Shortage of bilingual aides, teacher shortage harming ESL students



Juliana Castro, C.K McClatchy High School

C.K. McClatchy High School is dealing with the negative repercussions for ESL students caused by a lack of bilingual aides and  exacerbated by a national teacher shortage. 

C.K McClatchy Principal Andrea Egan said, “We have struggled to hire all across the board this year because of the educator shortage making it difficult to find aids. I know that teachers are feeling challenged in that they are being pushed to rethink the way they deliver lessons and support multiple types of needs in the classroom”. 

There were a reported 300 ESL students last year at McClatchy and this year there are slightly more due to the influx of students moving into the area from Afghanistan. To minimize the load for teachers, Egan hopes to introduce a plan to train students who have been on site for several years, like juniors or seniors, who have acquired English pretty well and make them peer tutors. 

Ethnic Studies teacher Vincent Masincupp said, “What we are asking teachers to do right now is to write four or five different lesson plans per class . . . to provide access to the content for a student who doesn’t speak English fluently or doesn’t even understand it.” 

There is a big push to integrate into mainstream classrooms not only English language learners but also students with other specific needs, such as those with physical or intellectual disabilities.

Masincupp said that some might see inclusion as ideal, but in practice it’s so much work for an individual teacher not given resources like bilingual aids.

“You can imagine the educational gymnastics a teacher has to go through to just feel okay teaching the content. It’s hard,” he said. “And I’m not saying that the designated, contained classroom filled just with English language learners is the best idea, but I know that we are taking steps in a really challenging direction right now. It definitely feels like we are either moving in the wrong direction or we’re experiencing some pretty severe growing pains as we’re moving in the right direction.”

Some teachers are forced into the position of teaching ESL, and that can be difficult. Courses constructed to better prepare them still fail to fully do the job for the average English teacher. A class with students at different levels requires teachers to custom-tailor lessons to a specific learner. 

Masincupp constructed the ESL teaching curriculum with help from Sacramento State University with the aim to better support teachers and students. He said, “They turned their ERWC (expository reading and writing curriculum) into an EL version and I was a part of piloting that. I was the practitioner and they came and watched me teach. I gave them feedback and I gave them a lot of input on how to create the curriculum and I was able to make something really solid.”

More students are getting strategic support, said Egan, but they are more focused on the newcomers while in the past there has been a sprinkling of support at all levels. “Offering support for students has been here for 6/7 years . . .,” she said. “It isn’t that we decreased it, just that it has shifted and prioritized newcomers.”  

Masincupp said, “I know for a fact, I’ve gotten feedback from students who weren’t even mine in years past that have graduated from CKM felt utterly unsupported, othered made to feel like they were stupid because of language barriers and that is ultimately what we want to avoid at all costs. It is really important when learning another language to feel safe in a place to make mistakes.”

Fortunately for McClatchy, Masincupp said, “We have an excellent bilingual counselor, Antonio Villareal, and bilingual aides such as Patricia Beltran, who translates Spanish, and  Mohammad Eshanzai translates Pashto and Dari for students coming in from Afghanistan.”

Masincupp said his teaching history in other countries such as Micronesia and South Korea prepared him for his ESL work

“Foundationally for me, I was the person speaking the foreign language and teaching it as an outsider,” he said. “It gave me a lot of insight and it helped me fall in love with English language education. But we need good ESL teachers more now than ever.”