As an English Language Learner (ELL) teacher with 40 years of experience, I found your piece on English language learners very informative but mostly despairing. I come from New Bedford and left to teach in international schools because I could never get a job in New Bedford. I applied year after year with absolutely no results because you needed to know someone. Not know how to teach, not know your content, just know a person who can get you a job. Any job. It is such a disservice to the kids of New Bedford that this was the main qualification. And it is reflected in one of the reasons for New Bedford’s low levels of academic achievement.
As an immigrant myself, English was not my first language. New Bedford has always had EL students, especially with its large Portuguese population. And yet, the article states, “In 2013, there were 789 English Learner (EL) students. At the time, the district did not employ any English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers.” This is particularly heartbreaking and a scandal along with the student/teacher ratio. At my elementary school, we had ONE ELL teacher per grade. These are the kind of numbers you need to ensure success.
New Bedford can do this too, but you “hafta wanna.” There is a serious need for teachers and administrators to be educated on the latest, successful methods in language acquisition. All of them are based on including the entire school community.
At my school, we have an inclusion program where the ELL teachers go into the regular classroom and work with the kids there. Only rarely did we pull out the kids because research shows the best place to learn English is in the regular classroom with their classmates and using modified lessons. The reason for this is that although social English is important and relatively easy to learn, the really essential English is academic. This is what will be the deciding factor whether the kids will be successful in school. If they don’t understand the content, they will not stay in school.
We are often joined by native speakers who have reading and writing challenges. Because we are an additional teacher in the classroom, everybody benefits. It’s time to stop using methods and ideas from the 20th century and join the 21st. It’s time to start adopting research-based language acquisition methods and face the new realities. New Bedford deserves it.
Mary Niesluchowska, a New Bedford High School and UMass Dartmouth graduate, teaches at the American School of Warsaw.
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