|Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)|
Administrators of immersion programs must recruit and hire staff who can successfully teach a district’s elementary curriculum or secondary subject areas in the target language of the school. This requires exceptional proficiency in the language of instruction in addition to classroom management skills, content area expertise, and knowledge of second language acquisition and content-based language instruction. How do administrators find such candidates?
Literature and Research Review
Literature and Research Review
Because immersion education as a public school educational alternative has been more prevalent in Canada than in the U.S., much of the research in the area of teacher recruitment and retention comes from Canadian French immersion contexts. Macfarlane and Hart (2002), for example, found that 67 percent of British Columbia school boards had “many fewer than needed” French immersion teachers. Obadia and Martin (1995) reported similar findings. In their study, surveyed districts that indicated having sufficient numbers of candidates attributed this to: (1) high-quality teacher development programs at local universities, (2) teacher recruitment early in the year, and (3) proximity to French-speaking communities. Even four decades post inception of French immersion education, Veilleux and Bournot-Trites (2005) report that an immersion teacher shortage exists particularly in rural areas.
In the U.S., foreign language immersion program administrators
also decry the lack of adequately prepared teacher candidates and
its impact on the development of existing as well as newly implemented
programs (Met & Lorenz, 1997; Coffman, 1992). As a principal, Coffman (1992) argues that locating dual language proficient, highly
qualified immersion teachers is the single most important and difficult
challenge in building an effective language immersion program. His
experience-based sentiments are frequently echoed by practicing
immersion administrators across the country. To complicate the matter
further, there tends to be significant teacher turnover in immersion
schools for a variety of reasons, so building and keeping a talented
teaching staff and providing for their ongoing professional enrichment
remain constant concerns.
Immersion teacher shortages impact indigenous immersion programs (e.g., Hawaiian, Diné, Yup'ik, Ojibwe) most profoundly since the majority of these teachers are themselves second language learners of the immersion language (Hermes, 2004; Slaughter, 1997). Immersion programs in which the immersion language is a less commonly taught language (LCTL) such as Mandarin, Japanese, Russian, or Arabic in the U.S. also experience the scarcity of qualified teachers more deeply.
In contrast to the dire circumstances encountered in some indigenous and LCTL immersion programs, survey research on two-way immersion (TWI) teachers presents a welcome contrast. Howard and Loeb (1998) found that over half of surveyed TWI teachers held bilingual certificates in addition to grade-level licenses. Moreover, 41% already held, and an additional 28% were currently pursuing, graduate-level degrees. Similarly, Lindholm-Leary (2001) found that TWI teachers from her study were more often specially certified in both bilingual education and English as a second language, and had greater proficiency in the non-English language than teachers in more typical U.S. bilingual program models (e.g, transitional bilingual education).
While staffing TWI programs can still be a challenge depending on local context, many TWI programs are situated in areas of the U.S. with greater numbers of bilingual individuals and a decades-long history of bilingual programming. This combination of factors offers some TWI teachers the ability to earn specialized bilingual certificates in established programs through the local university (see, for example, Pérez, 2004). Several U.S. states, among them Texas, New Mexico and California, have similar university-school partnerships that continually strive to meet the TWI teacher demand.
Met (1989) cogently discussed the highly demanding task of immersion teaching as a subset of elementary teaching by describing it as "over and above the over and above" (p. 181). Immersion teachers function both as elementary teachers of all core subjects and second language teachers. They are accountable for preparing learners for achievement success on standardized tests given in English and for developing language and literacy skills in the immersion language during the same amount of instructional time as non-immersion teachers. To effectively accomplish this dual task Veilleux and Bournot-Trites (2005) and others argue that immersion teachers need a high level of immersion language competency. Without this, their ability to plan and deliver quality content-based language lessons, express their ideas articulately, model native-like language use, and offer students accurate feedback will be impacted.
In addition to maintaining high standards for teacher's language proficiency, more and more researchers suggest that the way in which language and content are consciously co-structured within the immersion classroom may well be the determining factor in reaching high expectations for language production as well as quality academic experiences (Fortune, Tedick & Walker, in press, Hoare & Kong, in press; Lyster, 2007; Swain, 1996). Immersion teachers' understanding of a pedagogical "third way," that in French immersion researcher André Obadia's words, "differs from French second-language and first-language teaching" (Obadia, 1985, p. 415) makes up another important aspect of an immersion teacher's unique skill set.
A read of the research literature suggests that the "ideal" immersion teaching candidate would have all of the following:
Finding licensed elementary teachers and licensed secondary content area teachers that also have the requisite proficiency and pedagogical skills is very difficult. Often teaching candidates are either licensed or highly language proficient.
However, the five teacher applicant profiles described below are far more likely to be encountered by immersion administrators:
Teacher Applicant Profile #1:
A commonly held misperception is that a K-12 licensure in the immersion language will suffice. However, to be an immersion teacher one must be licensed for the particular grade levels and/or content specialty they plan to teach. For example, to teach in an elementary immersion program individuals need an elementary license; to teach science at the secondary level a person needs a secondary license in the discipline of science. At times licensed, immersion language proficient teachers apply for an immersion teaching position, only they are licensed as language not elementary teachers. In some cases they are hired provisionally for a pre-determined period of time. During this time, the practicing teachers will need to return to school and earn an additional grade-level appropriate license. Once the licensure is in place, it is highly advisable that the teacher continues their education with professional development in immersion pedagogy and diversity or equity education.
Teacher Applicant Profile #2:
Some licensed teachers are native speakers of the immersion language, however, they frequently hold licensure from abroad. Such a license typically requires review by the local state's Board of Teaching and additional U.S. coursework prior to approval for teaching in the U.S. Teacher development programs vary widely from one country to another. In many cases native speakers who were educated in their home country are also unfamiliar with U.S. educational principles and practices as well as the classroom culture typical of U.S. schools. These needs are sometimes met informally within the school over time, in other cases, teachers attend university classes to enhance their understanding of U.S. education. Once the licensure is in place, it is highly advisable that the teacher continues her education with professional development in immersion pedagogy and diversity or equity education.
Others who express interest in being an immersion teacher are unlicensed native speakers. Michael Bacon, Portland Public Schools' Immersion Coordinator, reports having access to highly educated bilinguals who unfortunately lack licensure and experience with schooling in the U.S. (Kennedy Manzo, 2006). These individuals will need to work with the state's local Board of Teaching in the Department of Education to explore acceptable ways of acquiring a teaching license. Increasingly, many states are expanding the number of paths to becoming a licensed teacher to more effectively draw upon the existing expertise of community members.
In many cases native speakers who were educated in their home country are also unfamiliar with U.S. educational principles and practices as well as the classroom culture typical of U.S. schools. These needs are sometimes met informally within the school over time; in other cases, teachers attend university classes to enhance their understanding of U.S. education. Once the licensure is in place, it is highly advisable that the teacher continues her education with professional development in immersion pedagogy and diversity or equity education.
Teacher Applicant Profile #4
Veilleux & Bournot-Trites (2005) report that one-third of Canadian school boards surveyed expressed difficulty in attracting licensed French immersion teachers with the appropriate level of proficiency for the position. Individual administrators are typically left to decide how to assess the teaching candidate's level of language proficiency and immersion teaching skill set, tasks for which many find themselves unequipped. In difficult hiring situations with few candidates, Macfarlane and Hart (2002) found a growing temptation by administrators to hire less qualified language teachers. However, by lowering language proficiency standards, immersion learners’ quality of education may be impaired.
French language teacher educators in Western Canada have recently made use of “The Language Portfolio Project” as an additional means to encourage university students to increase awareness of their second language development during the 4-year French teacher education program. A number of these teachers will go on to teach in French immersion classrooms and by their fourth year must be able to meet the programs’ minimum oral proficiency level of “Avancé moyen,” which these authors compare to “Advanced Mid” on the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines (Christiansen & Laplante, 2004, p. 440). While the project clearly needs to be modified before it is able to succeed with its goals, Christiansen & Laplante’s (2004) study of project participant experiences did indicate that for students “this may well have been the first time they were actually encouraged and able to discuss their second language (L2) development with one another” (p. 451). Elevating teacher educators’ and students’ awareness of the need to meet both pedagogical and language development objectives within teacher licensure programs is an idea that merits continued support and attention, in particular, when the teachers plan to enter language immersion settings.
Once the licensure is in place, it is highly advisable that the teacher continues her education with professional development in immersion pedagogy and diversity or equity education.
Teacher Applicant Profile #5
Even if one finds an appropriately licensed teacher who is also native-like in the language of instruction, the particular skill set required to integrate and balance language and content successfully will still need to be developed. In addition, an understanding of linguistically and culturally diverse learners and building equitable classroom communities remains key. It is therefore highly advisable that the teacher continues her education with professional development in immersion pedagogy and diversity or equity education.
While the skill set needed is indeed highly specialized, the university-level teacher education demand for this specialty is relatively low when compared with other areas such as elementary education or K-12 Spanish. As a result coherent immersion teacher education programs in the U.S. are almost non-existent, the exception being the Kahuawaiola Indigenous Teacher Education Program at the University of Hawaii-Hilo (Wilson & Kawai'ae'a, in press). Two-way immersion programs in areas where many bilingual programs have existed for decades (e.g., California, Texas, New Mexico, etc.) have greater access to bilingual, elementary-licensed teachers who may have also acquired some kind of bilingual certificate such as California's Bilingual Cross-Cultural, Language, and Academic Development (CLAD/BCLAD) certificate. Nevertheless, these programs were designed to meet the needs of language minority learners and do not typically take into account the body of literature that addresses language majority learners in immersion contexts whether in one-way, two-way, or indigenous immersion programs. Moreover, bilingual certificate programs as originally designed are unlikely to specifically address the needs of immersion program models.
The ability of colleges of education to create new licensure or certificate programs is related in part to the numbers of participants these programs will attract. Until a critical mass of interested individuals develops in a given location, universities are unlikely to be able to support such a new teacher education initiative. At the University of Minnesota, for example, the College of Education and Human Development's Department of Curriculum and Instruction presently offers the only Dual Language and Immersion Certificate Program in the country. The development of this certificate program is linked to the rapid growth of dual language immersion programs in Minnesota as well as the strong university-K-12 immersion schools partnership. To learn more about this program, see http://www.education.umn.edu/SPS/programs/certificates/LanguageImmersion.html
Obadia & Martin (1995) gathered questionnaire data based on telephone interviews with representatives of 22 school districts and all ministries of education in Canada. One aspect of the study specifically addressed the question of attracting and retaining French immersion teachers. They found that the two most frequently used approaches to teacher recruitment were through (1) direct contact with faculties of education and (2) newspaper ads targeting both in- and out-of-province print media. Other commonly mentioned ways to attract new teachers involved practicing teachers taking on student teachers and traveling to interview prospective candidates elsewhere. Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools, home to one of the oldest foreign language immersion programs in the U.S. reports their teacher recruitment efforts have included interviewing throughout the U.S., informal networking among parents and current staff members, and engaging in cooperative efforts with embassies and other agencies located in Washington, D.C. (Met & Lorenz, 1993). More recently, Met & Lorenz (1997) also suggested looking for potential immersion teaching candidates in a district’s current foreign language teacher pool and native-speaking teachers from abroad.
