The demand for Spanish-speaking teachers is increasing in urgency: As schools scramble to adapt curricula and classes to a changing population, it’s more critical than ever that teachers can communicate in two languages.
It comes as no surprise this huge demand given the fact that over 37.6 million people in the U.S. now speak Spanish at home, according to the Pew Research Center.
That makes it far and away the most commonly spoken non-English language in the country. Beyond the U.S. border, Spanish is the 2nd most spoken language in the world, and some have argued that it may become the international lingua franca.
English Language Learners in School
During the 2010-2011 school year, 10 percent of all public school students in the country were English learners (ELs). That percentage is significantly higher in some states, with 29 percent of Cailfornia’s students learning English as a second language (ESL).
While there is a demand for teachers who work specifically in ESL classes, many schools are looking for core subject teachers who can also help Spanish-speakers if they have trouble with math, reading, science, or history.
States such as Florida, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi are in an especially dire position, with the recent census showing that the south has seen the country’s largest increase in the Hispanic population. According to NPR, the combination of scarce resources and a booming immigrant population in that region means that administrators are struggling to find “teachers who can help Spanish-speaking students adapt to an American classroom.”
The need for Spanish-speaking teachers
Research reported by the Washington Post showed that having a Hispanic, bilingual teacher not only helped ELs comprehend academic material, but increased attendance and graduation rates among that group, as well. In essence, students tend to benefit from teachers who both speak their language and reflect their culture.
Employment of Bilingual Teachers
All of this leads schools to search far and wide for Spanish speakers. The demand for teachers has risen so significantly that some schools, like Beltsville Academy in Maryland, are even hiring teachers that are still learning English. Others, like Vardaman Elementary, in Mississippi, are relying on English-speaking teachers to insert Spanish words into the curriculum without knowing much of the language.
In Illinois, state legislators have further increased the need for Spanish-speaking teachers. A new law requires that all public schools with preschool programs offer a bilingual program for those children who don’t speak English. Citizen Access notes that, especially because of this new requirement, the “supply of educators holding both certifications [early childhood education and bilingual instruction] doesn’t meet the current demand of students.”
Thought there’s a clear demand for teachers with second-language abilities, there simply aren’t that many potential employees who speak Spanish. Forbes Magazine states that across the entire U.S., only 18% of the population speaks a language other than English. Cutting out all the non-educators from that group, as well as those speaking a language other than Spanish, leaves a woefully small pool from which to hire teachers.
Part of the problem is that we lack language-learning opportunities: foreign language classes in elementary and middle school, as well as in college, have shrunk over the past decade, according to the report in Forbes. Decreasing opportunities to study Spanish may help to explain why the search for bilingual employees is so difficult.
Despite these obstacles, the public is increasingly aware of the need for both Spanish-speaking teachers and bilingual education. We can hope that coming years bring both recognition of our need for language education as well as an increase in the number of Spanish speakers in our schools.