Bilingual Ed Saboteurs Need Not Apply

by multilingualmania on June 24, 2009

in Bilingual Education

Lately I’ve been thinking about something that has plagued the bilingual education community for years–bilingual teachers who are teaching in bilingual programs, yet don’t really want to be a bilingual teacher. Over the years as an educator in the field of bilingual education, I often come into contact with people who didn’t initially apply for a position as a bilingual teacher yet were placed in a bilingual program because they spoke Spanish. This is problematic to the bilingual education community on so many levels. Teachers who don’t believe in bilingual programs undermine efforts to implement quality bilingual programs, which may have negative implications to the area of policy and research in the field of bilingual education.

I’ve long said that if a teacher doesn’t believe in bilingual education, then he or she will therefore make it fail. Both conscious and subconscious undermining of quality bilingual education programs has always occurred at the hands of administrators and community members who don’t believe in our programs. However, the fact that many bilingual teachers themselves undermine their very own programs is rarely discussed. We rarely challenge bilingual teachers who have limited proficiency in the target language, limited proficiency in English, who hold a deficit perspective of the children, who don’t make it a priority to receive their bilingual teaching authorization, or who deep in their heart value English over Spanish and/or secretly believe that the answer to all of their students’ problems is to insert more English into the bilingual programs.  I once had a training with a group of bilingual teachers and I asked them to get into groups and discuss the following questions:

  • Why did you decide to become a bilingual teacher?
  • Why are you a bilingual teacher; that is, why do you choose to continue to teach in a bilingual program rather than an English Mainstream program?
  • What does being a bilingual educator mean to you?

A few teachers discussed that they became bilingual teachers because they personally had been students in English-only classes and felt that it was devastating to them that their language and culture was not valued in the classroom. This small group of teachers stated to the larger group that they became bilingual teachers in order to value the language and culture that their bilingual students brought with them to the classroom. A few teachers also discussed that they had attended bilingual programs as students and felt that the program was beneficial to them. Other teachers discussed the fact that they were immigrants to the United States and believed in the benefit of primary language instruction, being that their high levels of proficiency in Spanish greatly contributed to the acquisition of English.

The majority of the teachers, though, expressed different motives for becoming a bilingual teacher. The majority of teachers explained that they were asked whether or not they were able to speak Spanish and were therefore placed in a bilingual program. A handful of teachers discussed that they were not even aware that they would be teaching in a bilingual program until they showed up at the school and were given the materials. A few teachers admitted that they did not want to be a bilingual teacher, but they nonetheless accepted the teaching position because they wanted to a job. When I asked the teachers why they continued to remain teachers, many of them explained that they learned more about bilingual education over the years and they wanted to remain bilingual teachers out of a passion to provide primary language instruction.

A group of teachers, five to be exact, bluntly stated that they continued to teach in a bilingual classroom because the students were “more manageable” than many English-speaking students in English Mainstream classrooms. Two teachers stated that they thought that the ideal teaching position would be to teach in a structured English immersion (SEI) setting, a program consisting primarily of English learners with minimal proficiency in English. These two teachers sadly lamented that there was so such programs at their particular school site and that therefore in lieu of transferring to another school they continued to teach in the bilingual program.

Over the years I have frequently heard comments from some bilingual teachers who are teaching in low-socioeconomic schools that they continue to remain as teachers in a bilingual program because they don’t want to have to “deal with” students’ behavior problems in an English class.  It has been my experience that these types of comments are heard primarily from teachers in transitional bilingual education programs as opposed to Dual Immersion programs. I also tend to hear these types of comments from bilingual teachers with all levels of experience, ranging from new to veteran bilingual educators.

Please do the bilingual education community a favor and refrain from teaching in a bilingual program if you really don’t believe in the value of bilingual education. If you don’t have the passion and corazón for bilingual education, then you don’t belong in a bilingual program. There are plenty of English language learners in English-only programs who would greatly benefit from having you as their teacher.

About the Author: Melanie D. McGrath is the founder and editor of Multilingual Mania. Melanie also provides technical assistance and trainings to schools with an emphasis on effective practices for English language learners and bilingual education programs.

Suggested Reading:
Critical Components of Effective Bilingual Programs

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Cassy June 29, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Now that’s passionate! I feel the same way. After teaching in bilingual for 18 years, I’ve worked with both kinds of folks – those that truly embrace the ideals of bilingual education, and those that are there for all the wrong reasons, as expressed in your post.

Luckily, my supervisor has been able to weed out most “saboteurs”. Unfortunately, some still remain, making our job of advocacy that much harder.

joanne villafane June 30, 2009 at 1:44 pm

This is the deadly secret at the heart of failed programs and lackluster results – Sabotage! I remember hearing Lily Wong Fillmore talking about this back in the 80’s – her ideas were published in a book by James Crawford – here’s a link: (sorry, don’t know how to make it tiny!)

multilingualmania June 30, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Thanks for your responses.

I’m going to check out that chapter in the book. It looks very interesting!!

Al November 17, 2011 at 11:33 pm

I’ve mentioned something similar to what you state in this blog to other teachers and the looks I’ve received are so funny! They can’t get over the fact that someone is calling them out…Hey, you gotta weed out the chaff…is that the expression? Still learning English idioms!

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