Parents: Train teachers to better serve English learners

January 18, 2013

STEM Magnet Academy parent Christine Bay-Spiric complains that her children, who are English language learners, have met obstacles in school: Unclear homework instructions that she is expected to explain to them. Missing assignments because they couldn’t make up work from days they missed due to a religious holiday.

She and other parents are pinning their hopes for change on a law that State Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (24th District) plans to introduce in the next month.

Hernandez announced her proposal Thursday morning at a news conference organized by Gamaliel of Metro Chicago.

The proposed law would create two new required courses that all new teachers must take, in order to give them more training in how to help students who are minorities and English learners.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund will provide Hernandez with assistance in drafting the bill. Both the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools and the parent group Raise Your Hand also support the proposal.

It is possible the changes could also be made by the Illinois State Board of Education, without the requirement of a state bill.

State spokeswoman Mary Fergus notes that “we are continually looking for ways to improve educator preparation programs. We know this is important. Our Advisory Council on Bilingual Education plans to discuss this very topic in March.”

State rules that affect students graduating this summer and later do require new teachers to take a course, workshops, or classes that touch on serving English language learners, but advocates want to require two stand-alone courses on the issue.

Teacher Asma Khudeira from Edwards Elementary said at the press conference that she took numerous workshops on English learners that didn’t help her.

“They were fragmented in nature, they lacked a common purpose, and they were infrequent,” she said. “These should not be an option. They just demote English as a Second Language education to the sidelines.”

She added that her endorsement in teaching English as a Second Language helped her feel “much more prepared, not just to teach English language learners, but to teach all students.”