Sunday, April 24, 2016

Crossing State Lines: Correcting EL/Bilingual Methods Deficiencies for Teacher Certification (Part 1)

When we first decided to move from Kentucky to Illinois, I sought out guidelines for becoming certified to teach middle and secondary language arts.  In whatever way our new adventure developed, I wanted to be prepared.  Many university teacher education programs require certification in their states, further catalyzing my push for an Illinois teacher license. 

Kentucky requires tests called the PRAXIS that assess teacher candidates in content areas and teaching knowledge, which I passed in 2003 before being hired as a middle school language arts teacher.  However, Illinois required another round of tests, which I paid to take last fall and passed, and which removed some of the "deficiencies" (yes, this is what Illinois calls them), moving me toward full certification--but not completely.  Throughout my teacher education graduate program and later doctoral studies, nowhere did I have coursework specifically focused on English language learning or bilingual methods.  Therefore, my dissertation adviser and I worked out a plan for me to design an independent study to include different types of observation hours (professional development sessions, classroom observations, and interviews) and various readings (English learner teacher standards, research articles, proven strategies, and critical literacy texts). 

At the end of my dissertation journey and having been certified to teach in Kentucky for so many years, I was more than slightly annoyed at having to complete these requirements (pay for tests, pay for another graduate course) but chose to see the potential positives of this last "deficiency."  The positives did, indeed, come to light as I found readings and field locations to support my English language learner/bilingual methods curriculum.  Through texts such as O'Donnell-Allen and Garcia's (2015) Pose, Wobble, Flow and Al-Saraj's (2015) The Anxious Language Learner, I realized there was more to an English language learner methods course than best classroom practices and time-proven strategies.  I learned to shift my mindset to look at cultural and motivational components of learning English.

After gathering reading material, I volunteered to help the Illinois Writing Project with an in-service day at a nearby district.   By serendipitous fortune, I met Stacie who was a director for the English Learner/Bilingual program in a northern district.  She presented a professional development session on K-5 EL in the morning and 6-12 EL in the afternoon.  I attended both.  Her presentations and classroom strategies for meeting the various needs of English learners prompted me to request observation time in her district elementary, middle, and secondary schools.  And that is where real learning began.