New program aims to address shortage of bilingual teachers

By Kari Dickinson

In 2020, there were over 30,000 Spanish-speaking English learners — or “emergent bilingual” — K-12 students in Wisconsin schools. However, less than 35 percent of these learners were enrolled in bilingual-bicultural programming. 

One reason for this is a shortage of bilingual educators statewide, and a new certificate program from the UW–Madison School of Education aims to meet this growing need. 

Launching in summer 2022, the UW–Madison Spanish-English Bilingual-Bicultural Education Capstone Certificate is allowing licensed Wisconsin teachers who are Spanish proficient to obtain their Spanish-English Bilingual-Bicultural Licensure from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction in just one year.

Focusing on the development of bilingualism, biculturalism, and biliteracy for K-12 students that speak Spanish as their home language — as well as English-speaking peers who participate in Spanish-English bilingual programs in Wisconsin public schools — the capstone certificate consists of four courses taught across three semesters.

To accommodate the schedules of practicing teachers, students in the program will pursue a heavier course load in the summer, and then complete evening practicum courses during the fall and spring.  

Mariana Pacheco
Mariana Pacheco

Mariana Pacheco and Diego Román, both faculty members with the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, are leading the development of the new certificate program. 

Pacheco notes that Wisconsin is one of only a handful of states that has a state-level policy requiring school districts to offer a bilingual, bicultural program if they meet specific “trigger numbers” — such as 10 students in grades K-3 or 20 students in grades 4-12 who speak a home language other than English. But these programs look very different from place to place, and school districts are often left to figure out how to offer these services on their own.

Many districts — especially in rural areas — have experienced substantial changes in the makeup of their communities, resulting in a rapid growth in bi/multilingual students attending school. For instance, Román cites the Arcadia School District in northwestern Wisconsin, where the demographics have flipped over the past decade. 

According to data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, in the 2011-2012 school year the Arcadia School District was 70 percent white and 30 percent Hispanic; now it is now 23 percent white and 75 percent Hispanic. This demographic shift has aligned with an increase in the number of bi/multilingual students that the district serves — though it is important to note that not all Hispanic students are bi/multilingual, nor are all bi/multilingual students Hispanic. 

Rural districts such as Arcadia often struggle to recruit, hire, and retain bilingual teachers, says Román.

Diego Román
Diego Román

“So this program is trying to address that need and preparing teachers to work with these growing but already established Latinx communities whose kids are attending schools, not only urban centers, but also in rural areas of the state,” he says.

“We really don’t do enough as an education system, as a state, as a society, to really promote bilingualism and biculturalism through our educational institutions,” Pacheco says. “So there are lots and lots of bilingual, bicultural people in the state of Wisconsin. We just don’t create incentives or pathways for them to become certified as bilingual teachers.”

Pacheco emphasizes the purpose of UW–Madison’s program is not only to train teachers in how to help their emergent-bilingual K-12 students learn English. It is also about providing their students with “equitable access and opportunities to engage in learning” across all content areas — such as reading, math, and science — through bilingual instruction within these areas.  

Pacheco explains students can fall behind when they don’t have educators who are working with them in their home languages. For Spanish-speaking students, she says, being taught in Spanish allows them to learn to read, write, speak, and listen; to learn math and count; to engage in critical thinking; and to develop so many skills that they will carry throughout their academic career.

Unlike many bilingual certification programs, educators are not required to be English as a second language-certified to complete UW–Madison’s certificate program. 

In addition, all courses will be taught in Spanish. 

“That, I think, will be very helpful, because a lot of bilingual teachers have learned Spanish as a second language,” says Pacheco. “So (the courses being taught in Spanish) really supports their facility with the Spanish language and their effectiveness as communicators.”

To enroll, prospective students must have a current Wisconsin teaching license, a bachelor’s degree with a minimum grade-point average of 2.75, and be able to demonstrate Spanish language proficiency.

“I’m excited about meeting this need to support multilingual learners in our local school districts, because it’s a really big need,” says Pacheco. “And I think by being able to better serve the needs of multilingual learners in Wisconsin, our hope is they will have more equitable educational and learning opportunities.”

 Learn more about the program and how to apply.  

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