Many content teachers feel neither qualified, nor able,
to meet the needs of multilingual learners (MLs). We experienced this
phenomenon in a history methods course for preservice teachers when, after a
lesson on creating language objectives for MLs, one student commented, “I am
not qualified to do this.…I don’t even speak a lick of Spanish.”
Rose (2010) believe that teachers expressing such uncertainty should not be
held accountable for their reticence to embrace the role of language teacher,
as “we still need to know more concerning what baseline knowledge and
understandings prospective teachers bring with them” (p. 404) and how this
baseline knowledge may pose difficulties for teachers. However, when teacher
educators encounter such situations, practical strategies can help prospective
teachers embrace this role.
Brisk (2020, personal correspondence), a renowned TESOL scholar, notes that
when presented with such comments, instructors should “push back as soon as
possible.” She offered two strategies for doing so.
statistics with your preservice teachers that reveal almost all new teachers
will have MLs in their class at some point in their career. For example,
telling them that more than 10% of all public school students in the United
States are MLs, or presenting them with the exact percentage of MLs in their
state, can have a great impact (U.S. Department of Education, 2020). Presenting
content teachers who have limited ML teaching experience with hard statistics
can help guide them to embrace the role of language teacher.
2. Try “Language Shock
shock lessons, students
- encounter culturally
distant historical texts,
are taught a history lesson
in a foreign language, or
are assigned to interview
an ML about their home county’s history.
sees language shock lessons as a way to help inexperienced teachers build
empathy for MLs by “dispelling harmful attitudes and inaccurate stereotypes”
(Jimenez & Rose, 2010, p. 405), which preservice teachers may hold. As
Jimenez and Rose (2010) maintain, the more positive experiences preservice
teachers have with MLs and their linguistic communities, the more likely they
will be to “identify with the struggles and strengths of their students” (p.
404). Such lessons also represent opportunities for teachers possessing the
technical knowledge to teach MLs (i.e., a toolbox of language-focused
activities) to truly embrace the role of language teacher at emotional as well
as intellectual levels.
these suggestions complement one another: The statistics set a context for understanding
the nature of the challenge—it’s not going away. You will need to deal with
this matter. The suggested activities offer teachers strategies for building
empathy with MLs, to see them not as foreign and different, but as very real
people, with genuine needs and interests, a far better attitude to bring to
one’s classroom teaching than seeing MLs as an insurmountable challenge.
T., & Rose, B. C. (2010). Knowing how to know: Building meaningful
relationships through instruction that meets the needs of students learning
English. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(5), 403–412.
of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education
Statistics. (2020) English language learners in public schools. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgf.asp
Agostinelli spent the past decade teaching
English in the United States and Korea in both K–12 and higher education
settings. His passion for teaching has led to an interest in researching and
writing about language education in international contexts. He is currently
pursuing a PhD in education from Boston College.
McQuillan, an associate professor in the
Lynch School of Education & Human Development at Boston College, has a
PhD in cultural anthropology from Brown University. He teaches courses on
curriculum theories, qualitative research, and history methods. His research
focuses on educational change examined through the lens of complexity