Teachers Should Talk Good?

So in following the goings on in the Arizona law debate, I came across this interesting article in the Wall Street Journal: Arizona Grades Teachers on Fluency (Miriam Jordan, Wall Street Journal).  It tells about a new push to ensure students who are English language learners (ELL) have teachers who have a command over English not only in terms of grammar but also in terms of accent and teachers who speak English as a second language (ESL) themselves.  Fascinating!  It seems that there are many qualified and experienced teachers who are ESL that were hired in an attempt to diversify the teacher workforce.  However the concern is that ELL students may not be given the greatest advantage in learning alongside native speakers if their teacher doesn’t speak English well either.

Here are my thoughts:

English is the language of our city, state, and national governments, of the laws of our land, and of commerce.  Countries worldwide teach their students English.

Regardless how long a teacher has been teaching or why he or she was hired, it is their responsibility to have a command of the curriculum, including English.  Teachers are required to participate in ongoing education, keep themselves up to date on relevant research and technology, and maintain a standard of excellence in the eduction they provide.  Frankly, I don’t care what the motivation was behind hiring teachers without a command of the language or that English is not officially the national language.  The ultimate question here is not about what is best for the teachers but what is best for the students.

I care about the level of understanding a child can have over English when the teacher doesn’t have a command over the language.  I’m not simply looking at ELL students either.  English is the language used in math, science, social studies, and health books.  It is the language of the standardized tests students are subjected to yearly and on which schools are judged.  In a time when student achievement is a focal point of politics and the media, I find it fascinating that anyone would object to having teachers who speak English well.  Without a command over the language, no students can be expected to perform as well in school or later in life as their potential had they the ability to comprehend and communicate well the written and spoken language.

As a teacher, I know what it is to be concerned about the politics behind education today and the lack of concern over students as individuals.  I know what it is to be concerned that my job may be in jeopardy because my students may not be able to make the progress the government says they should make because teachers do not exist and teach in a vacuum; my students are affected by society, pop culture, their parents and the nurturing they received prior to stepping foot in my classroom.  I also know what it is to struggle to see students make progress learning how to write, read, or follow simple spoken directions because their spoken and written language in 3 or 4 years of school has been allowed to exclude the all important verb or a basic understanding of word order.  I have seen and work with teachers who use incorrect grammar daily in their lessons, conversations, and notes home.

Make no mistake about it: It is a disservice to students that they should receive an inadequate education, whether it is because a teacher is under-qualified, a danger to children, unwilling to grow as a teacher, or unable to teach using the language used in the texts, the tests, and higher levels of education.

© Dulcinea 2010. All rights reserved.

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