Challenges confronting teachers of English language learners

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Universitaets und Landesbibliothek]On: 07 December 2013, At: 03:18Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Challenges confronting teachers ofEnglish language learnersThi Diem Hang Khong a & Eisuke Saito ba School of Education , University of Queensland , Australiab Curriculum, Teaching & Learning Academic Group , NationalInstitute of Education , SingaporePublished online: 05 Mar 2013.

    To cite this article: Thi Diem Hang Khong & Eisuke Saito , Educational Review (2013):Challenges confronting teachers of English language learners, Educational Review, DOI:10.1080/00131911.2013.769425

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  • Challenges confronting teachers of English language learners

    Thi Diem Hang Khonga* and Eisuke Saitob

    aSchool of Education, University of Queensland, Australia; bCurriculum, Teaching &Learning Academic Group, National Institute of Education, Singapore

    The number of English language learners and limited English procient studentshas grown exponentially in the United States over the past decades. Given thehuge cultural and linguistic diversity among them, educating this population ofstudents remains a challenge for teachers. This paper aims to review the typesof challenges that educators face when teaching limited English procient stu-dents in the US context. Findings from existing literature show the obstaclesteachers confront are social, institutional, and personal in nature. Although someresearch has emphasised stronger teacher education programmes as a solution toproblems related to the teaching and learning of these students, theseprogrammes are insufcient for teachers to overcome all of the challenges theyface. Concerted efforts by educators, local and central administrators, academics,local communities, and lawmakers are necessary.

    Keywords: English language learners; limited English prociency; languageminority; teacher challenges

    Introduction

    The number of English language learners (ELLs) or limited English procientstudents in the United States has grown exponentially over recent decades (NationalClearinghouse for English Language Acquisition 2007, 2011). These students aregenerally dened as those who are from non-English speaking families and experi-ence difculties in understanding English (US Department of Education 1994).They are occasionally referred to as English learners (Sandberg and Reschly 2010),English as a second language students (Clair 1995), language-minority students(Grant and Wong 2003), or the more general term, culturally and linguisticallydiverse students (Perez and Holmes 2010). For the purpose of consistency, the termELLs will be used throughout the present paper. Although ELLs are an integralpart of the US educational system and can potentially benet the countrys future,given their tremendous cultural and linguistic diversity, educating this population ofstudents still remains a challenge for many US teachers.

    The research hitherto has looked at various problems confronting ELL teachers.However, there is a dearth of studies that have systematically categorised theobstacles encountered by these educators in their daily practices. Among the mostdocumented issues are inadequate teacher education and professional development(Abedi 2004; Clair 1995; Grant and Wong 2003; Nelson-Barber 1999; Zucker-Conde 2009) and assessment of ELLs (MacSwan and Rolstad 2006; Reeves 2004;

    *Corresponding author. Email: hatrangvnu@gmail.com

    Educational Review, 2013http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2013.769425

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  • Short and Fitzsimmons 2007; Solrzano 2008). Although these issues should beurgently addressed, the existing research does not represent the whole picture ofchallenges facing ELL teachers. The issues with which they need to cope can bemuch broader and more complex, and there is a need to capture a more completepicture of the challenges they face. Therefore, this paper aims to review the typesof challenges that educators face when teaching ELL students in the US context.Despite choosing a specically US setting as the case for this review, many of thechallenges discussed in its regard are of interest and relevance to readers in otherEnglish-speaking environments, as well as those concerned with second-languagespeakers in other linguistic contexts. Since the work of educating ELLs is not con-ned to ESL (English as a second language)/bilingual teachers, the scope of thisstudy extends to mainstream teachers who work with these students in regular lan-guage arts and content-area classrooms, that is, settings in which literacy skills andsubject content are taught entirely in English, and where the majority of studentsare native speakers of English. The paper attempts to answer two researchquestions:

    (1) What are the challenges facing ELL teachers?(2) What can be inferred from those challenges?

    The paper is organised as follows. The introduction is followed by a detaileddiscussion of the problems teachers face, which we classify into three groups:social, institutional, and personal challenges, each of which is further divided intosubgroups. The nal section comprises the discussion and conclusion, in which weattempt to elaborate on the signicance of the challenges identied, and providesuggestions for future studies.

