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  • Writer's pictureDavid Kauffman

Plan Now for Bilingual Teacher Vacancies

Elementary Dual Language Programs guidelines require that at least 50% of instruction be taught in the target language – typically Spanish – by bilingual certified teachers. Without bilingual teachers PK-5th, it isn’t Dual Language. Here are some suggested actions to start immediately if you anticipate a shortage of bilingual teachers for next school year, grouped into four categories:

A. Communicate and collaborate

B. Aggressively recruit and retain bilingual staff and volunteers

C. Strategically prioritize where bilingual teachers are assigned

D. Plan now for the classrooms that will not have bilingual teachers

A. Communicate and collaborate!

1. Share the data with all teachers, principals, and families immediately along with a direct message from the superintendent about the importance of dual language and the urgency—both moral and legal—of staffing bilingual teachers.

2. Convene an advisory group of dual language teachers and principals right away to problem-solve with human capital, the school leadership office, and your Multilingual Education team.

These two steps are essential for good decision-making and morale. Some of the necessary steps will be painful or seem unfair, so involving stakeholders is essential.

B. Aggressively recruit bilingual teachers, teaching assistants, and volunteers now.

3. Address teacher working conditions, one of the biggest factors in retaining teachers. This includes administrative support, school culture, involvement in decision-making, time, resources, and more.

4. Compensate! Double your bilingual stipend (at least temporarily for one year) to help retain, recruit, and reassign. (The state or federal government should figure out a way to fund this. This is a statewide and nationwide emergency.) Resist paying a signing bonus instead because that won’t help you retain current teachers—whom you need!)

5. Search for bilingual teachers everywhere. Start in your own district by trying to recruit the bilingual certified teachers who are teaching in non-bilingual classrooms. (Persuade them and offer incentives instead of involuntarily reassigning them.) Recruit from universities, alternative certification programs, and other countries. Seek out retired teachers and long-term substitutes. Make sure your induction, mentoring, and ongoing professional development are strong enough to support this diverse group of new hires.

6. Start hiring bilingual teaching assistants (TAs) or paraprofessionals centrally now so they can help provide Spanish instruction where the vacancies are. (Maybe you can’t financially afford additional TAs, but can you ethically, morally, and legally afford to deny Spanish instruction?) Be sure to plan for substantial training this summer.

7. Start recruiting bilingual volunteers now, including parents. Where you don’t have teachers who speak Spanish, at least you can have an adult in the classroom who does.

C. Strategically prioritize the placement of the bilingual teachers you do have with lots of input and feedback from your task force.

8. Map out exactly where you anticipate needing bilingual teachers next year. Remember that in Texas, an ESL teacher can teach the subjects taught in English in a dual language program—but not in transitional bilingual. [TAC§89.1210(c)(3&4)]. If you have a shortage, don’t waste bilingual teachers on English instruction, particularly at the grades where the language allocation is 50/50.

9. Establish priorities with an equity lens. I suggest the following, but you may choose differently in your district. Be sure to meaningfully involve your task force.

a. Make sure current emergent bilingual students have bilingual teachers. They have a right, at least in Texas [TAC§89.1245(a)]. But be wary of reneging on long-term commitments your district made to students in two-way dual language who are not categorized as emergent bilingual.

b. Start with bilingual teachers at pre-k and work your way up. This is in Texas policy [TAC§89.1207(a)(1)(C)].

c. Ensure that bilingual teachers are not disproportionately allocated to certain student groups (with the exceptions of emergent bilingual students, Latinos, and students living in poverty). Don’t let staffing shortages exacerbate what Valdez, Freire & Delavan (2016) call “the metaphorical gentrification” of dual language.

d. Consider campus commitment and fidelity of implementation. Expectations for implementation should be the same for every campus, but in reality some believe more strongly and try harder. Make sure those schools are resourced with the bilingual teachers they need.

e. Follow district policy & procedures regarding teacher assignments, of course, but try to change them for the future if they impede equitable access to bilingual teachers.

10. Develop a process, timeline AND communication plan for assigning newly hired bilingual teachers AND for moving current teachers to high-priority classrooms. Consider:

a. You may leave some priority classrooms vacant for now in anticipation of hiring this spring or summer (Plan A), but if you wait too long to implement Plan B you may be left with few options and no time for planning & training.

b. Will moves be voluntary or involuntary? If voluntary, what are the incentives? If involuntary, how will the moves be communicated and justified? Moves to different grade levels and/or different schools can be very disruptive and upsetting to all involved. Make sure the communication happens early and is clearly explained.

D. Plan now for how schools will adjust to having one or more bilingual vacancies once the school year starts.

11. Plan now how you will meet the needs of students who do not have a bilingual teacher. Remember that in Texas districts are required to file an exception listing each bilingual vacancy [TAC§89.1207(a)(1)]. For exceptions, TEA requires “a description of the alternative instructional program and methods to meet the affective, linguistic, and cognitive needs” of the emergent bilingual students [TAC§89.1207(a)(1)(B)] and “an assurance that the school district will implement a comprehensive professional development plan” that prepares the exception teachers to serve the needs of emergent bilingual students [TAC§89/1207(a)(1)(D)]. Plan the alternative instructional program and professional development now, not in October when the exception reports are due to TEA. Too late then!

12. Hire ESL certified teachers specifically to fill the inevitable bilingual vacancies as early as possible in order to select teachers who have the skills, knowledge, experience, beliefs, and mindset to educate emergent bilingual students and to approximate the dual language model as much as possible.

13. Use supplemental personnel to provide target language instruction to the degree possible. Consider teaching assistants, bilingual specialists, librarians, administrators, volunteers, etc. Consider team teaching, combining students across two grades, use of remote teaching, etc.

The critical shortage of bilingual teachers is a crisis, but planning ahead and taking action early can alleviate some of the potential disruption and harm, especially to the students identified as emergent bilingual who have a legal right to a bilingual education.

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