LAWRENCE — The demand for English as a second language teachers is growing across the nation as more bilingual and multilingual students are enrolling in all levels of American schools. A University of Kansas professor has published a study arguing that not only can the experiences of bi/multilingual teachers provide insight to effective teaching; they should be required in all teacher preparation programs.
Hyesun Cho, assistant professor of curriculum and teaching, co-authored the article with Terri Rodriguez of Duquesne University. It was published in the journal Teaching and Teacher Education. The authors analyzed data from two studies: one with Latino teacher candidates in the Midwest, the other with bilingual preservice teachers in Hawaii. In both, participants described their experiences as bi/multilingual students and how they will affect their teaching styles when they enter the classroom professionally.
Many teacher preparation programs address diversity and understanding other cultures, but it is often covered in a single class period or assignment.
“A high percentage of preservice teachers don't share the linguistic and cultural backgrounds of diverse students in their future classrooms. Because of that, they may not understand the experience of ESL students,” Cho said. “We’re saying that we really need to create the pedagogical space in the curriculum and in the culture to bring the experiences of those students to the table.”
Where many view cultural differences as simply variations in food or clothing among cultures, teacher preparation needs to consider cultural norms, values and power differences, Cho said. The stereotype of the “quiet Asian” student came up regularly in the Hawaii study. International students from East Asian countries often remained silent because they were not familiar with American classroom practice and because they weren’t given the opportunity to contribute to class discussion. Teachers and classmates simply assumed their silence was due to their ethnicity. The problem is made worse when class participation is a large factor in class grades. The research is also examining different learning styles and the complex nature of silence in the classroom.
“It’s not just a language barrier minority students deal with,” Cho said. “It’s different cultural norms and experiences as well. It can be difficult for some students because they simply may not know where to jump in during class discussions. But does being quiet in the classroom mean they’re not learning?”
Cho, who teaches classes in ESL and bilingual education, says all preservice teachers can benefit from studying the experiences of minority and bi/multilingual students. Whether they are teaching ESL classes or not, most teachers will have students who are not native speakers of English at some point. Native English speaking students can also benefit from teachers who understand various learning styles.
“This shouldn’t just be a one-time assignment,” Cho said. “Questions of equity and social justice should be considered in all levels of teacher preparation.”
By making a place in teacher preparation curriculum for real-life narratives of minority students, programs would train better teachers, potentially change the status quo and, most importantly, produce better-educated generations of students.
“Whether conducted ‘within’ or ‘outside’ of the classroom walls, we argue that the deliberate effort to seek out the voice of linguistic minorities in teacher education programs permits us as practitioners and researchers to shift power relations in challenging certain dominant academic discourses while legitimizing marginalized voices,” the authors wrote.