ERIC Identifier: ED425656
Publication Date: 1998-12-00
Author: Howard, Elizabeth R. - Loeb, Michael I.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
In Their Own Words: Two-Way Immersion Teachers Talk about Their
Professional Experiences. ERIC Digest.
The last several years have seen a dramatic increase in the popularity of
two-way immersion (TWI) programs around the country, from 30 programs in 1987 to
225 programs in 1998 (McCargo & Christian, 1998). These programs integrate
native English speakers and language-minority students for academic instruction
and aim to promote bilingual proficiency, high academic achievement, and
cross-cultural awareness in all students (Christian, 1994). The expanded
popularity of these programs has meant a surge in the demand for and recruitment
of TWI teachers. At the same time, there is very little research documenting the
teaching experiences or professional development needs of current teachers in
this unique teaching environment. Without this type of documentation, it is
difficult to know which types of pre-service and in-service professional
development activities will best prepare teachers to work effectively in TWI
One study conducted specifically with TWI teachers describes a professional
development project in El Paso, Texas, that utilized peer ethnography to foster
reflective practice among 24 team-teachers in two TWI programs (Calderon, 1995).
As a result of ongoing participation in this action research study, teachers
reported improved collaboration with team members, improved dual-language
teaching skills, renewed enthusiasm for teaching, and interest in pursuing
graduate degrees. A related study investigating the self-reported professional
development needs of French immersion teachers (Day & Shapson, 1996) found
that, by far, workshops were the prevalent form of in-service professional
development, and that French language arts and curriculum and materials
development were teachers' top priorities. These studies are useful in that they
initiate a dialogue on the professional development needs and practices of
teachers in immersion settings.
Because TWI programs are increasingly popular but not well studied as
teaching environments, it is important to continue this dialogue in a way that
targets the specific professional demands of TWI teachers. Like all teachers who
work in programs that facilitate second language acquisition, TWI teachers must
constantly strive to integrate language and content objectives in every lesson.
What makes the task of the TWI teacher teacher distinct, however, is that at all
times, regardless of the language of instruction, they are asked to deliver
instruction to integrated groups of native speakers and second language
learners. Therefore, they must always be mindful of ways to make the content
comprehensible to the nonnative speakers, while still making the lessons
stimulating and challenging to the native speakers. Likewise, because of the
integrated nature of the programs, TWI teachers need to possess strong
interpersonal skills that allow them to function well in cross-cultural
environments. Not only do TWI teachers need to be able to promote positive
cross-cultural relationships among students in their classes, they also need to
be able to work effectively with other staff members and parents from both
Research on TWI being conducted at the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL)
under the auspices of the Center for Research on Education, Diversity &
Excellence (CREDE) is investigating the professional development of TWI
teachers. An important premise of the investigation is the belief that questions
about how to prepare teachers to work in TWI settings are best answered by
teachers themselves. For this reason, interviews and questionnaires were used to
elicit teachers' perspectives and to gain demographic information about this
understudied population. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight
elementary TWI teachers from various programs across the country, and their
responses were used to formulate a professional development needs assessment
questionnaire that was distributed to 181 pre-K-8 classroom teachers in 12 TWI
programs. Findings from the interviews and questionnaires are presented below.
DEMOGRAPHIC FINDINGS: WHO ARE THE TEACHES?
surprisingly, the 181 TWI teachers involved in this study are overwhelmingly
female (86%). As a group, they are relatively new to teaching. This contrasts
sharply with the national picture in public education. According to the most
recent demographic information, only 33% of public school K-12 teachers have
been teaching for 10 years or less (Henke et. al, 1997). Due to the relatively
recent emergence of most two-way programs, few teachers (30%) report having
taught in TWI programs for more than 5 years. With regard to native language,
38% are native Spanish speakers, 45% are native English speakers, and 16% are
native bilinguals (speakers of both English and Spanish from age 3 or earlier).
In other words, over 50% of the teaching staff in these 12 TWI programs reported
growing up speaking Spanish. This mirrors the student populations in these
programs, which are composed of approximately 50% native Spanish speakers.
Moreover, this pattern indicates a much greater balance than the national
situation in public elementary schools, in which the majority of all teachers
are White (non-Hispanic), and there are about three times as many Latino
students as Latino teachers (12% vs. 4%) (Henke et. al, 1997). With regard to
educational background, a sizeable majority have either advanced degrees or
credits toward them, with 41% holding master's degrees and another 28% currently
involved in graduate studies. Finally, over half of the teachers hold bilingual
certificates or credentials. Although the teachers in this sample are fairly new
to teaching, they are well educated, have appropriate credentials, and are
well-matched to the student populations of TWI programs.
TWI TEACHERS REFLECT ON THEIR PROFESSIONAL
"Benefits." Many teachers cited the opportunity for fairness
that two-way immersion education can provide as a major benefit. Because TWI can
put all students on an equal level, it gives them an equal chance to broaden
their horizons and an equal opportunity to learn from and teach one another.
According to one second grade teacher, "For native Spanish speaking students,
TWI can be a chance to have Spanish language and culture validated and can
potentially raise students' self esteem by giving them the experience of being
the ones in the know." The teachers interviewed felt that these students also
seemed to learn English faster and were less likely to "fall through the
cracks," and that there was an increased likelihood of school involvement by
Professional benefits that teachers reported were the increased autonomy,
challenge, and excitement of creating new curricula and assessment tools, team
teaching, and the opportunity to use Spanish.
"Challenges." The eight teachers reported many challenges. First, because
everything is done in two languages, TWI is inherently more labor intensive.
Many materials must be developed from scratch, and in programs that alternate
teachers for Spanish and English instruction, teachers have "twice as many
students in half as much time."
