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Second Language Learners—Who’s on Point?

By Bonnie Billak

Whose job is it to teach the English language learners in a classroom?
Is it the classroom teacher’s responsibility, or the ESL teacher’s? This is a common dilemma at international schools worldwide, and sometimes becomes quite a controversial topic.
Some classroom teachers feel they are not qualified to teach language learners, thus, the English language learners should be the sole responsibility of the ESL teachers.
Others feel that they were hired to teach in English at a level comparable to their teaching in North America thus, in their eyes, based on their contracts their work does not include teaching students who do not speak English or have low English proficiency levels.
Many teachers believe that it is impossible to teach language and content material at the same time, therefore they would like to have all day pull-out ESL classes for their language learners. It actually makes them feel nervous to have these students in their classrooms, and they have no desire to learn how to teach English language learners.
Some teachers opt for having tutors take over the language teaching responsibility. They ask parents to hire tutors to bring their children up to speed language-wise. This produces an awkward classroom situation though, since during the day the ESL students are more or less in a baby-sitting situation in the classroom until the tutor develops their language proficiency to a sufficient level for them to do the work the other students in the class are doing.
Therefore, in actuality, whose job is it? Although each group will strongly campaign for their cause, the optimal situation is to have the English teaching done by both the classroom teacher and the ESL teacher. In this way, the progress of the students will be faster and they will stay on grade level academically.
By closely working together with the classroom teacher, the ESL teacher can gain important information regarding what will be taught or discussed in the classroom so that the language teaching can be linked to this content material. On the flip side, the ESL teacher can serve as a valuable resource for the classroom teacher by offering tips regarding ways to include the ESL students in classroom activities, strategies for scaffolding lessons, etc.
Through this close partnership, a strong and highly developed English program can be developed at the school and the English language learners will thrive and prosper linguistically, academically, and socially.
Ms. Billak is an ESL Specialist at International School Nido de Aguilas in Santiago, Chile. She also does consulting work in the field of ESL teaching and program design/evaluation.

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