ERIC Identifier: ED414768
Publication Date: 1997-12-00
Author: Peyton, Joy Kreeft
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Professional Development of Foreign Language Teachers. ERIC
The foreign language teaching profession today is faced with increasing
enrollments and a shortage of qualified teachers. At the same time, a rapidly
changing student population, nationwide education reform, and the development of
national standards for foreign language learning are placing a number of new
demands on foreign language teachers. Curtain and Pesola (1994) suggest that
foreign language teachers today "require a combination of competencies and
background that may be unprecedented in the preparation of language teachers"
(p. 241) and that strong professional development is critical.
CHALLENGES FOR FOREIGN LANGUAGE TEACHERS
Curtain and Pesola
(1994) and Tedick and Walker (1996) list a number of factors that make the
teaching of foreign languages especially challenging and emphasize the need for
strong professional development.
The cultural, socioeconomic, linguistic, and academic diversity typical in
today's student population requires foreign language teachers to work with
students whose needs, educational experiences, and native language skills are
very different from those of students they have typically taught. For example,
some students entering foreign language classrooms grew up speaking the target
language at home (see Valdes, 1995).
The variety of reasons students have for learning foreign languages and the
different ways they approach this learning require that foreign language
curricula and instruction address a range of student goals and learning styles.
The current emphasis on exclusive use of the target language in the classroom
requires that teachers have strong language skills.
The emphasis on thematic learning demands that teachers be skilled in the
thematic areas explored, competent in the vocabulary related to these areas,
responsive to student interests in various topics, and able to work in teams
with content-area teachers.
The emphasis on collaborative learning and student self-directed learning
requires that teachers be able to act as facilitators, guides, counselors, and
resources, not just as language experts.
The increase in foreign language enrollments and the shortage of qualified
teachers may require foreign language teachers to teach at more grade levels
than they have in the past.
The emphasis on technology for language learning and teaching requires teachers
to keep informed about new technologies and their instructional uses.
SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE FOREIGN LANGUAGE TEACHERS NEED
addition to demonstrating "competencies in the general areas of education,
interpersonal skills, and professional education" (Met, 1989, p. 177), good
foreign language teachers need the following:
A high level of language proficiency in all of the modalities of the target
language--speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
The ability to use the language in real-life contexts, for both social and
The ability to comprehend contemporary media in the foreign language, both oral
and written, and interact successfully with native speakers in the United States
and abroad (Phillips, 1991).
A strong background in the liberal arts and the content areas.
Understanding of the social, political, historical, and economic realities of
the regions where the language they teach is spoken.
Pedagogical knowledge and skills, including knowledge about human growth and
development, learning theory and second language acquisition theory, and a
repertoire of strategies for developing proficiency and cultural understanding
in all students (Guntermann, 1992).
Knowledge of the various technologies and how to integrate them into their
Some states have developed lists of the competencies that foreign language
teachers should have, the experiences they need for developing those
competencies, and resources that are available to aid in their professional
development. One such resource for elementary and middle school teachers is the
"Elementary School (K-8) Foreign Language Teacher Education Curriculum,"
developed by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and the Center
for Applied Linguistics (1992). (See also ACTFL, 1988; Curtain & Pesola,
1994, pp. 245-250; and Glisan, 1996, pp. 73-75, for detailed lists of teacher
CONTINUING DEVELOPMENT OF KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS
language teachers must maintain proficiency in the target language and stay up
to date on current issues related to the target culture. Regardless of the
skills and knowledge that foreign language teachers possess when they commence
teaching, maintenance and improvement must be an ongoing process. In most
states, teachers must continue to accumulate academic credits, while teaching,
in order to keep their teaching license current. This can be done through
evening courses, summer seminars, lectures, or workshops offered by professional
associations or universities. Phillips (1991) outlines a number of formal and
informal ways that teachers can improve their language proficiency and cultural
knowledge, including participation in study and travel abroad programs, summer
institutes and seminars, and informal opportunities that can be arranged locally
(such as immersion weekends or monthly dinners where current events and other
issues are discussed in the target language). Tedick and Tischer (1996) describe
a summer language immersion program for preservice and inservice teachers of
French, German, and Spanish to develop language proficiency and knowledge about
current topics in the target culture, and to enrich pedagogical knowledge.