Once found, how do programs hold on to talented immersion educators? As in all professions, some teachers will choose to leave the classroom to pursue other professional options and interests. A program’s inability to retain teachers is expensive. According to Norton (1999), districts can pay up to 25% of teachers’ annual salaries to replace them with new employees. Boe, Bobbit and Cook (1997) also addressed recruitment and replacement costs of teachers in terms of time and money for school district employees. In short, when qualified classroom teachers leave, a lot of money is invested to replace them. Because of this, district administrators find it more cost effective to retain qualified, competent teachers. In immersion settings where supply often falls short of demand, holding on to high-quality teachers is even more critical.
According to Obadia & Martin (1995), over a quarter of surveyed districts reported difficulties retaining French immersion staff. The source of the difficulties varied. Most of the problems reported were related to personal issues such as a teacher’s desire to start a family, missing their home community and lack of a social life, culture shock and lack of adequate English skills for native French speakers. A few districts indicated that teachers left immersion because of the demanding work environment.
Measures used to retain immersion teachers involved providing various supports such as “assistance from coordinators, consultants, orientation sessions, professional development opportunities, in-services, curriculum resources, and flexibility of transfers and leaves of absence” (p. 92). Beyond program- and district-based supports, some districts also offered outside-of-school assistance to help teachers transition to the new community and move. Finally, a couple of districts mentioned taking into consideration a teacher’s commitment to and likelihood of staying prior to hiring them.
Boe, E., Bobbitt, S., & Cook, L. (1997). Why didst thou go? Predictors of retention, transfer, and attrition of special and general education teachers from a national perspective. Journal of Special Education, 30, 390-411.
Fortune, T., Tedick, D., & Walker, C. (in press). Integrated language and content teaching: Insights from the language immersion classroom. In T. Fortune, D. Tedick (Eds.), Pathways to Multilingualism: Evolving perspectives on immersion education. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters, Ltd.
Hermes, M. (2004). Starting an indigenous immersion school: The
Hoare, P., & Kong, S. (in press). Late Immersion in Hong Kong: Still Stressed or Making Progress? In T. Fortune, D. Tedick (Eds.), Pathways to Multilingualism: Evolving perspectives on immersion education. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters, Ltd.
Howard, E. R., & Loeb, M. (1998). In their own words: Two-way immersion teachers talk about their professional experiences (ERIC Digest EDO-FL-98-14). Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics. Available: http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/intheirownwords.html
Macfarlane, A. & Hart, D. (2002). Shortages of French as a second language teachers: Views of school districts, faculties of education and ministries of education. Ottawa, Canada: Canadian Parents for French.
Met, M. & Lorenz, E. (1997). Lessons from U.S. immersion programs: Two decades of experience. In Johnson, R. & Swain, M (Eds.), Immersion education: International Perspectives (pp. 243-264). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Obadia, A. A. (1995). What is so special about being an immersion teacher? In M. Buss & C. Lauren (Eds.). Language immersion: Teaching and second language acquisition. Proceedings of the University of Vaasa Research Papers, Tutkimuksia No. 192 (pp. 73-95). Vaasa, Finland: University of Vaasa.
Slaughter, H. (1997) Indigenous language immersion in Hawai’i: A case study of Kula Kaiapuni Hawai’i. In R. Johnson and M. Swain (eds.) Immersion education: International perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Virginia State Dept. of Education, Richmond. (1994). Feasibility study of statewide implementation of the Fairfax County elementary language immersion program. Report of the Virginia Department of Education to the governor and General assembly of Virginia. House document no. 26. U.S.: Virginia.
Wilson, W. H., & Kawai’ae’a, K. (in press). I kumu; i ll: “Let there be sources; let there be branches”: Teacher education in the college of Hawaiian language. To be included in a forthcoming special issue of the Journal of American Indian Education on culturally responsive education for American indigenous students.
There is no licensure for immersion teaching. Administrators ideally look for candidates with native or near native fluency in the target language and in English, elementary or content area secondary certification, and an understanding or familiarity with immersion pedagogy.