    Methods

    We used the online public access catalogue Educational Resource InformationCentre (ERIC) to retrieve a list of articles, using various combinations of keywordssuch as ELLs, LEP, and minority students. From these results, we selected 50papers, based on their focus on teacher problems. After examining these papers, thereferences that the authors considered highly relevant to the present study wereincluded in the literature review, bringing the total to 60. These included bothempirical research and opinion papers, with the former being the majority. Opinion-based papers were incorporated because of the apparent under-documentation ofcertain problems in rigorous research. The authors then read the literature, high-lighted discussions regarding the challenges confronting ELL teachers, and codedeach paper according to the steps for coding data suggested by Creswell (2008).Text segments conveying relevant ideas were identied and assigned codes for keyterms, for example, negative public feelings and public action against immi-grants. These similar codes were grouped together under more general codes suchas societal attitudes, and were then mapped out and collapsed into themes to illus-trate the general structure of the issues. As a result, three categories emerged, withregard to the overall picture of the challenges that teachers face. While the lowachievement and literacy of ELLs have been treated as major obstacles for theirteachers, and do in fact challenge many US educators, they are assumed as givenconditions in this paper and do not therefore emerge as the biggest issues.

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  • Challenges

    Social challenges

    The growth and diversity of ELLs

    According to a number of ofcial reports (Camarota 2004; de Cohen and Clewell2007; Kindler 2002; National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition2007; National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition 2011), thepopulation of ELL students in the United States has been constantly on the rise.Within a decade (19902001), the number of ELLs grew by 105%, compared to amere 12% increase in the general school population (Kindler 2002). In the academicyear 20082009, more than 5.3 million ELLs were reported, representing nearly11% of the total pre-kindergarten through K-12 (that is from pre-school to grade12) enrollment (National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition 2011).These students settle in various parts of the country, with California being the statemost densely populated by ELLs (de Cohen and Clewell 2007).

    ELLs in the United States come from diverse backgrounds (Futrell, Gomez, andBedden 2003; Gndara, Maxwell-Jolly, and Driscoll 2005; Kindler 2002; Perez andHolmes 2010; Short and Fitzsimmons 2007). A large number of ELLs areimmigrants or children of immigrants, and are disadvantaged in terms of theireducational attainment, economic situation, and social security, compared to thenative US population (Camarota 2004). These students bring to the classroom avariety of cultural backgrounds, language prociencies, academic experiences, andcognitive processes (Perez and Holmes 2010, 41).

    The rapid increase in the size and the great diversity of this student populationpose a challenge to their educators. To work effectively with ELLs, a need exists toreform educational policies, curriculum, materials, and management, as well asteacher training. However, US society and the educational system seem unpreparedfor this challenge; thus, many issues have emerged with regard to the teaching andlearning of ELLs in the United States.

    Societal attitudes

    First, ELLs are often considered problematic, due to their cultural and linguisticdiversity (McLaughlin 1992). A growing body of studies depicts how localcommunities perceive these children and their families. The White community hasparticularly demonstrated concerns about the impact and threat of an inux of immi-grants (Gitlin, Buendia, Crosland, and Doumbia 2003; Stuart 2006; Valds 1998;Vollmer 2000). These societal concerns have transformed into a popular belief thatnewcomers do not wish to learn English and they waste the investment the countrymakes in their education (Valds 1998). Furthermore, minority groups such as Afri-can, Asian, and Latino Americans have frequently reported experiences of discrimi-nation and stigmatisation (Kim, Wang, Deng, Alvarez, and Li 2011; Rosenbloomand Way 2004; Stuart 2006; Zucker-Conde 2009). Especially, increased discrimina-tion due to linguistic diversity is a serious problem (Stuart 2006), with Asian andLatino groups most likely to suffer (Fritz 2008). In addition, ELLs face serious chal-lenges in order to survive in their new country. In some cases, adjustment problemsappear as the students feel overwhelmed (Kim et al. 2011).

    To a large extent, these problems manifest an underlying ideology of American-isation, according to which members of the minority must undergo a process of

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  • becoming blind to differences (Reeves 2004) and assimilating into the dominantculture (Fritz 2008). This belief in Americanisation also seems to exist in ELL teach-ers, generally inuenced by dominant societal attitudes (Walker, Shafer, and Iiams2004, 131). This, in turn, greatly affects the educational experiences of ELLs. How-ever, despite much research into societal attitudes toward ELLs, there is a seriouslack of studies on how the inuence of societal views challenges ELL educators.