The teachers also reported multiple challenges in working with parents in TWI
programs. Specifically, the need to help parents understand that second language
(L2) acquisition is a slow process and that the program has cross-cultural goals
as well as linguistic and academic goals were cited as issues.
Linguistic challenges were cited, such as teaching content information
through the L2, distinguishing special needs from the L2 acquisition process,
easing the frustration of primary grade students who do not understand the
language, and promoting Spanish language use among all students.
Administrative challenges mentioned were tensions between the two-way program
and the general education program within schools and between the two-way
programs and the central administration at the district level. Scheduling,
working with a partner teacher, and disagreements among staff regarding program
features were concerns voiced by one fourth-grade teacher: "There's been a lot
of, with the staff, a lot of debate over how much they believe in this model. So
there's been a lot of people, particularly native Spanish speakers, who think
maybe 90-10 isn't maybe the greatest thing to be doing...And that's been a big
debate in our school. Trying to make sure we have a uniform philosophy."
"Suggestions." Respondents were invited to recommend ways in which schools
and districts could facilitate the work of two-way teachers. Foremost among
teacher concerns was finding qualified and skilled teachers and offering them
substantive training. As one second-grade teacher stated, "You cannot throw a
teacher into a classroom and tell her to teach the curriculum if she doesn't
have the techniques or knowledge. . . I'm thrilled about the idea that this
program is opening up and giving me a big chance. But I do feel there's a lack
of time for searching for people that are competent, or training people to be
competent in the field, or there just aren't enough people."
Nearly all respondents agreed that more training and professional development
would go a long way to help overcome these challenges. Beyond a general call for
more comprehensive and ongoing teacher training, teachers suggested a number of
ways that administrators could better support TWI programs and teachers.
Suggestions included the following: 1) paying mentor teachers to aid new
teachers and prepare curricula; 2) giving both novice and veteran teachers more
direction and materials; and 3) extending the period of apprenticeship for
student teachers. Coupled with this desire for more curriculum assistance for
new teachers was a hope for an increase in the availability of quality teaching
materials, particularly in the minority language, for teachers at all grade
Several teachers recommended hiring a bilingual coordinator and parent
liaison at the school or district level. In addition to recommending greater use
of parent outreach coordinators, teachers made it clear that hiring
administrators and support staff who are bilingual and support the goals of TWI
"would make an enormous difference." Teachers also expressed concern about the
frequent lack of TWI representation on school-wide and district-wide committees.
Within the school, teachers cited the need for positive cross-cultural attitudes
among all school staff, and recommended conducting staff meetings in Spanish as
well as in English to allow for more input from Spanish-dominant staff. In
broader terms, teachers felt that the two-way context, more than the traditional
elementary context, demands a fully coordinated faculty, both logistically and
WHAT NEW TEACHERS SHOULD KNOW
All of the teachers were
eager to share their experiences and insights in the form of advice for new and
prospective teachers. They suggested that new teachers become very familiar with
the structure and goals of the program. A second-grade teacher made the point
that "in the two-way immersion program specifically, I think they need to
understand what it's about, what are the goals of the program. They have to
believe in the program, they have to believe in bilingual education . . . you
really need to believe that, you really need to believe it is important to learn
other languages and to learn other cultures."
This orientation to the program should also include background information on
the school--its mission and history--and a real understanding of the theoretical
underpinnings of immersion. Along with this program-level knowledge, teachers
stressed the importance of having well-developed teaching knowledge.
Specifically, new two-way teachers should possess subject matter competence, be
familiar with the grade-level curriculum and have appropriate expectations, be
prepared with a wide array of effective teaching practices, and be firm in the
underlying belief that all students can learn and succeed.
Teachers also spoke about cross-cultural and linguistic knowledge that would
be important for new teachers to possess, much of it unique to the TWI context.
A basic familiarity with the two cultures and languages involved in the program
is key, as is having some ideas about how to work with the two groups of
parents. For one fourth-grade teacher, the increased demands placed on teachers
by parents in TWI programs deserve extra consideration.
Other issues teachers raised were considering how to elevate the status of
the language-minority students in an integrated setting and becoming familiar
with the differences across the two languages, such as conventions of
punctuation and capitalization.
The singularity of the TWI context implies a special set of challenges for
even the most experienced teacher, yet demographics suggest that many of the
teachers involved are relative newcomers. As TWI programs mature, it will become
more important and more feasible to take advantage of the collective wisdom of
more experienced teachers.
The eight teachers interviewed for this study
work in different programs with different populations and often very different
ways of reaching their goals. Yet, there was considerable overlap in what they
viewed as the benefits and challenges of being a TWI teacher, their thoughts on
how schools and districts could help them meet these challenges, and their
advice for new teachers. Hopefully, the opinions expressed in these interviews
and the demographic trends brought forth by the questionnaires will enhance
appreciation for the deft and complex work that these professionals do and the
qualifications that they possess. Further, they should serve as a stimulus for
more investigation and, ultimately, for change in the way two-way immersion
teachers are prepared and supported.
Calderon, M. (1995). "Dual language programs and
team-teachers' professional development." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting
of the American Research Association.
Christian, D. (1994). "Two-way bilingual education: Students learning through
two languages." Educational Practice Report: 12." Santa Cruz, CA and Washington,
DC: National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language
Day, E. & Shapson, S. (1996). "Studies in immersion education."
Henke, R.R., Choy, S. P., Chen, X., Geis, S., Alt, N. M., Broughman, S.
(1997). "America's teachers: Profile of a profession," 1993-4, NCES 97-460.
Washington, DC: Department of Education, National Center for Education
McCargo, C. & Christian, D. (1998). "Two-way bilingual immersion programs
in the United States: 1997-1998 supplement." Santa Cruz, CA and Washington, DC:
Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence.