Techniques in sheltered instruction may benefit all students
California’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the authorizing agency for teachers, requires an English Learner authorization for all kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers.
The relevant California Education Code, section 44253.1, states that about 20 percent of California’s K-12 students have limited English proficiency, and the number is expected to rise. The section reads in part: “For these [EL] pupils to have access to quality education, their special needs must be met by teachers who have essential skills and knowledge related to English language development.”
Terry King, San Dieguito Union High School District’s associate superintendent of human resources, said the authorization does not instruct teachers to speak the language (it could be any number of different languages spoken by English language learner students), but rather provides “sheltered instruction” that can be applied to any student whose first language is not English.
Sheltering techniques teach instructors how to say things a little differently to reach kids who don’t always get it the first time, explained King, who said, “That works for everybody.”
The California Department of Education states that districts can require its teachers to have an EL authorization even if the teacher has no English language learners in his or her classroom. According to the CDE, “In all cases, the district has the obligation to assure that teachers providing instructional services to ELs are appropriately authorized. … If a district is requesting that their teachers hold an EL authorization even though they are not providing any EL services, they may do so as an employment requirement for the position.”
Incentives and sanctions are at the discretion of the district, the state says.
“It’s a big deal,” said King, and not only because the state requires it. “Everything is on computer now,” she said. “Our student information system is linked with the credentialing system for teachers, and the payroll system. If we’re off, if there’s one [ELL] kid in that teacher’s class, that teacher wouldn’t even get a paycheck.”
Initial concern from the district and teachers was significant, said Bob Croft, head of SDUHSD’s teachers’ union. “How we address such mutual concerns is what I think sets San Dieguito apart from other districts,” he said. “When the EL requirement came along a few years ago and districts had to decide how they were going to get all their teachers qualified with this new authorization, they were stumped.”
Many districts have made unreasonable demands, offered no assistance or support, and threatened teachers even with dismissal to get them moving toward meeting the authorization requirements and deadlines, he said, noting that SDUHSD uses a more constructive approach.
“Most of those districts really did not want to punish or dismiss their teachers … but their actions created a tremendous amount of lasting bad will and divisiveness and placed the entire burden upon the teachers,” Croft said. “Some districts did actually attempt to punish teachers, even up to the point of dismissal.”
He said San Dieguito focused on the long-term benefit rather than short-term threats to produce better and more lasting results for teachers and students.
Even when teachers understand the motivation, new credentialing requirements are often frustrating, Croft said. “The feeling at times is that the state legislature offers political solutions [or] satisfaction to various lobbying advocacy groups, with the burden falling on the shoulders of California teachers, sort of another unfunded mandate upon public education,” he said. “But in these instances the mandate falls upon the teachers.”
King also characterized this as another unfunded mandate. But for this requirement, she said there are sanctions on the district if there’s a misassignment.
“We have to get the teachers to do it,” King said. “The state looks at it almost as seriously as if I let a teacher with a math credential teach Japanese. We are monitored by the state. If there’s a misassignment, just the same as if a teacher’s credential lapses, the county will withhold their paycheck. So we could potentially have teachers not paid.”
New teachers can be required to get the EL authorization as a condition of employment and are not given the $1,000 stipend the district offers to existing teachers as an incentive to become EL-authorized, King said. “Anyone we hire who is brand new we make them get it because we can do it,” she said.
Although she said the state over-reacted in this case, feedback from teachers who completed the classes has been positive. “I won’t say I like having it forced upon anybody, but it turned out to be a good thing,” King said.
She said there has been little resistance from teachers, and even the few reluctant teachers reported that they learned good techniques that were not specific for ELL students.
“They learned ways to make their subject matter more accessible to all kids, including some kids with special needs,” she said. “It’s not just needless training or seat time. So I think it’s really good training. I have to say I feel really good about it.”
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