    Federal, state, and district educational policies

    Since 1964, in addition to several court rulings and non-regulatory guidance, thefederal government has passed three acts stipulating requirements for ELLprogrammes: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal EducationalOpportunities Act of 1974, and Titles I and III of the No Child Left Behind Act(NCLB) of 2001. Yet, despite the emphasis placed on the importance of providingELLs with appropriate and effective instruction, the content of these documents andtheir implementation at school level are questionable.

    First, regarding the content, NCLB does not require that teachers be trained towork with adolescent ELLs (Short and Fitzsimmons 2007). Furthermore, as Raganand Lesaux (2006, 18) claimed, the documents tend to focus onand even over-emphasizeEnglish language skills at the expense of academic achievement.There is also an issue with regard to Re-designated Fluent English Procient(R-FEP) status. In this system, schools are supposed to support and track their stu-dents who are reclassied as R-FEP, although initially identied as having limitedprociency in English, only for two further years. The concern is that schools mayprioritise English language teaching, in order to be rewarded with the reclassica-tion of a larger number of students (Ragan and Lesaux 2006). As a result, studentscontent knowledge and skills could be compromised, preventing them fromtransferring smoothly to mainstream classrooms.

    Another shortcoming in federal law, court rulings, and non-regulatory guidanceis the absence of specic and concrete guidelines (Ragan and Lesaux 2006).Substantial autonomy is given to states and districts in implementing policy, creat-ing a risk of a gap between the intent of federal policies and actual classroom prac-tice (Cohen, Moftt, and Goldin 2007). In such cases, federal policies are notnecessarily reected accurately at the state and district levels, in terms of reportingstudents yearly progress and monitoring R-FEP students (Ragan and Lesaux 2006).In connection with this issue, Short and Echevarria (2004/2005) further describedthe mismatch between requirements for high-quality teachers under NCLBguidelines and actual practice.

    In addition to national laws and regulations, teachers struggle with state-levelpolicies. California and Florida serve as typical examples: California, which has thelargest number of ELLs in the United States (Gndara et al. 2003, 2), passedProposition 227 in 1998, severely restricting the use of ELLs primary languages inclassroom instruction, and instead providing a transitional programme of structuredEnglish immersion, lasting usually just one year (Gndara 2000). This led to asharp drop in the percentage of bilingual services available for ELLs, from 29% in19971998 to 12% in 19981999, as well as in the number of bilingual teachers.Although claimed as a success by the author of the initiative, Proposition 227 failedto provide the long-term support necessary to prepare ELLs for the mainstreamclassroom, and increased the risk of language-poor experiences (Gndara 2000).

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  • In Florida, although some exceptions are allowed, the majority of ELLs have totake the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), a statewide assessment ofprogress during grades 311 (Florida Department of Education 2010), and to passthe FCAT or an equivalent test in reading and mathematics, in order to obtain thestandard high school diploma (Florida Department of Education n.d.). Failure to doso prevents students from going to college, regardless of how they performed inhigh school. However, research has pointed out the inappropriateness of the FCATfor many ELLs, particularly those with low to intermediate levels of English pro-ciency. Because these tests primarily measure prociency in academic English,rather than content knowledge, ELLs can be greatly disadvantaged (Giambo 2010).Teachers can do little to change these policies and regulations, which are oftendecided without teachers input (Gndara et al. 2005).

    Institutional challenges

    Teacher education

    In all probability, the biggest institutional obstacle for ELL teachers is inadequatein-service and pre-service training, despite the importance of preparing teachers towork with ELLs (George 2009; Navarro 2008; OBrien 2011; Reeves 2006; Shortand Fitzsimmons 2007). According to a survey conducted by Walker et al. (2004),87% of 422 mainstream K-12 classroom teachers did not receive any training inELL education. Indeed, not all ELL teachers are certied (Kindler 2002), or, if theyare, their certication is temporary (de Cohen and Clewell 2007). This lack ofteacher training programmes raises questions of the quality of instruction and theinadequacy of teachers understanding about how to handle second languageacquisition (SLA) (Clair 1995), the unique needs and issues of students from differ-ent backgrounds (Nelson-Barber 1999), the adjustment of coursework for ELLs(OBrien 2011), and working generally with ELL students (Ortiz et al. 2006;Reeves 2006).

