that effort is done through partnerships,” Garcia. “These partnerships, they can be really impactful to promoting candidates’ success.”

Here’s a look at the resource.

Related Reading

The National Shortage of ELL Teachers Has Caught the Eye of Congress

Bilingual Staff Who Want to Teach Face Bureaucratic, Financial Barriers

Need for Bilingual Educators Moves School Recruitment Abroad

Policy Changes Could Solve the Nation’s Bilingual Teacher Shortage, Group Argues

Schools Are Falling Short for Many English-Learners

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.