First and foremost, immersion school administrators must follow their district guidelines for posting job openings. Cultivating a good relationship with the district’s Human Resources Department is crucial to the department’s understanding and appreciation of the unique language proficiency needs of immersion programs. If your district is large enough, creating a pool of bilingual staff can benefit both teaching candidates and administrators who are hiring. Administrators need not recruit for their individual school but can interview all qualified candidates at the same time. By the same token bilingual candidates can see the different career options in the district where their bilingual skills will be used and can make career choices based on their interests. Having said that, if administrators cannot find candidates within their district’s ready pool of teachers, they must search externally for candidates who speak the immersion language fluently in addition to having proper licensure.
Since most college and university foreign language departments prepare students to teach the language in traditional foreign language classroom settings, graduates with B.A.s in a foreign language often are not prepared for the high level of proficiency required to teach even elementary content (math, science, social studies, etc.) in a language that is not their native tongue. Consequently, immersion administrators may find themselves in the position of educating local college faculties about the high level of language proficiency needed for immersion teaching. They can offer placements for student teaching and encourage faculty to let students know that if they study both elementary education or a secondary content area and a foreign language to an advanced level of proficiency, they are more or less guaranteed a job upon graduation.
Because it is so difficult to find candidates, native or non-native speakers, who fulfill all the requirements for an immersion teaching position, administrators may find themselves using unusual techniques to recruit candidates. Stories abound in immersion circles of principals chasing down target language speakers in grocery store aisles or on neighborhood playgrounds. Although this may not be the best or most accurate method of finding candidates, the anecdotes attest to the difficulty of attracting qualified candidates. As in business and commerce, word of mouth advertising can be effective because immersion schools often create a buzz (both positive and negative) in a community. Administrators who can parlay the buzz into cordial relationships with other district schools and the community will enhance the school’s image creating an interest among prospective parents and potential teaching candidates.
Programs that place native speaking classroom assistants or teachers licensed in other countries into U.S. schools may sometimes be a hiring source for immersion schools. However, before hiring international candidates as classroom teachers administrators must be knowledgeable about visa requirements (some districts or states have sponsored teachers), licensure regulations outside the U.S., and pedagogical differences that may be culturally based. Neither native language proficiency nor outstanding teaching in a school in a foreign country automatically equates with good immersion teaching. Therefore, it is important to screen native speakers for qualities other than their language abilities or reputations in their home countries. Pay attention to their classroom management skills and their expectations for student behavior, their ability to communicate cogently and comfortably with parents in English and understand the importance of parental involvement in their children’s education, and their willingness to work as a team within the context of immersion and U.S. educational practices. If a candidate has already spent time in a school as a successful classroom assistant, an administrator may consider grooming him for a teaching position in the same way a U.S. non-native speaker would be groomed given appropriate training and certification.
Because few teacher education institutions are fully aware of the
dual pedagogy/language demands on immersion teachers, immersion
school administrators often hire candidates “on spec”
and expect to groom them in-house with appropriate professional
development activities that address language skills and immersion
pedagogy. A candidate’s language proficiency may need upgrading,
but if she exhibits the ability to recognize her personal limitations
and is willing to learn from the native speaking assistants who
typically work in immersion classrooms, administrators will hire
on potential. Moreover, an ability to speak knowledgably about immersion
education can weigh favorably when a candidate’s proficiency
Offering contracts to prospective teachers outside the recruitment season or even without a specific job opening may be difficult for Human Resources personnel to accept but doing so guarantees there will be qualified candidates for positions that inevitably open up at the end of the school year. Bilingual teachers may be courted by more than one school or district so the more flexible your department allows you to be the more likely you will be able to hire the best teachers for your program. Teachers hired without a specific position can work as substitutes while they are waiting for full-time positions to become available.
for School Leaders: Implications for Leadership in Foreign Language
Immersion Programs - Locke, ACIE Bridge, February 2004