    Furthermore, approximately 60% of deans of colleges of education admitted thelack of adequate focus on this matter in coursework of their teacher education pro-gramme (Futrell, Gomez, and Bedden, 2003). Many teacher candidates are White,monolingual English speakers, and the admission process for teaching programmesplace little emphasis on candidates experience in multicultural contexts (Nelson-Barber 1999). In these aspects, pre-service teacher training seems insufcient toequip teachers with the necessary knowledge and skills to deal with ELL students.

    Further, in-service teacher training is also problematic, both quantitatively andqualitatively. First, teachers undergo little or no professional development withregard to working with ELLs (Clair 1995; Gndara, Maxwell-Jolly, and Driscoll2005). Thus, many educators of ELLs have to depend largely on their own, ofteninsufcient knowledge, gained through daily work with students. In terms ofquality, interviews with nine ELL teachers working at high schools in Massachu-setts revealed that professional development, particularly in teaching writing skills,did not appropriately respond to the changes in teaching conditions regarding ELLstudents brought about by federal and state regulations (Zucker-Conde 2009).Moreover, one-shot professional development programmes, often lasting only afew days, may not be able to develop the underlying beliefs and viewpoints of ELLteachers (Rueda and Garcia 1996). Simply providing teachers with a particulartechnique does not help them improve their fundamental practices. Finally, concerns

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  • have also been raised about the knowledge and expertise of trainers in someprofessional development programmes (Gndara, Maxwell-Jolly, and Driscoll 2005).

    Teachers play a critical role in the education of ELLs. Providing qualitypre-service and in-service teacher training programmes is necessary in order tocreate better learning experiences for ELLs in their struggle with a new language.The lack of these programmes creates a further, signicant challenge for ELLteachers: fewer teaching resources to support disadvantaged students.

    Tools and resources

    The learning process of ELLs differs from that of students who only speak English,because of their cultural and linguistic differences (de Jong and Harper 2005). How-ever, individual schools and the educational system in general do not respondappropriately to this disparity, in so far as they provide teachers with the samematerials for both types of students. Gndara, Maxwell-Jolly, and Driscoll (2005)pointed out that most schools use the same textbooks for both groups, despite thedifculty for ELLs to comprehend, and indicated that there is a need for morehigh-interest and varied English language development materials (Gndara, Max-well-Jolly, and Driscoll 2005, 9). In a study involving 33 high school social studiesteachers in Virginia (Cho and Reich 2008), bilingual instruction materials werereported as their most important support. A clear curriculum with specic guidelinesis also crucial for addressing the conict between providing meaningful learningopportunities and fast-paced lessons (Gersten 1999). Teachers have also demandedmore appropriate, exible, and effective programmes for ELLs (Fritz 2008; Shortand Fitzsimmons 2007), and more rigorous research into ELL literacy (Grant andWong 2003; Short and Fitzsimmons 2007).

    Two further, interrelated needs in ELL instruction are classication and assess-ment. In order to provide appropriate services to ELLs, as mandated by NCLB, it isnecessary rst to dene who comprises the ELL population. Yet the lack ofcommon and consistent criteria to identify ELLs (Short and Fitzsimmons 2007)means that there is no clear operational denition of this group. In fact, studies haveshown that classication of ELLs varies greatly across states, districts, and schools(Abedi 2005; Kindler 2002). This impacts on issues such as assessments andstudent accountability: according to Abedi (2005, 193), inconsistencies in ELLclassication may lead to problems in the inclusion of ELL students in the nationaland state assessments.

    Indeed, assessment of ELLs has in general proven to be a difcult task (Abedi2002). There has been too much variation in assessment and testing, including theuse of tests shown to be inaccurate (Reeves 2004; Tsang, Katz, and Stack 2008),inappropriate (Abedi 2005; Lopez, Lamar, and Scully-Demartini 1997; MacSwanand Rolstad 2006; Short and Fitzsimmons 2007; Solrzano 2008), or invalid (Platt,Harper, and Mendoza 2003; Sandberg and Reschly 2010). According to Geisinger(2003), there are three decisions to be made regarding the assessment of ELLs: testselection, test administration, and test interpretation and use. Regarding the rstdecision, ELLs are usually required to take standardised achievement tests, whichtend to assess their language prociency rather than content area knowledge, andwhich are based on norms for native English-speaking students. In terms of testadministration, the most signicant fact is that tests are often given in English.However, Tsang, Katz, and Stack (2008) claimed that it would take ve to six years

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  • of instruction for ELLs to overcome the language demands of mathematics wordproblems on standardised tests. Therefore, immigrants who have been educated inthe United States for a shorter period may not be able to understand the linguisticcomponents of test questions, including both structure and vocabulary (NationalCenter for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress 2005).Thus, there is a signicant risk that test scores might not accurately reect studentsabilities. In some cases, schools request that ELLs tests be administered in theirnative languages, in order to avoid such inaccuracies. However, this does notprovide a complete solution, because the languages of instruction and testing arethen different (Abedi 2005). A further concern is how test results are to be used.As mentioned earlier, in order to receive a standard high school diploma, which iscritical for college admission, students in Florida must pass high-stakes tests(Florida Department of Education n.d.).

    The classication and assessment of ELLs is a complicated process, particularlyin the interpretation of assessment, because of the confounding of languages andcultural factors with assessment results (Abedi 2005, 176). It is also difcult todistinguish between linguistic and cultural differences and specic disabilitiesamong these students (Ortiz et al. 2006). Inadequate classication and assessmenttools consequently lead to the erroneous placement of some ELLs in specialeducation programmes. This has led to cases of both referral of normal ELLs tospecial classes (Brown 2004), and delayed recognition of genuine learningdisabilities (Prez, Skiba, and Chung 2008). In both scenarios, inappropriate assess-ment seriously affects the education and lives of ELLs, and may further result inmisinformation and unfair consequences for schools and teachers (Abedi 2005).

    Time

    Teaching language-minority students can be challenging. The cognitive demand onthese learners is greater than that on native English-speaking students, because theyare learning both language and the content knowledge simultaneously. This meansthat teachers need to devote more time to ELLs. However, respondents to a survey(Gndara, Maxwell-Jolly, and Driscoll 2005) stated that there was insufcient timefor them to teach ELLs the regular curriculum and help them develop their Englishlanguage skills, while still attending to other students needs. Some respondentsexpressed the need to spend time with ELLs in small groups or individually, whichwas impossible, due to tight school schedules. The lack of time to support ELLstudents was also documented by Reeves (2006). Furthermore, ELL teachers needmore time to reect on their own practice (Cho and Reich 2008), in order todevelop their knowledge and beliefs concerning their work.

    Communication

    Problems related to communication between teachers, ELL students, and theirfamilies have been documented in a number of studies (Cho and Reich 2008;Gndara et al. 2005; National Education Association (NEA) 2008; OBrien 2011).The struggle to connect has several causes, among which language barriers seem tobe the most signicant (OBrien 2011). Many US schoolteachers are White, andthey do not necessarily speak any language other than English. Moreover, fewteachers could learn the primary languages of all immigrant students, given the

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  • diversity. However, students and their parents often have too limited a prociencyin English to communicate with teachers. There is also a further risk of misunder-standing caused by differences between teachers and their students, and the parentsof their students, in cultural background and values.

    These linguistic and cultural barriers often make it difcult for teachers toinform parents about standards, school expectations, students progress, and effec-tive ways of helping their children. ELL teachers also experience problems inexchanging ideas and information with students. Thus, poor communicationbetween teachers, students, and their families hamper their collaboration in effortsto educate ELLs.

    School culture

    Teachers of ELLs are members of the schools at which they teach. Research hasindicated how institutions perceive and position ELLs affects teachers (Harklau2000). For example, negative attitudes from administrators toward ELLs (Walker,Shafer, and Iiams 2004) may lead to unwelcoming attitudes among the staff whocome into daily contact with the students. Not only ELLs but their parents alsoseems to be undervalued regarding their potential for contributions to childrens aca-demic success (August and Shanahan 2006). Institutional management presentsanother issue collaboration among colleagues. There seems to be little communi-cation between ELL teachers and regular teachers (Valds 1998), despite the factthat both are responsible for the overall education of ELLs. More seriously, main-stream classroom colleagues tend to deny this responsibility and assume it is solelythe work of ELL teachers. It is understandable, therefore, that some ELL teachersfeel marginalised (George 2009), due to insufcient time for co-planning, and inap-propriate deployment of their academic expertise. Paradoxically teachers with thehighest number of ELLs receive the least support from their schools (OBrien2011). Clearly, organisational culture and management inuence ELL teachers, insome cases contributing signicant challenges to their daily work.

    Academic achievement and retention of ELL students

    A further challenge that ELL teachers face would be how to improve the lowacademic achievement and high dropout rates of ELLs (Cho and Reich 2008;Markham, Green, and Ross 1996; NEA 2008; Thompson et al. 2002). The pressureis immense: across grades and subjects, ELLs perform signicantly below theirEnglish-speaking peers. For example, in the 2005 National Assessment of Educa-tional Progress, only 29% of ELLs scored at or above the basic level in reading foreighth graders, compared to 75% of non-ELLs, and a similar picture emerged inboth mathematics (National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment ofEducational Progress 2005) and social studies (Markham, Green, and Ross 1996).While ELLs performed well in special classes devoted exclusively to them, theywere still easily surpassed by other students in regular lessons. Perhaps due to thislow achievement, as well as socio-economic factors, the dropout rate among ELLsis also alarmingly high. A nal complicating factor is the powerful inuence ofparental views toward schooling and cultural capital, as built into their originalcultures. All of these factors may place additional stress on teachers, who have tomeet the tough requirements of accountability systems imposed on them by federal

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  • guidelines (NCLB Act of 2001, Publication Number 107-110, 2002). This issue willbe further explored later in this paper.

    Despite the urgent and legitimate needs of ELLs, their access to educationalopportunities is paradoxically limited. Valds (1998) showed that immigrantstudents in middle school had very little access to English, as they were isolatedfrom their native English-speaking peers. The English language with which theycame into contact seemed to be either articial and without a meaningful context oroversimplied. Moreover, by being referred erroneously to special programmes,they lost the opportunity to experience an enriching and challenging curriculum,thus decreasing the likelihood of them entering higher education and, eventually,higher-paying jobs (Brown 2004).

    Personal challenges

    It is necessary to differentiate between some of the social challenges presented inthe previous section and the personal challenges faced by teachers of ELLs. Thedistinction may be subtle, at least in terms of the attitudes and assumptions held byboth society and teachers toward students, since teachers are part of society and aretherefore likely to reect its worldview. In this section, however, personalchallenges are understood as problems regarding individual teachers forced toconfront what they think and feel about their students and their work.

    Beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions

    Teachers misconceptions related to both the learning and teaching processespresent an enormous obstacle to their ability to support ELLs effectively. Typicalmisconceptions related to learning include the following: (1) ELLs should be ableto acquire English quickly (McLaughlin 1992; Reeves 2006); (2) ELLs shouldavoid using their native language in order to acquire English (Phuntsog 2001;Reeves 2006); (3) exposure and interaction will result in English language learning(Harper and de Jong 2004); (4) all ELLs learn English in the same way and at thesame rate (Harper and de Jong 2004; McLaughlin 1992); (5) the younger the child,the greater facility in acquiring English; (6) children have acquired a second lan-guage once they are able to speak it (McLaughlin 1992).

    These misunderstandings have been disproved by a number of studies. First,according to Tsang, Katz, and Stack (2008, 19), ELLs need ve to seven yearsbefore they can attain the academic literacy necessary to negotiate in mainstreamclassrooms. Indeed, under certain conditions, this period can be 10 years. Second,the students use of their rst language (L1) can facilitate second language (L2)learning (Cummins 2007). Third, mere exposure to English does not result in inter-action (Harper and de Jong 2004; Valds 2001), and thus is insufcient for learninga language. Fourth, ELLs come from hugely diverse backgrounds with different cul-tures and languages. They also start their schooling in the United States at differenttimes in their lives. Thus, it is impossible to generalise the same learning formulafor all language-minority students. Fifth, young learners may acquire better pronun-ciation in some cases, but under controlled conditions, adults can perform better(McLaughlin 1992). Finally, achieving the ability to communicate orally is not thesame as acquiring academic literacy (Cummins 1980), which is critical for thegrowth and success of ELLs at school and in their future lives.

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  • In addition to misunderstandings about SLA, many ELL teachers also holdmisconceptions regarding how they teach their students. Just good teachingassumptions have been discussed in previous studies (de Jong and Harper 2005;Harper and de Jong 2004; Nelson-Barber 1999; Walker, Shafer, and Iiams 2004).While it is true that some strategies that have been effective for monolingualEnglish-speaking students can also work for ELLs (de Jong and Harper 2005), it isimportant to remember that the ways these two student populations learn are notexactly the same. Therefore, a practice that is effective for one group of learnersshould not be expected to produce the same results in another group; adjustmentsare needed for the optimal benet of ELLs as pointed out by August and Shanahan(2006). Another misconception regarding teachers teaching is that it deems suf-cient to focus only on reading instruction: oral prociency can positively inuenceELLs reading comprehension and writing as well (August and Shanahan 2006).Besides, teachers tend to believe in non-verbal support as effective instruction (Har-per and de Jong 2004). In fact, good practices such as activating prior knowledge,using group learning, process writing, and using graphic organisers or hands-onactivities, require clear guidance from teachers through oral communication.

