My other me

New teacher training program aims to ease the shortage of dual language immersion teachers in Washington.

 

When Salvador Gomez was growing up harvesting fruit with his family in Eastern Washington, he learned lessons he values and uses every day.

“Picking cherries, peaches, apples, pears, trimming trees in the winter—it taught me how to value hard work,” said Gomez, the first ever dual language immersion teacher on staff at Bellevue’s Highland Middle School. “I learned how to cultivate and make things grow—to make things happen.”

What was much harder to learn, Gomez said, was the value of his family’s Mexican language and culture. “We learned we needed to master English, the dominant language, to be successful,” he said. “But as I got older I started to love my own background and culture more. 

“That’s one of biggest reasons I wanted to be a dual language teacher. And as a master’s student at the UW, I was really able to dig into language and identity and what they mean in the classroom.”

Video spotlight

Hear Salvador Gomez share his journey to become a dual language teacher at Bellevue’s Highland Middle School and Professor Manka Varghese on the importance of preparing more teachers for dual language classrooms.

An urgent and growing need

Nationwide and locally, dual language teachers like Gomez are in high demand—and short supply. According to the Pew Research Center, about one in every ten schoolchildren in the U.S. is classified as an English language learner (ELL). A large majority of them are native Spanish speakers.

Locally, the percentage is much higher. “Last year was the first year in King County 50 percent of first graders were speaking languages other than English at home,” said Teddi Beam-Conroy, director of the UW’s Elementary Teacher Education Program (ELTEP). “The teaching force really isn’t well prepared for that.”

Audio Extra

Salvador Gomez '17, the first bilingual teacher at Bellevue's Highland Middle School, shares how he fosters student engagement in the classroom and his journey into teaching.

Washington Superintendent Chris Reykdal has identified significant expansion of dual language learning as a key priority for the state. To address the issue, a number of districts are changing their approach from merely offering ELL instruction, which emphasizes English mastery, to dual language classrooms where students receive true bilingual education in English and a second language.

“There are not many preparation programs for dual language teachers in Washington,” Beam-Conroy said. “That means districts across the state have had to recruit not only from different parts of the U.S. but even from other countries.”

Thanks to a $2.4 million U.S. Department of Education grant attained by Associate Professors Manka Varghese and Dafney Blanca Dabach, a new project called Bilingual Educator Capacity (BECA) will allow ELTEP to prepare about 60 new dual language trained teachers (Spanish-English and Vietnamese-English) over the next three years.

The grant will allow BECA to offer candidates half off their tuition for the program. All graduates will be guaranteed placement in dual language immersion programs in nine local school districts who are partnering with the College of Education. And recruitment efforts will encourage candidates of color and those who are multilingual to apply.

Audio Extra

Associate Professor Manka Varghese discusses the UW College of Education's work to prepare more dual language-certified teachers to serve in Washington schools and communities.

Varghese said the grant application was based in part on extensive research into what would help dual language teachers succeed in the classroom. This research included actively soliciting partner school districts’ input, along with input from the Washington Association for Bilingual Education and other community and bilingual organizations nationwide.

That research showed, among other things, that bilingual educators do best when they receive ongoing support. For that reason, Varghese said, unlike other new teachers, all BECA candidates will receive extensive mentoring and professional development during the challenging first year of teaching.

The grant also will support research about how to better prepare and support dual language teachers, with UW researchers examining aspects of the program such as placements and mentoring. Ultimately, that research will help inform how the UW College of Education and other education schools can sustain and scale the preparation of more dual language teachers.

Preserving culture is socially just

“I find the dual language model exciting because it’s a natural tool of social justice,” said Isabel Sinclair, an ELTEP candidate who student teaches in a third-grade dual language classroom at Bellevue’s Sherwood Forest Elementary. “The dual language model reaches historically marginalized populations, and gives students the chance to see their native language as a strength instead of a barrier.”
 
“I’m more than thrilled that UW is focusing on preparing bilingual teachers of color because our students really deserve to see themselves represented in their teachers,” said Jennifer Johnson, supervisor of programs for multilingual learners at the Bellevue School District. “And I’m hopeful that, as our students receive a K-12 bilingual education, we will see more bilingual teachers of color enter the process.”

“Being able to offer this to more kids and being able to honor more children’s language backgrounds is very important to me,” Beam-Conroy said. “I’ve spent my whole life in multilingual education. My own kids all had bilingual education. To be able to continue that trajectory on the teacher education end is really exciting.”

A brave environment

“A lot of educators talk about the importance of creating a safe environment,” Gomez said. “I like to think of this model of creating a brave environment. I want my students to feel brave enough to make a mistake.”

Gomez said his UW training helped clarify the ideas about language and identity he uses to guide his teaching. “I really appreciated Manka (Varghese’s) classes because we were able to dig into language and equity and what they mean. Working with Renee (Shank) was also awesome, just phenomenal. Knowing that she speaks Spanish was great. They helped me understand why I wanted to become a teacher.

“When students are able to bring whatever they’ve got to the table, they feel comfortable coming and talking to me about situations that are going on with them. Loving the language and the culture and who you are as a person is really important to me. I really like to think of all the students in my classroom as a familia—a family."

There’s a poem Gomez likes to share with his students that he feels exemplifies that idea.
It’s called “In Lak’ech,” by American writer Luis Miguel Valdez:

Tú eres mi otro yo.
You are my other me.

Si te hago daño a ti,
If I do harm to you,

Me hago daño a mi mismo.
I do harm to myself.

Si te amo y respeto,
If I love and respect you,

Me amo y respeto yo.
I love and respect myself.

 

 

  • 22%

    of students in Washington’s Road Map Project region are English language learners

  • 36%

    of students in Washington’s Road Map Project region live in households where English is not the primary language

  • 50%

    of urban school districts in the U.S. currently have a shortage of ELL teachers or expect a shortage within the next 5 years