• by Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D.  • IDRA Newsletter • May 2003

Rosana RodriguezTheoretically, schools and universities are designed to serve students and communities. Too often though, this is not this case. But the Alianza partnerships between universities and communities across the United States and Mexico are vibrant examples of how effective bridges expedite the teacher preparation and certification process and respond to a growing population of English language learners.

The Call and the Response

As the number of Latino youth in the United States increases, there is a critical shortage of people who are prepared and certified to teach students who are learning English. The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that one-third of teachers lack college preparation in the main subject areas they teach, and even less have preparation in their subject areas using English as a second language (ESL) techniques.

As a result, less than half of the country’s 3.8 million children who are learning English are being served in bilingual or ESL programs. And even fewer are enrolled in well-designed, well-implemented programs taught by certified teachers who speak their language.

It is against this backdrop that Alianza flourishes. This binational effort funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is enabling more than 300 teachers to become leaders in bilingual and bicultural settings. To date, 70 Alianza graduates are positively impacting more than 6,000 children in bilingual classrooms and reducing the shortage of bilingual education teachers in Texas alone by 10 percent.

Participating universities in several states are expanding their bilingual curricula to include courses of study and practical experiences that enhance the abilities of teachers, parents, administrators, school board members, and community leaders to collaborate effectively. Alianza is also enhancing the capacity of Latino and non-Latino students and educators to speak Spanish and work in cross-cultural environments –abilities that are essential to success in the 21st century.

Alianza targets teacher aides who are bilingual, traditional students in teacher-preparation programs in universities, and normalistas who are legal U.S. residents who were teachers in Mexico. Alianza also equips educational systems to prepare teachers and other educators to perform effectively in bilingual, binational and bicultural contexts.

The Alianza group of universities and educators met in San Antonio in March at the University of Texas at San Antonio Downtown Campus. Sponsored by the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) and the UTSA College of Education and Human Development, the group of educational innovators met to showcase successes and share lessons learned with other states.

Honored at this event was Professor José Angel Pescador, former Consul General of Mexico in Los Angeles and former Secretary of Education of Mexico, who received a proclamation from the City of San Antonio at a special reception (see article).

Topics discussed during the conference included: outreach and recruitment, academic support and language preparation, admission and transcript validation, financial support, bi-national collaboration, institutional change and community relations.

This article focuses on highlights of steps taken and others needed to create institutional changes that have positive influence within campuses. These in turn, can result in innovative and positive changes in teacher preparation for Latino and other bilingual communities.

Creating a Circle of Influence

altThe Alianza universities were committed from the beginning to creating changes from within their campuses that would acknowledge and tap into the excellent resources that can be found in teachers trained in other settings. This process, although difficult, paid great dividends in creating the types of lasting bridges that propelled effective partnerships between local schools and college campuses. Some of the common elements of these partnerships included the following steps, depicted in the diagram in the box at right.

Recruit. Expand the pool of teachers with an understanding of Latino students. In the case of Alianza, this required a pro-active look at the resources within the local community, teacher aides, and former teachers who were underemployed and working in other settings.

Create. Develop opportunities for school districts to partner in teacher preparation and placement. Alianza universities engaged in a process of early identification of elementary school campuses that would serve as training grounds and ultimately receiving classrooms for the teachers once the certification process was complete.

Engage. Invite communities and families to participate in the recruitment, preparation and placement processes. Alianza universities recognized the potential that engagement with community can have in fostering the type of long-term leadership that can revitalize surrounding communities. They took active steps in reaching out to build trust and create effective partnerships with schools and communities in the surrounding areas.

Innovate. Design a student support program to meet all teacher certification requirements. Campuses invested the necessary resources to recognize that a plan of study needs to be individualized for each teacher in order to expedite the certification process and maximize learning.

Communicate. Connect institutions across borders to facilitate credentialing. Alianza universities identified “sister institutions” in Mexico and developed effective relationships to receive and translate transcripts, analyze coursework equivalencies, and provide support for each incoming teacher candidate.

Collaborate. Foster meaningful alliances among institutions. Alianza partnerships included IDRA, the Mexican and American Solidarity Foundation, university partners in both countries, local school districts, Alianza teachers and evaluation consultants to create change, make necessary adjustments in the journey and measure success.

Disseminate. Support and assess teacher success holistically with research and best practices. A holistic approach that recognizes and values language, culture, and history is firmly imbedded in the teacher preparation and certification process for Alianza partners. Methodologies used proven theory and practice to maximize student success. Throughout the journey, Alianza partners are committed to sharing lessons learned among a broad audience of key stakeholders including educators, community, business and policymakers.

Recommendations for Improving Teacher Preparation for a Diverse Student Body

The Alianza partnership is a living example of how effective partnerships can transform schools of education, enrich communities and respond to student needs. Working together they are growing the next generation of leaders who can make a positive difference in our nation’s future.

Following are lessons that can be learned from the Alianza experience and shed light upon future steps to be taken by others interested in improving teacher preparation for the future.

  • Schools of education must place high value on teacher education for a diverse student population and support this work within their institutions.
  • Schools must share successful approaches for recruiting and retaining Latino teachers in teacher preparation programs in states with emerging numbers of Latino students.
  • We must expand the body of research and knowledge about preparing Latino educators with key stakeholders in education, community and policy.
  • We must compile a comprehensive set of policies, practices and programs that enhance the preparation of educators who teach Latino students.
  • Schools of education must prepare educators to serve Latino students and other students from culturally diverse backgrounds.
  • Schools of education must identify and recruit teacher candidates from alternative and non-traditional pools, such as normalistas, instructional assistants or professionals in other fields.
  • We must develop holistic assessment and support programs for educators that rely primarily on the demonstration of knowledge and performance in the classroom.
  • Schools of education must provide consistent support for individuals when they enter a teacher education program to complete all requirements for certification and work in the classroom.
  • Schools of education must disseminate innovative strategies that prepare teachers for Latino and other minority students for teacher educators, both in school districts and in universities.
  • Schools of education must create meaningful partnerships between schools, communities and universities to support teacher recruitment, preparation, and placement, allowing prospective teachers to study theory and practice throughout their training while they apply prior experience.
  • Schools of education must develop a corp faculty across disciplines with the primary responsibility for reshaping teacher preparation.
  • Schools of education must hire faculty for their teacher education programs who are experienced, well prepared and knowledgeable about effective strategies for Latino and other minority students.
  • Schools of education must work in conjunction with schools and communities to tap alternative pools of teacher candidates in order to develop a cadre of teachers who are more experienced, more culturally diverse, and more understanding of Latino and other minority students’ needs.
  • Schools of education must expose teacher candidates to K-12 classrooms with Latino and diverse student bodies early in their preparation.
  • Teacher education programs should build competencies that emphasize all aspects for developing Latino student self-esteem and motivation.
  • We must continue to foster strong alliances and networks with key institutions across borders dedicated to improving teacher recruitment, preparation and placement for our changing demographics.

The implications of these steps and recommendations will be transformative changes for institutions and communities. Renewal of the teacher preparation programs using the Alianza model will foster connections and collaborations across borders that result in communicating innovative strategies, quality teacher preparation and greater success for all students.

For more information about Alianza or about setting up a program at your campus visit the IDRA website at http://www.idra.org/services_to_educator/services_to_educator/alianza//.


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Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., is the director of the IDRA Division of Community and Public Engagement. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2003, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2003 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]