DeKALB – English as a second language (ESL) programs are growing in popularity in teaching programs across the country, as ESL credentials are increasingly necessary for teachers to land jobs due to an exploding number of English-language learners in public schools.
According to a 2011 Illinois State Board of Education report, almost 200,000 English-language learners were enrolled in Illinois’ K-12 system.
“That number is only growing,” said James Cohen, an assistant professor of bilingual education in Northern Illinois University’s College of Education.
“Every single teacher in Illinois will eventually have an English-language learner in his or her classroom.”
Cohen administers an innovative ESL program called Project DREAMS. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition provided a $1.8 million grant to fund the program.
The grant pays for pre-service teachers or College of Education students who are accepted into the program to take six ESL classes – four as part of their undergraduate program over the summer months, then two as a student-at-large, in between their undergrad and graduate programs.
If they do well in their student-at-large courses, they are granted automatic entrance into the graduate school.
“Anybody and everybody who is graduating with a teaching degree should consider the ESL endorsement,” said Cohen. “The endorsement is that important.”
Just last year,Wilma Valero, director of bilingual programs for Elgin School District U-46, hired 59 new teachers, all with ESL and/or bilingual endorsements.
“As a practice,” she said, “I do not hire people without the ESL or bilingual endorsement.”
The program also offers students hands-on experience with educators working in the field.
Cohen said students do not have to be bilingual to get an ESL endorsement, nor is it geared solely toward teaching Spanish. “We have many bilingual programs including Chinese, Polish, Japanese and Korean. There are a lot of different language groups that are assisted by bilingual programs, not just Spanish,” he said.
Beyond offering increased job security and a strengthened approach to teaching, obtaining the ESL endorsement offers opportunities to reach out to English learners in other countries, as well as experience cultures in far regions of the world.
Cohen said teaching abroad could help teachers land jobs when they return home.