    Teachers misconceptions about learning and teaching can lead them to inaccu-rate conclusions regarding the language ability, intelligence, and motivation ofELLs, and can thereby negatively inuence teachers attitudes toward ELLs andELL inclusion (Reeves 2006). Misconceptions also play a signicant role in themisdiagnoses of learning difculties and erroneous placement of ELLs in specialeducation programmes, as discussed earlier (Brown 2004; Reeves 2006), thuslimiting their opportunities to keep up with their peers and enrich their learningexperiences. If not adequately addressed, these misconceptions can prevent teachersfrom responding fully to students needs and including ELLs within mainstreamclassrooms.

    The problem of teachers low expectations for ELLs, particularly Latinos andother students of colour, has been recognised for many years (Cavazos 2009;Cavazos and Cavazos Jr 2010; Martinez 2003; McKeon 1994). Cavazos (2009)examined an English teacher who had radically different goals for two groups ofstudents. Similarly, Cavazos and Cavazos Jr (2010) documented how teacherstreated Advanced Placement (AP) and non-AP students. Under the AP Programme,high school students can take college-level courses, which enhance their applica-tions for college and university admissions (Klopfenstein 2003). Cavazos and Cava-zos Jr (2010) argued that, with the exception of some outstanding ChineseAmericans, ELLs in US schools are generally perceived as low achievers, unable towork on challenging material or the higher-level tasks given to native English-speaking students. In addition, ELLs are exposed to much simpler English for fearof their not understanding, and many teachers believe that ELLs are not consideredcapable of going on to higher education (Cavazos and Cavazos Jr 2010). Whenteachers low expectations for ELLs academic potential are passed on to thestudents themselves, their internalisation of such messages becomes a negative,self-fullling prophecy (Martinez 2003).

    The negative attitudes of teachers are also reected in their reluctance to workwith ELLs (Reeves 2006; Valds 1998), particularly those with limited Englishprociency. Other research has also noted the effects of ethnocentric bias (Rosen-bloom and Way 2004; Walker, Shafer, and Iiams 2004) and a feeling of distancebetween teachers and non-English-speaking students (Gersten 1999).

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  • Emotions

    While the existing literature has explored institutional challenges confronting ELLteachers, few studies have examined the emotions of teachers during the teachingprocess. Markham, Green, and Ross (1996) and Gndara, Maxwell-Jolly, andDriscoll (2005) found that teachers were frustrated about the slow academicprogress of ESL students and the wide range of English and academic levels intheir classrooms. In addition, the lack of necessary resources and support, togetherwith an ambiguous curriculum, can contribute to teachers feeling isolated and con-fused about the purpose of instruction (Zucker-Conde 2009). Furthermore, somefeel overwhelmed by the volume of work and the pressure caused by mandates tohave students reclassied as R-FEP in a short space of time (Platt, Harper, andMendoza 2003), as well as by the added responsibility to prepare students for lifeoutside the classroom (Markham, Green, and Ross 1996). Another emotional aspectthat must be considered is the feeling of inefcacy. Gersten (1999) has found thatteaching ELLs is so challenging that even initially condent teachers may begin tofeel disappointed in themselves for not being able to support students effectively. Itis indubitable that the different, often negative emotions that teachers experienceaffect the quality of their work and must be taken into account by future research,in order to improve the learning experiences of ELL students.

    Discussion and conclusion

    ELLs are a special student population with unique characteristics in the US context,and their numbers have grown rapidly. They bring a wide range of cultures,languages, and family and educational backgrounds to the classroom. The work ofeducating ELLs therefore requires great effort on the part of teachers, in respondingto them academically, culturally, and linguistically. As discussed in this paper, ELLteachers are challenged by a number of multi-faceted and complex issues.

    The obstacles confronting educators can be categorised as social, institutional,and personal in nature, although all three categories are interrelated. From the eco-logical point of view (Bronfenbrenner 1979), teachers as individuals are inuencedby their immediate colleagues, and by the physical and social environment ofschools and teacher training colleges. Teachers function as representatives of theseinstitutions, which in turn closely reect the concerns and expectations of the widersociety. At the same time, classroom practices are affected by the personal issues ofteachers, and societal problems are reproduced and expanded in the classroom.Typically, the challenges that teachers face have been discussed more in terms ofinstitutional than social or personal matters, but it is crucial that these three factorsare dealt with together, within a comprehensive framework, in order to respondappropriately to the situations of ELL teachers.

