State of Oregon faces teacher shortage as districts add bilingual programs.Hannah Keen has a plan: English in the morning, Spanish in the afternoon. But just a few weeks into the school year, sometimes she has to deviate.On a recent Monday morning, her kindergarten class was practicing “S” words — sock, sun, spoon, straw.
“Si, pero en ingles,” she told a boy. To another squirming boy she said, in Spanish, to pay attention. On the board the date was written in English and Spanish; on the walls were posters with colors and shapes identified in both languages.
Keen teaches in the dual language program at Barnes Butte Elementary School, where students learn in English and Spanish. She estimates of her 28 students, about a dozen are native English speakers, a dozen are native Spanish speakers and the rest are bilingual.
“Yes, there are going to be times when my English speakers are in the Spanish time and they’re not going to understand it so well,” she said. Then she would use hand motions, visuals and repeat key vocabulary until it sinks in. “Even though I’m speaking Spanish, they definitely catch on.”
Research shows these programs can close the achievement gap between native and non-native English speakers. Last year there were more than 80 dual language programs in Oregon. But as more districts add them, the state is facing a shortage of bilingual teachers.
“Staffing is a challenge,” said Jim Bates, principal at Barnes Butte. “The goal is to have a rock-solid Spanish-skilled instructor in front of the kids.”
His district lost three bilingual teachers over the summer and has had to cut back how much Spanish instruction older elementary students receive. In kindergarten through third grade, bilingual teachers teach half in Spanish, half in English, but older students get only about 45 minutes a day in Spanish.
Dual language is an umbrella term for many different models that use two languages in one classroom. Some are strictly for non-native English speakers and wean them off of instruction in their native language over time. Dual immersion programs, however, expose students to two languages at once with the goal of developing proficiency in both.
Most programs in Oregon are English/Spanish, though some teach Japanese, Mandarin, Russian and Vietnamese.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Oregon has had a shortage of bilingual teachers and those who can teach English language learners for nearly a decade. The state is certainly aware of the problem. Its plan to help English language learners includes the goal of hiring more bilingual teachers, as does its plan for improving teacher diversity. (The Bulletin)
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