It’s back to school time, and while many students are struggling to master history, chemistry or calculus, it’s an even tougher battle for students learning English for the first time. Unfortunately, it is a common issue in school districts across the country as some students who may not even be fully proficient in their native language try to keep pace with their peers.

Specifically, the percentage of English Language Learning (ELL) or English Second Language (ESL) students graduating high school within four years still trails other subgroups, including students with disabilities and those who come from low-income families. Nationally, this number was at 62.6 percent according to US Department of Education statistics.

School districts are trying to counter this issue by hiring instructors who focus on and are certified in teaching English as a second language.  However, finding certified instructors is often challenging, as Lindsey Christ writes in this New York Channel 1 article. “While the city education department hopes to hire 300 more English language teachers this year, a spokeswoman could not say how many more are needed. Experts estimate it may be in the thousands. ‘If we’re serious about serving immigrant students and immigrant families in the city, we need to do a better job,’ said Shael Polakow-Suransky, president of the Bank Street College of Education.”

Aliyya Swaby writes in The Texas Tribune that retirement has impacted the shortage as well. “‘That whole group of teachers is starting to retire, and there’s no one to replace them,’ Loving said. This means teachers left in the classroom are bearing even more labor, and students are not receiving enough attention to meet their needs.”


Daunting differences

Recognizing the significance of this issue, more programs are underway with hopes of filling the demand for certified teachers. For instance, in New York, Bank Street College of Education has launched a new degree program to help certify more ESL/ELL teachers. Unfortunately, it will train just two dozen per year.

Likewise, as Linda Borg reports in this Providence Journal article, the Rhode Island Foundation has teamed with state and local education leaders to send 60 public school teachers back to college to become certified as ESL instructors or bilingual teachers. By covering two-thirds of the cost of tuition, the program hopes to lower the financial barriers that discourage teachers from getting that additional training.

The universal challenge, however, is that there are limits to how many educators these programs can certify over the next few years. Unfortunately, the number obtaining certification is barely scratching the surface in comparison to the growing need.


Seeking a solution

Integrating distance learning – using video conferencing – could play a meaningful role in training more ESL teachers. By adding a new avenue, video conferencing could open the door to much larger groups receiving face-to-face instruction without teachers having to physically return to college to add needed certification.

Teachers could tap into programs that meet their individualized needs regardless of where they reside. And, because of the face-to-face component, it is possible to recognize and address frustrations in some instances better than traditional environments.

In the short-term, if schools embrace a quality distance learning solution, it could also serve as a means of leveraging geographically dispersed certified instructors to provide ESL students with needed assistance in translating materials and providing support.


Bottom line: while it will take time to fully meet the need, including encouraging the next batch of education majors to add bilingual certification, it’s time to think outside the box when looking for ways to address the growing shortage of ESL certified instructors. And, if properly utilized, video conferencing could provide some needed relief.

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