Are you a mainstream teacher who is thinking about becoming an ESL teacher? Are you already teaching and want to transition from the mainstream classroom to the ESL classroom? Will this be your first year as an ESL teacher? If so, there are some great things to know and questions to ask before the school year begins. Teaching in an ESL classroom is completely different than teaching within a content area or on a team. The ideas and questions below will help prepare you for the next cultural adventure.
Great things to know about ESL teaching:
- An ESL classroom is completely different than a bilingual classroom. For most schools, a bilingual classroom requires a teacher who speaks both English and the students’ native language. Students stay with this teacher the entire school day. ESL teachers receive students who are ready to move out of the bilingual classroom and will work with these students for a designated time/span over the week.
- ESL teachers are considered support staff and typically work on their own.
- Typically, there is no defined curriculum for ESL students, as work needs to be modified, designed and implemented according to level, language and need.
- ESL teachers should make a great effort to work with the mainstream teachers by attending meetings, modifying work and providing support.
- Culture plays a great role in the ESL classroom, and teachers should embrace and celebrate the differences.
- ESL teachers should not discourage native language use.
- For those who are not warm, welcoming and nurturing, this role may not be the best fit. Many ESL students will face culture shock, denial, silent periods and finally assimilation.
- Be prepared to be the “go-to” person, as the ESL teacher is usually a very important person in the ESL student’s life.
- Provide buddy support with higher-level English speakers.
- Be very, very flexible.
- Learn about the different cultures in the classroom, as behaviors and social rules can and will be very different.
- Get ready to advocate.
- Be aware that many students may be coming to the US with little or no education.
- Find out what language and transition services are available for the student and his/her family.
Questions to ask about ESL teaching:
- Is the program push-out, pull-in or a combination?
- Will there be planning time to meet with the mainstream teachers to provide support and collaboration?
- How are the support staff and mainstream teacher relationships determined? Does the ESL teacher visit those teachers during planning time or will they come to the ESL teacher as necessary?
- How did the prior teacher work with the mainstream teams? Were there concerns and issues? What went well and what required improvement?
- What are suggested ways to work with resistant mainstream teachers?
- Will the ESL teacher be given a budget for new materials and curriculum?
- What is the school policy regarding social behavior and cultural confusion/interpretation?
- Are adult English programs offered throughout the district? If so, when and where?
- Are translation services available for all languages within the district?
Becoming an ESL teacher is truly a gift. ESL teachers provide students with the ability to find success and opportunities in the United States. This role is a very special one, and should not be taken lightly. ESL teachers make an everlasting difference in our world and provide a service that is priceless to students and families from other countries.
What other comments or questions would you add?