What Happens to Pre-service Teachers After They Graduate from a University Immersion Program?
The ACIE Newsletter, February 2006, Vol. 9, No. 2
By Tony Erben Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL
The Languages and Cultures Initial Teacher Education Program (LACITEP) is a 4-year Bachelor of Education program in which some courses are delivered through the medium of Japanese to native English speakers. Located at a rural Australian university, LACITEP was established in 1993 as a response to the Australian government’s agenda to promote instruction in languages other than English (LOTE) throughout the country. The idea behind LACITEP is to graduate highly proficient second language (L2) teachers through the practice of immersion at the university level. Within LACITEP a minimum of 50% of curriculum subjects are delivered through the medium of Japanese. In effect a subject is either (a) totally delivered through Japanese; (b) delivered in such a way that the lecture is given in English and the tutorials or seminars are given in Japanese; or (c) totally delivered through the medium of English.
Teachers enrolled in LACITEP become licensed as K-12 teachers with specializations in (1) Japanese as a Foreign Language (JFL) K-12, (2) elementary education, and (3) elementary immersion education through Japanese. The purpose of the study reported in this article was to explore whether LACITEP graduates remain in the teaching profession or take their language expertise into other workplace settings.
A survey of the literature shows that no long-term survey of students graduating from university immersion degree programs exists. However, Hart, Lapkin and Swain (1998) and Wesche (1992) tracked French immersion students who graduated from high school and entered university. A part of both studies focused on what happened to immersion students in the work force. Their general findings included that: (1) graduates valued their immersion experience; (2) French helped graduates secure employment; (3) graduates generally have positive attitudes towards French and francophones; (4) most plan to send their own children to an immersion program in the future; and (5) many graduates could fill bilingual positions, especially those not requiring writing.
Many respondents also made recommendations as to the need to increase opportunities for contact and interaction with francophones in most parts of Canada (e.g. Wesche, 1992), and increase exposure to different varieties of French in classrooms, especially oriented to the ability of immersion students to understand speakers of Canadian French.
What these studies do not answer is whether or not immersion graduates actually use their language skills in their jobs, for how long and to what degree, and whether their language skills after graduation increase or decline? Such questions were explored in this study. Specifically, the primary research questions guiding this study were:
1) What difference has immersion schooling made in the lives
2) What kind of L1 and L2 skills do graduates have 1, 2, 5 and 10 years after graduation?
3) What are their attitudes toward the L2 and its use and how much do they use it?
4) What factors in the workplace frame the use and maintenance of Japanese by graduates?
Data Collection and Findings
The study focused on 105 graduates who entered LACITEP beginning in 1993 and through 1997. In June 2004, letters inviting all 105 graduates to respond to a survey questionnaire were mailed. Of the 105, 90 (71 female; 19 male) were located, and 15 envelopes were returned unopened. A positive response rate of 75 returns (83.3% of total graduates, 66.66% of total located) was achieved. In October, 2004 follow-up telephone interviews were conducted with 20 who had returned the survey. The returned surveys were distributed into five cohort piles (1993-1997) and 20 were randomly selected for follow-up interviews (four from each cohort pile).
Based on the data received from the surveys/interviews, six major themes arose and are presented in the table on page 14.
In light of the data summarized in this table, I will return to the original questions of this study to contextualize these findings.
What difference has participation in immersion schooling made in the lives of graduates?
Many respondents indicated that their reason for entering LACITEP was to improve their Japanese and not necessarily to enter the teaching profession. Others saw teaching as a stepping stone into other professions or travel overseas. However, many indicated that LACITEP offered such a wide range of experiences that many graduates just ‘fell in love’ with teaching. The majority (75%) of immersion graduates have remained, even ten years on, in the teaching profession. Respondents saw their immersion pre-service program as an investment in the future. Even though the vast majority considered the program demanding and time-consuming, they did see the rewards early in their studies, namely great strides and improvement in their L2 proficiency. Data indicate that the more proficient the immersion graduates were at the end of their studies, the more likely they have been to remain in teaching. 36% (n=27) have gone on to graduate studies and two are completing Ph.D.s.
What kind of first and second language skills do these graduates have one, two, five and ten years after graduation?
In terms of language maintenance, a surprising 50% of respondents said that their L2 improved since graduation. Concomitantly, interview data reveal that graduates feel that those reaching higher proficiency levels in the L2 by time of graduation have been better able in the long-term to maintain and/or improve their Japanese in subsequent years. This is because those with higher proficiency levels sought out more opportunities to engage with native speakers and enter linguistically more demanding situations than those with lower levels of L2 proficiency.
What are their attitudes toward the L2 and its use
and how often do they actually use it?
Interestingly, interviews revealed that most graduates’ self perceptions of their own L2 ability are pessimistic compared to testing data. At their employment interview with the department of education in this rural Australia, all prospective foreign language/immersion teachers undergo an oral proficiency interview; on a six point scale LACITEP graduates have always received the top two ratings (S1 and S2) outperforming all other graduates from other universities. The discrepancy between their self perceptions and their ratings on proficiency tests seems to boil down to a collective notion among LACITEP students that in terms of knowing the L2, it is a case of ‘the more they know they don’t know’. Aside from any professional humbleness, LACITEP graduates maintain very positive attitudes towards the L2. Many have engaged in cultural ambassador roles, revisited Japan, or currently live in Japan and have married Japanese nationals. There is a high correlation between those who have maintained or increased their level of Japanese proficiency and level of usage in social or work settings. For example, 25% of graduates indicating that their L2 has improved since graduation use it extensively on a daily basis.
What factors in the workplace frame the use and maintenance of the L2?
LACITEP graduates expressed a number of factors which helped to facilitate and/or constrain the maintenance/further development of their L2. Facilitative factors included: structured time (for example, a school providing in-service opportunities, course release for further study, paid leave & sabbatical opportunities to travel to Japan, etc.), working with like-minded associates, working with native speakers. Constraining factors included: L2 not valued by employers, no opportunity to dialogue with native speakers, no use of L2 in workplace setting. Lastly, because LACITEP graduates become certified in elementary, Japanese as a foreign language and immersion, they do perceive themselves as offering something unique to education and of being a positive intercultural influence on other teachers at their schools.
In order to maintain the L2 over a lifetime, it is vital that immersion graduates maintain a positive self-attitude about their L2 language abilities, and plan for L2 usage as part of a routine (including social activities with L2 speakers, and utilizing L2-language media). It is also suggested that it is highly important that school cultures take advantage of the special skills that these highly proficient L2 teachers have developed to gain maximum benefit for children. The LACITEP graduates are ready change-agents and can contribute in positive ways within school cultures towards change and innovation. Conversely, school cultures can have a stifling effect on immersion graduates, if school culture/administration is not flexible or open-minded.