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Super Skilled EAL Teachers

By Susi Pucci
Super Skilled EAL Teachers

(Photo source: pch.vector on Freepik)

There is something extraordinary about hiring a high-quality skilled English as an Additional Language (EAL) specialist teacher (Language Acquisition Specialist, or all-around language rockstar). What is an EAL specialist’s main job? I would say it is to ensure students can access content with equity through experiences that build language- language through content. Skilled EAL specialists are teaching and reaching multilingual learners with language essential for understanding concepts, ideas, friendships, and more. Skilled EAL teachers cultivate a skill set that is vast, deep, and always ameliorating (improving). Skilled EAL teachers are language acquisition experts.

Skilled EAL teachers are professionals that go beyond best teaching practices and curriculum designing by the fact that they have to know so much about so many things. Skilled EAL teachers need to be able to meet the layered needs of the students (socially, emotionally, academically). They also need to support the staff, the parent community, the leadership team, the school culture, the home country culture, the national standards, the list goes on. EAL teachers provide ongoing professional development through teacher training, coaching, consulting, modeling strategies, and workshops ensuring everyone's skills improve collectively to meet the needs of multilingual learners. The layered accomplishments of an EAL teacher are endless. Skilled EAL teachers are social system rock stars!

EAL teachers need to embody skills supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at a high level in order to not only connect with students and build relationships, but also to ensure students can access language through many contexts including social and academic language (BICS, Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills, and CALP, Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency). EAL teachers need to know how to help motivate students because motivation drives independent learning. Skilled EAL teachers know how to see each multilingual learner as an individual, meet them where they are at, and move them forward. Skilled EAL teachers are student advocates, promoters, and cheerleaders.

Now that we have a good measure of what makes up an EAL teacher, let’s go ahead and add to the mix–behaviors. Let’s focus on early EAL learners (5–7-year-olds) who are still developing their native language(s). How does a skilled EAL teacher get a student to learn and to thrive when the child comes to school who is angry, bites other students, runs away from the teachers, and hides under tables? Skilled EAL teachers roll with it; they flex and bend and find a connection to that student so that they feel safe. Skilled EAL teachers not only help support these young multilingual learners; they also help teach them how to regulate their emotions. Step by step, EAL teachers put procedures and scaffolds into place so students can feel good about coming to school, feel like they belong. Not all students coming to school encompass the positive student behaviors of independence, compassion, and respect. Not all students come to school with high emotional intelligence (EQ) and appropriate social skills. It takes heaps of skills to support students who cannot speak the school’s medium language. It takes more skills to hold these students with high expectations, believing they can be successful. Skilled EAL teachers do this, and it is infectious with the teachers working in concert with them. Oftentimes, students who struggle with self-regulation, anger, and/or resistance find a safe, warm, and positive place with their EAL teachers. Skilled EAL teachers are masters at seeing students and having the students feel seen. Language is not the only skill students are learning with the EAL teachers. These multilingual students are learning the systems of school, the procedures, the routines, the vocabulary, the manners, the social nuances, the language of friendship, and all the executive function skills needed in order to participate at a high level.

A note on executive functions: Executive functions are process skills that allow us to successfully complete tasks. In any given classroom, there will be a wide range of students with a variety of executive functioning skill levels. These skills include working memory, task initiation, organization, metacognition, inhibition, planning and prioritizing, time management, emotional control, sustained attention, flexibility, and goal-directed persistence.[1] Skilled EAL teachers support the whole child.  

This article shines a light on important professionals at your school. Please note, this article uses the phrase “skilled EAL teacher” because there are some schools that use the position of EAL/ English Language Development/English as a Second Language teacher as a place to “fill a spot” for a non-credential/specialized teacher, a trailing spouse, or a non-teacher. These schools do a disservice to not only the student(s) but also to the skilled EAL specialists.

Highly qualified EAL specialist teachers support learning that is inclusive of a deep pedagogical and human approach. They manifest the supportive safe learning environment needed to thrive as students and as global citizens. Skilled EAL teachers are highly professional, key employees in the success of international schools. A “skilled” leadership team values and seeks out these EAL rockstars.

What are your thoughts on the impact of EAL teachers?



Susi Pucci is the Head of Department for English Language Development at Ruamudee International School, Thailand.


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