AUBURN UNIVERSITY – This summer, Auburn University’s College of Education began requiring all students in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching to take English as a Second Language-infused literacy classes.
“When a school system rapidly changes in terms of its language demographics, this can be very frustrating for teachers,” said Jamie Harrison, who specializes in teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, or English as a Second Language, in Auburn’s College of Education. “Requiring our pre-service teachers to develop the skills they will need before they go into the classroom demonstrates progressive thought and will make our graduates even more valuable.”
Nearby Opelika City Schools are seeing an influx of Latino students whose native language is Spanish, and Auburn’s schools are seeing lots of Korean students, whose families are here for the Kia-Hyundai industries along the I-85 corridor.
“This literacy requirement is not at all common on college campuses, but I think it is just a great thing we are doing here at Auburn,” Harrison said. “I worked in public schools for 12 years as a mainstream reading teacher, but I always carried my ESL perspective into the classroom, as well. I was in Georgia, and many of my Latino students did not even hear English spoken at home, so I know how important it is to be prepared for these settings.”
Harrison also taught English in Korea for two years, in what she describes as a “living laboratory.”
“The trend in ESL studies is to mainstream the students rather than take them out of the classroom,” Harrison said. “It really becomes an advocacy thing, where we can teach other teachers about language or at least collaborate in the classroom. The main thing our pre-service teachers here at Auburn must have is a good understanding of the language acquisition process, and the wide range of language abilities that an English learner might present. Perhaps that student can read, but not speak English. It takes time to learn a second language, especially the rigor of academic English in the classroom.”
Complicating matters recently in Alabama was the legal battle over House Bill 56, widely considered the nation’s strictest anti-immigration law, parts of which were struck down by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Many teachers felt the law put them in the compromised position of asking a student about his or her legal status.
“I co-taught an ESL literacy course this summer with Dr. Vicky Cardullo, and we had guest lecturers come in from the Southern Poverty Law Center to discuss the lingering ramifications of HB 56,” Harrison said.
“Their focus was on the rights of immigrants to access public education in Alabama and the United States. One takeaway from their presentation is that our schools will continue to become increasingly diverse, so Auburn is doing the right thing to prepare our pre-service teachers for the 21st century classroom.”
(Written by George Littleton.)