How did we get here? Sometimes it seems as if our best efforts are undermined by our desire to get involved and change things for the better, only to end up making them worse.
In this episode, we identified two main problems with our nation's ESL "system" today: lack of interstate communication which provides an opportunity for an incomplete education history and therefore inconsistent education as time in one school ends and time in another school begins. Second, a lack of ESL intervention when it is clear one area is keeping a student from moving beyond our services into independent learning and mastery. The missing intervention is not just a dig at an ESL teacher. Much of the blame lies with administration and decisions to shove these "left over" students into a catch-all class, not at all designed to address these needs specifically.
But as for the teacher's part, there is an important need, I believe, for a focus shift in high school in general. Like our counterparts in speech pathology, the shift should change from being understood (for most LTEs, this is not the issue anyway) to the all-hands-on-deck/it's-go-time method of academic language development. No longer should we be teaching to socialize or to get through American culture. No, now we are teaching to win the grades. And while this may sound like a "teaching for the test" method, consider how much academic competence is a part of adult life in America. You have to be able to write a professional email or memo in many positions. You have to be able to speak with field-specific vocabulary in any field they move choose. Academic language is a way of mastery of American life they will need not just to get out of ESL, but to graduate, to go to college, to go on to any profession.
There needs to be a fierce shift, nationwide in our focus come high school. We need consistency. And to continue my growing rant, this must start in our teacher education, answers to how to create this shift and to get the phrases "Long-Term ELL" or "life-long ELL" eradicated permanently.
Another population of ESL students who manage to fly under the radar and sounds suspiciously like another hideous biproduct of our inconsistancy are ESL students who OPT OUT. Stay tuned for the next episode!