Lack of bilingual teachers cripples Chicago

By Zak Quiggle

NIU is teaming up with the Illinois State Board of Education, the Chicago Public Schools and the Illinois Resource Center to address the problem of a bilingual teacher shortage in the Chicago area.

This program is part of a federally-driven initiative fueled by the No Child Left Behind Act. Across the nation, states and schools receive grants from the government.

The Chicago Public School system has 57,000 students who speak English as a second language. This qualifies the schools for high need of the Title II grant, which addresses the bilingual teacher problem. According to a press release, around 800 people have expressed interest in the program.

“The sheer growth in the number of second-language learners in the state of Illinois makes it imperative we have individuals teaching in the classrooms who are bilingual,” said Norm Stahl, chair of the NIU College of Education. “This is particularly true in Chicago, but true also in school districts such as Cicero, West Chicago, East Aurora, Waukegan and Elgin.”

The NIU program begins in September with 30 students. These students will need two and a half years to complete the curriculum. New students will be added every semester through fall 2007.

“Positive role models are important,” Stahl added. “Kids need to be able to communicate with someone who speaks their own language and has an understanding of the culture the kids bring to the classroom.”

In recent years, NIU has trained nearly 200 bilingual teachers, with more than 100 of them expecting to graduate in May 2005. More than 300 new bilingual and English as a Second Language teachers are taking classes through NIU.

“NIU clearly has a very real, very compelling interest in this program,” Vice Provost Earl Seaver said. “The greater Chicagoland region served by NIU is among the fastest-growing regions in the country.”

The program works by allowing teachers holding the Type 29 certificate to work in a Chicago public school while they complete training. The certificate is a temporary teaching permit obtained on the basis of bilingualism. The teachers must know English plus either Arabic, Cantonese, Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Urdu or Vietnamese, all of which have been labeled as target languages by the state.

The Illinois Transition to Teaching initiative hopes to recruit 250 participants in the next five years. Along with providing the elementary education certification, the initiative will also provide financial support for the completion of a master’s degree.