State Faults Teachers of English Learners

Pat Kossan, Arizona Republic, August 31, 2007

Hundreds of students in Arizona are trying to learn English from teachers who don’t know the language, state officials say.

The kids are taught by teachers who don’t know English grammar and can’t pronounce English words correctly. Last year, for example, a Mesa teacher stood in front of a class of language learners and announced, “Sometimes, you are not gonna know some.” A teacher in Phoenix’s Creighton Elementary District asked her kids, “If you have problems, to who are you going to ask?” A Casa Grande Elementary District teacher asked her kids to “read me first how it was before.”

Each year, the state evaluates a sampling of classrooms where kids are learning English. Last year, officials visited 32 districts and found similar problems at nine. Some teachers’ English was so poor that even state officials strained to understand them. The state also found that students learning English at all ages were being taught by teachers who did not have appropriate training or materials. At a dozen districts, evaluators found teachers who ignored state law and taught in Spanish.

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* Teachers speak poor English. At nine districts, some teachers did not know correct English grammar or pronunciation. In one classroom, the teacher’s English was “labored and arduous.” Other teachers were just difficult to understand. Some teachers pronounced “levels” as “lebels” and “much” as “mush.”

At one school in Humboldt Unified, a teacher asked, “How do we call it in English?” Another teacher in Marana Unified told students, “You need to make the story very interested to the teacher.” A teacher at Phoenix’s Isaac Elementary explained, “My older brother always put the rules.”

* Teachers still use Spanish in the classroom. Twelve districts had to be reminded that Arizona law requires teachers to use only English in the classroom and bans all texts and materials in any language but English. {snip}

State officials allow Spanish-language books only in school libraries.

At one Isaac Elementary school, children could not answer simple questions in English. Students told the monitors that much of their instruction was in Spanish. In a class at Humboldt Unified, a teacher reviewed a list of vocabulary words by reciting them in English and having the students respond in Spanish. {snip}

* Some schools shortchange language learners. {snip}. One high-school teacher had only elementary-school credentials, while some had none at all.

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Arizona is revamping the way schools teach kids English. Starting this year, schools must begin putting language learners into four hours of classes each day where these students will learn English grammar, phonetics, writing and reading.

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