As teacher shortages continue to occur across the country, the demand for certified bilingual teachers continues to escalate. States are finding it extremely difficult to find qualified applicants, though some states are even offering incentives to attract bilingual teachers.
Bilingual teachers face some big challenges across the country. To begin with, they frequently face more rigorous guidelines, as certification programs require them to be equally—if not more—skilled within the second language, as they are in English. In addition, the licensing requirements often vary from state to state, making it difficult for them to apply and transfer to new (sometime better paying) positions.
Some universities are collaborating with local community colleges to decrease the time it takes teachers to achieve certification or credentials. And a few are developing their own certification/credential programs. We talked with the directors of two such programs in the states of Texas and California.
Dr. Rossana Ramirez Boyd, is the Principal Lecturer and Director of the Bilingual/ESL Teacher Certification Programs, at the University of North Texas. She says that in Texas, certifications at the undergraduate level require teachers to meet the following requirements:
- 2.5 minimum GPA,
- admission interview,
- passing scores on the ACT or ACT,
- 120 credit hours of courses in pedagogy and content knowledge,
- early clinical experiences,
- passing scores on TExES certification tests,
- and student teaching.
Graduate level initial certification requires a 2.8 GPA, ACT, SAT or GRE passing scores, bilingual interview, 24 course credit hours, early and clinical field experiences, as well as passing scores on certification tests.
The requirements to become a dual-language teacher are the same, but the admission interview is in two languages; students take an additional test administered in Spanish to assess proficiency. They are also required to take two courses in Spanish, a TExES exam on bilingual supplemental information, and student teaching in a dual language classroom for one of their two rotations.
Dr. Ramirez Boyd says that UNT’s Bilingual/ESL Teacher Certification Programs is important because it includes courses on how to teach content and language in the bilingual classroom, assessment of language and content in both English and Spanish, and it includes early and clinical experiences in bilingual classrooms. The program, which currently has 120 students, also gives them the option to join the Bilingual/ESL Student Organization (BESO).
She says that students love the program because it is rigorous, and they graduate well prepared and confident. In addition, they receive additional financial support through scholarships to help ease the burden of tuition and exam fees.
However, Dr. Ramirez Boyd says that the biggest challenge that the program has is in recruiting bilingual individuals that have the proficiency in reading and writing skills in Spanish at the university level. So, to help more college students become dual language teachers, she would like to see a policy implemented that would require students to take several Spanish courses during their freshman and sophomore years to gain enough proficiency in that language.
California is different. It is a fifth-year program, which means it doesn’t offer an education degree to students as a result of the Fisher Act of 1961. The law required teachers to major in a particular field of study other than education and then complete their classes on teaching methods and student teaching during their fifth year. The law has recently been repealed, but universities haven’t made education degrees an option again, since they have feared losing federal funding in the form of Pell grants for current students in their 5th or 6th year of studying to earn their teaching credentials. And most universities already have good programs in place to help students working to become teachers.
California State University at San Marcos (CSUSM) is one example. It has developed a program for bilingual teachers by providing a bilingual authorization program that is licensed by the state. Students who complete it, receive the authorization to teach in a dual language setting.
Dr. Ana Hernández is an Associate Professor of Multicultural & Multilingual Education at the School of Education at CSUSM. She’s also the Director and Program Coordinator for Project ACCEPT, CSUSM’s Bilingual Authorization program. She says that to become a bilingual teacher, students must meet specific requirements.
First, teachers must either get a degree in a subject area that they're interested in (such as math or science) if they want to become a single subject teacher, or they go through a Liberal Studies major if they want to become an elementary teacher. The second requirement is that they have to apply to a credential program during their fifth year.
To do so generally requires students to take prerequisite courses. At CSUSM, there are three different areas: diversity in schooling, technology, and foundations of education. “It's really about your ideology and your philosophy in education,” Dr. Hernández said in a phone interview.
Once students take these prerequisite courses, they can then apply to the credential program, and that requires for them to first take some state exams that are required, and second , if you're going to be a bilingual teacher, take language proficiency exams. “California doesn't require them to go through a credential program if they pass the exam,” Dr. Hernández says.
According to CSUSM’s website, to be accepted into the Project ACCEPT, the Bilingual Authorization program, “student applicants must be fluent in Spanish and be able to pass the CSET Languages Other Than English (LOTE) III Exam in Spanish Language and Communication prior to issuance of the authorization. This CSET replaces the bilingual assessment through Extended Learning.”
You can find a complete list of the courses and exams associated with the Bilingual Authorization here on CSUSM’s website.
Dr. Hernández says that the biggest challenges are funding and time commitment. Sometimes, students have to take the costly exams more than once if they don’t pass the first time. “California has very stringent requirements. It has very high expectations,” she says. “We've added the numbers and before a student even starts in the credential program, they have to invest about $4,000 between the requisite courses and all the exams.”
Dr. Hernández says the cost and pressure of completing and passing numerous assessments and tests discourages students who frequently find it easier (and more lucrative) to use their bilingualism in other careers.
The program only has 22 students at the present time, which Dr. Hernández says is because it is “difficult to recruit students because we are not a standalone program; bilingual authorization is tied to the credential program.” She says that the program depends on the recruitment that is done at the credential level. And if they're not bringing in diverse students with multiple language backgrounds, then it's really hard to have a large pool of students in the bilingual authorization program.
Both Dr. Ramirez Boyd and Dr. Hernández say that their students are eagerly sought after by school districts because of the shortage of bilingual teachers in each state, so they secure teaching jobs quickly and frequently have more than one from which to choose.