Diane Staehr Fenner / September 11, 2012

Forty-six states have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), but few have fully executed and practices to assist English Learners reach those standards. This disconnect poses a number of challenges for English as a Second Language (ESL) and general education teachers as they work to ensure the success of an ever-increasing population of ELLs. Policy makers and administrators must fully comprehend the role that general education and ESL teachers have in teaching ELs to provide ELs the type of support they need to access the content of the CCSS. Content area and ESL teachers must have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to work with ELs so that these students are instructed effectively. In order for ELs to learn the content of the CCSS as well as acquire language and achieve on content and English language proficiency assessments, we must first examine the role of the ESL teacher during the implementation of the CCSS.

I recently provided professional development to ESL teachers from across the state of Pennsylvania and asked them to define their role as it currently stands. Some of their responses included: social worker, advocate, mentor, interpreter, a safe haven, and a trusted adult. Some of their other responses were as follows:

  • My role is an integral part of ELs’ achievement. I am the liaison between the EL and US American culture and all that is necessary for success here.
  • I prepare them to be able to participate with their peers.
  • I help them navigate the school environment.
  • I am the anchor for my ELs.
  • My role is to help ELs succeed in all academic subjects and help them access resources to aid navigation in this country.
  • I collaborate with the English Language Arts teacher on a daily basis to make sure instruction is modified and comprehensible.
  • I’m their biggest supporter of (ELs’) education in my school. My advocacy for them sometimes gets me in trouble; administration gets tired of hearing me.
  • I prepare them for what may come in their (general education) classrooms and give them tools to become more successful in the (general education) classroom.
  • I have a huge role – for some students I’ve been told I’m the only person that actually teaches them.
  • I improve (ELs’) social and academic language, monitor their ability in content curriculum and help (general education) teachers learn to modify instruction.

The roles these teachers describe underscore the extensive expertise ESL teachers possess that can be leveraged to ensure that ELs access the CCSS. All teachers must see themselves as simultaneous teachers of academic language as well as content, regardless of the EL’s level of English language development. We must utilize the skills of ESL teachers to ensure all teachers share the responsibility to foster ELs’ academic success at whichever level of English language development they possess, especially during the implementation of the CCSS

Diane Staehr Fenner