• by Linda Cantú, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • September 2015 •
Federico Botello was a front office manager for an automotive repair shop. He identified auto problems and suggested repair options. At the same time, he watched his son struggle at school. Botello saw that his experience resolving automotive problems helped him figure out how to help his son. Over time, he decided to return to college.
Today, he is an elementary reading specialist: “My desire for teaching came from the heart. Alternative certification gave me the training and the tools for the job. Teaching is very similar to working on automobiles. Car mechanics use tools designed for working on cars. Teachers use tools designed for teaching and helping students learn. Sometimes we take existing tools and modify them to fit the diverse needs of our students. My struggling readers needed a long-term solution and not a quick fix. I taught my students not to fear reading and to become lifelong readers… Every year, I learn something new.”
Texas needs more teachers like Mr. Botello. The state is facing a dramatic teacher shortage. The Texas Education Agency, with approval from the U.S. Department of Education, identified the key teaching shortage areas for the 2014-15 school year in Texas: bilingual/English as a second language, career and technical education, computer science, math, science, and special education at both elementary and secondary levels.
In addition to teacher retirements, TEA reports that the current teacher shortage is a result of losing first- and second-year teachers due to lack of sufficient support and mentoring.
For 40 years IDRA has promoted equity and excellence as the basis for academic success of traditionally underserved students. It has gained a reputation for its work in culturally-relevant coaching and mentoring of teachers, particularly beginning teachers, who have made great strides in English learners’ achievement.
IDRA has been successfully implementing Transitions to Teaching programs, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, that have helped certify and add more than 600 bilingual, science and mathematics, ESL, and bilingual-special education teachers in more than 20 high-need urban and rural Texas school districts over the past 14 years. Another 100 teachers will receive their valid Texas certification by this spring.
IDRA has placed these new teachers in high-need school districts focusing on the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), bilingual education (EC-6), all-level ESL, and all-level special education.
With funding from the U.S. Department of Education, IDRA has created partnerships with six colleges and universities and 20 school districts and academies that are dedicated to preparing new teachers. Through the partnerships with these entities, IDRA helped prepare and support new teachers going through the alternative certification program route to have the professional development and coursework needed to be strong, caring classroom teachers.
Teacher candidates participate in one year of rigorous and meaningful coursework to help prepare them in their certification area. In addition, these institutions provide coursework and professional development that creates understanding and strategies to work with students in multicultural settings. All teacher candidates in our program are required to get an ESL supplemental certificate.
A former substitute teacher with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality business, Ana Loa now teaches third graders in Donna, Texas. She said: “I know that being a bilingual teacher is not easy but it is a very rewarding job when you know you have made a difference in little minds. I have experienced both sides, being an ESL student and now a bilingual teacher. I have shared many of my stories with my students, and I am glad to see that I have impacted their lives. I show them that they can do anything they want in life… and that language shouldn’t be a barrier… Speaking two languages is like having two souls in one, yet independent… I desire to be the role model for those students who think they can’t. I don’t just teach, I inspire!”
IDRA provides professional development sessions for our teacher candidates focusing on strategies in bilingual and ESL, math and science in both online and face-to-face formats. Topics have included:
- Cultural Awareness in the Bilingual Classroom – Defining levels of culture that present ideas and discussion on how to integrate culture in the bilingual classroom.
- Teaching Multi-level Language Groups – Introducing principles of teaching in multilevel classrooms and providing techniques to plan lessons for multi-level ESL groups.
- Classroom Management and Student Engagement – Providing strategies for maintaining discipline and maximum student engagement.
- Reading in the Content Area – Discussing the importance of reading across the curriculum, sharing strategies for understanding expository texts, and emphasizing reading within the core content areas, beyond the language arts.
New teachers participate in training and professional development and in college coursework, which is crucial to teaching and learning. Mentors help new teachers transition the teaching strategies into real practice while teaching. This gives new teachers a support system and practical guidance in the classroom. Mentors help new teachers build confidence and feel supported during their first years of teaching. Coaching and mentoring creates a team approach that helps with teacher retention. Teachers feel they are part of a team rather than working in isolation. In addition, teachers participate in IDRA’s online community of learners network to share ideas, successes and questions.
Federico Botello stated: “I was excited to be part of the alternative program, but I was also a little unsure that the program would prepare me for teacher certification. But alternative certification was not a quick and easy route. I was held to the same standards and ethics of the state, school districts, shareholders, community, and students.”
IDRA’s teacher preparation strategy is cultivating hundreds of new teachers to serve a more diverse student body, engaging seasoned teachers as mentors, and building networks for ongoing growth and support.
Johnson, P., & V. Betancourt, A. Villarreal, R.G. Rodríguez. Strategies for Instructional Coaching – A Guide (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2013).
NFIE. Creating a Teacher Mentoring Program (Washington, D.C.: National Foundation for the Improvement of Education, 1999).
Texas Education Agency. 2014-2015 Teacher Shortage Areas, letter (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, July 30, 2014).
Linda Cantú, Ph.D. is a senior education associate in IDRA’s Student Access and Success Department and the Education Transformation and Innovation Department. Comments and questions may be directed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2015, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2015 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.]