ESL and bilingual are in-demand endorsements

SchoolsColleges and UniversitiesCultureArts and CultureTim CollinsU.S. Department of Education

Demographics tell the tale of the need to prepare increasingly more teachers to educate English language learners. The demand is there and the rewards are great for educators who choose this field.

Many area universities are addressing this demand by offering ESL and bilingual endorsements through traditional and non-traditional programs. Some schools go beyond the traditional on-campus course delivery model to offer more accessible means to certification.

Alternative routes

University of St. Francis is starting a new program it hopes will attract those interested in the field from far afield.

"In response to this trend, the University of St. Francis, College of Education, has come to the conclusion that the best way to meet the needs of educators seeking these courses in surrounding areas would be to prepare the courses for an online delivery model," says Sharon Wysoglad, executive director Advanced Programs and Professional Development University of St. Francis, College of Education. "Our first course will be offered this summer."

National Louis University has long recognized the need for these endorsements and has focused on a distinct aspect of delivery: partnering with school districts to offer a cluster cohort program.

"Our cohort model helps teachers in a school or district complete the required courses together, usually on-site in a school building," says Tim Collins, associate professor at NLU. "The program came about because it is much easier for a professor to drive to a school, than for all the teachers to drive to a campus. We have offered this option for many years, and it has helped thousands of teachers get their approvals in a very convenient format."NLU recently completed a five-year, $750,000 grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education, Building Community for English Language Acquisition, in partnership with DuPage County Districts 4, 45, and 88.

"This grant trained 60 teachers in the ESL approval coursework, provided forums and after school activities for faculty and staff at the district schools, and developed local leadership," says NLU professor Kristin Lems.

Demographics dictate

The need for ESL and bilingual endorsements is growing because of the demographic diversity in the Chicagoland area. "In the past, there was a greater concentration of ELLs [English language learners] and their families in the city, but diversity is now a part of every community in the Chicagoland area, and schools in all districts now need qualified ESL/BE teachers to serve the children in their schools," says NLU's Collins.

The difference between the two endorsements, or approvals, is that one qualifies teachers to teach English as a second language, and the other allows teachers to teach bilingual education. NLU encourages students seeking the bilingual approval also obtain the ESL approval, since the requirements are similar and overlap.

"This gives bilingual educators the greatest appeal in the job market, making them the most flexible and therefore the most employable," says Collins.

All different kinds of teachers seek ESL/BE approvals.

"Frequently, we find that even veteran teachers need this approval in order to remain highly qualified in their districts -- as schools and communities become more diverse -- all schools are serving more and more ELLs and require teachers to get the approvals to meet the needs of the changing student body," says Collins.

Cohort support

Ed Murphy, Director of Foreign Language and ELL at Niles Township High School District 219, is pursuing an ESL endorsement through an NLU cluster cohort.

"The state made a requirement that anybody supervising an ELL program with an enrollment of more than 200 students must be endorsed in ELL," says Murphy. "In order to retain my position I must have my certification no later than July 1, 2010."

Murphy's cohort takes place at Niles North High School and is comprised of 23 teachers pursuing ELL certification. The class meets every Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. for three quarters -- fall, winter and spring. Six classes will be required for this endorsement, which began January 2009 and will end December 2010.

In addition to the time saved by not traveling off campus, Murphy sees many benefits to his Niles cohort. "Because all of the teachers involved are from the same district, the class can be tailored to the needs of our specific school," he says. "And a richer discussion can take place because the teachers have had similar experiences with relationship to ELL."

In addition to the growing demand, Murphy, as an administrator, sees the relevance of this field of education in another light.

"The ELL student is often one without an advocate," he says. "Because their parents are typically new to this country and don't speak English, they often don't know how to navigate the American education system."

In demand

Laura Finkel of Glenview is currently enrolled in NLU's ESL endorsement program at the Skokie campus. She sees the language barrier at an early age in her position as an instructional aide at Lions Park elementary school in Mount Prospect working with children who have special needs.

"Many children start school lagging behind their peers because they speak another language at home yet they are cognitively advanced," she says. "I feel it is important to preserve a child's home language and culture while helping them learn English so they can succeed in school."

Finkel says there is a definite demand for these endorsements, something she witnessed when she was looking for a teaching position after graduation and saw that the ELL endorsement was required for many of the positions that were open.

"We live in diverse communities," she says. "I feel respect for people of all cultures is important, and the ELL endorsement is a good way to start to bridge the cultural gaps that can often occur from ignorance or misunderstandings." ■

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