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Exploring Other Avenues of Advocacy

While I was thinking of what topic I was to write about in this blog, I also thought of what I am going to present at our upcoming Maine Education Association (MEA) Professional Issues Conference in Spring 2012. My guilt of not attending the NNETESOL this year has consumed me as I regret not being there to meet the presenters and not being able to be at the workshops that I was looking forward to learn from.

I often wonder, what are other states within NNETESOL doing in conjunction with English Language Learners (ELLs)? Thus far, the MEA, as far as I am concerned, has not addressed what we as educators can do for newcomers. NNETESOL addresses this issue very well, but what about all the other educators within the Northern New England education associations?
As a member of the Human and Civil Rights Committee, I have submitted new business items to address the needs of ELLs. I also have presented at the MEA and Student Education Association of Maine (SEAM) conferences, addressing ELLs and their needs.

The NNETESOL attendance consisted largely of those who are already deeply involved with ELLs, so we are preaching to the choir. How many mainstream teachers attend the conference? How do we reach out to mainstream teachers who have ELL students in their classrooms?

My past MEA and SEAM presentations have been on how to help ELLs build vocabulary of rich academic language in literacy, mathematics, and sciences. This is a difficult task for both learners and educators to practice, as time is usually constrained. We have such limited time to teach what they need to learn. However, we are overlooking the fact that a simple communicative way, as in conversing, just talking with students, will suffice!

Actually, we don’t even have to limit our discussion to ELLs. Let’s bring up those students who are socio-economically disadvantaged, whose opportunity to hear and interactively engage in rich academic discussion range from limited to none, which necessitates us to use rich academic vocabulary to help them excel.

How do we reach out to mainstream teachers who have ELL students in their classrooms?

As Portland has mainstreamed all ELL students, classroom teachers are required to take more courses to become endorsed to teach English as a Second Language. Now students we serve are getting pulled out to receive services to learn English. This came about as the budget cuts occur nationwide due to our economy.

I’d like to hear what is being done in your state associations, and I urge you to become more active in your local and state association in advocacy of ELL students. Become a state representative assembly member to help our students and their families, to make sure that their dreams will come true. They come here with high hopes, giving up almost everything they had to come to the promised land, where learning the language is extremely difficult, especially in this economic situation. Some of these immigrants have had no choice in the matter, since it is at times a life and death situation.

I believe that we have done such a great job with NNETESOL in making sure that ELL educators have the tools to meet students’ needs. Now it’s time for us to go even further in our own states. We need to be more active in our associations to make sure that all mainstreamed teachers further understanding of ELL students–and let’s not forget the students who are socio-economically disadvantaged, because they are in a worse predicament than anybody else.

Thank you, and remember that the education association is there for us to advocate for our students. Becoming a member of the governance committee in your state can give you access to change or tweak enduring state policies to assure that our English language learners’ needs are served. Become a district negotiators to make sure that ELL students’ needs are part of the contract. This is a way for school districts to support ELL educators.

I hope that everyone will have a safe, healthy, and happy holiday season. May His birth give us peace and hope for a better and brighter future. I look forward to hearing from you after the holidays.

Ina Demers, Maine Regional Representative

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