    Confronting these challenges does not only require signicant efforts on the partof teachers, schools, and teacher training institutions: social, economic, political,and educational policies also have to be improved at national and state levels, andlocal communities need to develop better understandings of ELLs and their families.The complexity of the problems involved in educating ELLs demands a concertedeffort by all stakeholders, since the obstacles faced by ELL teachers are not merelytechnical aspects of how to educate this special population of students, but arerather social, economic, political, and cultural issues of a much wider scope. Asmentioned earlier, the majority of ELLs are immigrants or children of immigrants,

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  • and receive unequal treatment in the current system (Gales 2009). Many native UScitizens believe that these immigrants pose a challenge to cultural integrity, nationalidentity, and possibly to the future of the country (Huntington and Skerry 2000). Inother words, there exists xenophobia among the US majority, and this directly andindirectly affects the policy-making process. Crawford (2004) observes that theUnited States has never adopted a comprehensive language policy built on thelinguistic strengths of language-minority students. Such a situation would poseserious difculties for ELL teachers.

    Contemporary ELL teachers are also faced with the challenge and responsibilityto transform their identity as teachers, by reecting upon questions about who theyare, what types of students they serve, and what their role as teacher demands. USsociety is becoming more diverse than ever before, in terms of culture, ethnicity,and language. Simultaneously, schools have become institutions to educate studentswho do not necessarily share a common background to live as equal citizens withone another. The role of teachers, regardless of whether they teach ELL students,now includes the aspect of mediator, in helping new citizens to integrate into USsociety. In order to full their responsibilities in educating ELLs, teachers need toreect on their own ethnocentricity or negative biases regarding ELLs. This is notan easy demand: however, it is crucial ELLs are not disadvantaged or in any wayblamed for attending English-speaking schools, while not speaking English as wellas native speakers. At the end of the day, ELLs of whatever background needteachers to accept them indeed, they have few other people to rely on.

    Although the challenges that have been discussed in this paper are specic to aUS context, they also have implications for other English-speaking countries suchas the UK, Australia, and Singapore, as well as for other multi-ethnic societies,since the teachers in such countries may experience similar obstacles. Furthermore,they signal those countries to take careful reconsideration of educational policy andits implementation, as indicated by the discussion of these issues earlier.

    At the same time, US school leaders and teachers can learn from multi-ethnicsituations in other countries. For example, the case of Japan deserves discussion interms of eliminating isolation in schools. Japanese schools are similarly facing a risein newcomers from abroad, due to the countrys globalised economy. Sato (2012)reports a school in which foreign and native students collaborate in every lesson todiscuss what they do not understand and to solve challenging tasks, while the teach-ers regularly observe lessons and reect on childrens wellbeing and learning, inorder to support each child, regardless of whether they are a newcomer or native. Itis this kind of collaborative and caring culture that is needed in US schools to solvethe issues of educating ELLs.

    For this purpose, a necessity exists for teachers and probably researchers also to fundamentally change their mindsets. It matters greatly whether these profes-sionals consider ELLs to be problems or assets for the school community. Byunderstanding the realities of their lives and sharing deeper understanding of ELLs,it is possible for both ELL teachers and regular teachers to rene their perceptionsof such students. To do so, the entire community of teachers needs to be involvedin knowing and caring more about individual ELLs, so that they can feel thesupport of the school as a whole, and be engaged in learning.

    One possible direction for further research is to compare the challenges faced byUS teachers with those of educators in similar contexts outside the United States.Also necessary is closer examination of the challenges that ELL teachers encounter

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  • when interacting with specic groups of students. As mentioned earlier, the issue ofteachers emotions has also not been explored extensively, and offers fertile groundfor future research. Moreover, further clarication should be provided about howthe three categories proposed by the authors of the current paper are interrelated.That is, the framework of qualitative research should be made more comprehensive,so that researchers can consider the factors affecting ELL education as part of alarger picture. Such qualitative research could then act as the basis for quantitativeresearch, to measure how much these factors affect one another. Through such avaried research project, teachers can provide better educational experience andintegration for ELL students.

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