Glisan and Phillips (1988) describe a program that prepares teachers to teach
content in foreign languages in immersion or partial immersion schools. (See
also Glisan, 1996, p. 70, for other descriptions of inservice professional
OPPORTUNITIES FOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
government offers a range of programs for teachers' continuing education,
including summer courses at universities, funded by the National Endowment for
the Humanities, and projects in curriculum and materials development sponsored
by the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE). The
National Foreign Language Resource Centers, funded under Title VI of the Higher
Education Act and managed by the U.S. Department of Education's Center for
International Education, provide for continuing education of teachers on
university campuses across the country. These centers create opportunities for
K-12 and university teachers to collaborate and learn from each other throughout
the school year and in summer programs. (See Zimmer-Loew, 1996, for a discussion
of recent federal initiatives in foreign language education of students and
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TEACHER EDUCATION
Even with all of
these efforts, there remains a great deal to be done to ensure high-quality
teaching of foreign languages in this country. Lange (1991), Phillips and
Lafayette (1996), and Tedick and Walker (1996) make a number of recommendations
for teacher preparation programs and describe initiatives that are currently
underway. (See also JNCL, 1997, for recommendations based on a national survey.)
Teacher education must shift from a focus on preservice training alone to
lifelong professional development.
Rather than separating language teacher preparation into different
departments--English as a second language (ESL), foreign language, bilingual,
and immersion--teachers should be prepared to teach in more than one second
language context: for example, in both ESL and foreign language classes, or at
both the elementary and secondary levels.
Rather than beginning with academic coursework and educational theory and moving
later to classroom practice, theory and practice must be integrated from the
start. At the University of Minnesota, for example, preservice teachers are
involved in schools from the beginning of their academic study, and they do
their student teaching while they continue studying at the university.
Teacher preparation programs need to expand their criteria for graduation beyond
language proficiency and academic achievement alone, to include experience with
different cultures in the United States and abroad, ability to work with diverse
learners from many educational backgrounds and in many different educational
settings, and ability to use state-of-the-art technologies in their instruction.
In response to widespread teacher shortages due to high enrollments, teacher
retirement, and teacher attrition, many states are granting emergency
certification to individuals who meet certain criteria (a college degree,
proficiency in the language, teaching experience, and pedagogy coursework). As a
short-term solution, states need to make available professional development
activities such as university courses and summer workshops to facilitate the
recertification or relicensure of inservice teachers who have a foreign language
background. In the long term, higher education programs need to encourage
teachers to obtain dual certification: as elementary, middle, or high school
teachers and as language teachers who meet certain proficiency requirements
(Curtain & Pesola, 1994). Also, persons of color must be actively recruited
by schools and university departments as teachers of foreign languages, a
long-overdue change that has many other benefits in addition to addressing
teacher shortages (see Lange, 1991, for discussion).
Teachers in ESL, bilingual, and foreign language classrooms need to form strong
partnerships that allow for the sharing of information, curricula, strategies,
and support across disciplines, departments, schools, and levels. Partnerships
also need to be formed across institutions. Schools, professional organizations,
universities and community colleges, and local and state leaders all need to
collaborate to enhance the quality of second language education in the United
Educational reform, a rapidly changing student
clientele, technological development, and new views on assessment are just a few
of the pressures today's foreign language teachers are encountering. If the
foreign language profession is to provide first class instruction to its
students while keeping up with a growing list of demands, support for high
quality teacher preparation and continuing professional development must be
given high priority.
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Glisan, E. W. (1996). A collaborative approach to professional development.
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