In many parts of the U.S., the debate is raging over how bilingual education programs should be run or even whether or not they should be offered at all. Meanwhile, the number of bilingual programs continues to rise and, along with it, the need for qualified bilingual teachers. If you’re currently a teacher or plan to become one and you enjoy working in a multi-cultural environment, now is an excellent time to get training in bilingual education.
Job security is one reason. There may be stiff competition for many teaching positions, but right now the demand for bilingual education professionals outstrips the supply. Although many assume Spanish is the only language in demand, there’s increasing need for speakers of Asian languages and for special education teachers in either language group.
Not only are there more job vacancies, they pay is often higher, too. Some schools offer extra stipends, usually between $1,000 and $4,000 a year, or one-time bonuses for current teachers who obtain bilingual education endorsements.
If you’re concerned about the cost of training, keep in mind that due to the shortage of bilingual education teachers, grants, scholarships, loans, and other forms of support are available for teachers interested in taking this route.
What you’ll learn
Naturally, to become accredited to teach in a bilingual setting, you’ll have to be fluent in another language. Most programs require near-native fluency, so if you don’t yet have this skill, you may need between six to 12 credits of upper-division coursework in a second language before you can receive certification.
Of course, just knowing a second language doesn’t prepare you teach. Bilingual education programs are designed to give teachers the skills to help their students reach fluency in a second language, as well.
One of the primary subjects covered in the training courses is language acquisition, both in theory and in practice. Courses also provide teachers with a background in the teaching methods and types of material used in bilingual programs. In addition, teachers learn how to use and adapt curricula and standard teaching methods to individual students’ needs, as well as how to design their own bilingual curricula.
Beyond the difficulties of working with two languages, one of the main challenges of teaching in a bilingual setting is inter-cultural communication. Bilingual education teacher training courses focus much of their time on helping teachers gain awareness of cultural differences and the dynamics of cross-cultural teaching, as well as the sociological issues involved in educating minority students. Many courses also offer some instruction in how to work with special needs students.
As with most education endorsements, field experience is required. Under supervision, those studying bilingual education will have plenty of chances to teach in real bilingual classrooms. Some courses also involve ethnographic or sociological studies based on classroom experience.
For licensed teachers
If you already have your teaching license, there are several ways to go about getting a bilingual education endorsement. These vary by state, so you’ll want to check on local requirements. At the Web site of the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition and Language Instruction Educational Programs (NCELA), run by the U.S. Department of Education, you can find a state-by-state list of how and where to get a bilingual education endorsement.
Some states offer alternative accreditation programs to help those who want to become bilingual education teachers do so faster and more easily. If scheduling is a problem, you may also be able to do much of the necessary course work online. These distance learning opportunities are typically 18-22 credit programs for licensed teachers. The coursework is done online and fieldwork is arranged through schools in the student teacher’s locality.
Transitional bilingual education certificates are another option in some districts. These temporary permits are offered to those with a U.S. or foreign degree, who are now or were at one time authorized to teach, can meet the language requirements, and will be working toward endorsement. You’ll still need full training, but the temporary certificate can get you working in bilingual education faster.
For teachers interested in doing more advanced studies in bilingual education, there are several types of graduate programs available. While there is the choice of going for a Master of Arts in Bilingual Education, many teachers opt for a broader education degree, such as an M. Ed. in Elementary Education or Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), and add a minor in bilingual education.
For prospective teachers
If you’re considering becoming a teacher, how you train to work in bilingual classrooms will depend on your current level of education. With a bachelor’s or higher degree, you may be eligible to enroll in a teacher preparation program that specializes teaching in bilingual settings.
If you’re just beginning your post-secondary education, though, you’ll need to attain at least a bachelor’s degree in education or in the subject you’re interested in teaching. For those who plan to teach elementary students, options include certification as an EC-4 bilingual generalist or 4-8 bilingual generalist. To become a high school teacher, you’ll choose a major as usual, typically in a subject that would be taught in high school, and along with this, take additional courses in education and do practice teaching. The exact requirements and type of training, for both standard teacher licensing and bilingual certification, varies from state to state.
For information on the requirements in your area, talk with an admissions counselor at a local university or check with your state’s Department of Education. You can also find out more about requirements for each state at the NCELA’s Web site.