Preparing Teachers for Diversity in the Classroom
American classrooms are growing more inclusive and more diverse with the changing demographics of our nation. Educators now teach in classrooms that comprise students with special needs, and may also include students who do not speak English or who have varied racial and cultural backgrounds. Teaching skills are improving and expanding to encompass new competencies and pedagogies to successfully engage these changing student populations.
New elementary teachers who graduate from the UMSL College of Education (COE) are better prepared for diverse classrooms than ever before. Graduates from our elementary (1-6) teacher education program now earn their teaching certificate plus at least one other certification in either special education or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).
But our newest elementary education program offers students the unique opportunity to triple their teaching certification with a Bachelor of Science in Education in Elementary Education, plus certification in both Special Education and TESOL. The triple certification has tremendous advantages for new educators.
“The need for multi-certification in school districts is so great that many of the program’s teacher candidates are recruited for teaching positions even before they graduate,” said Kim Song, (COE assistant chair, and TESOL specialist), who co-developed the program in 2013 with April Regester (assistant professor, special education).
“It’s very attractive to new educator preparation students,” Regester said. “New elementary teachers from this program are already considered highly qualified. They’re equipped with multiple teaching qualifications and don’t need to worry about going back to graduate school to earn additional state certifications for Special Education or TESOL.”
Students who choose the program complete a minimum of 141 credit hours that involve extensive practicum experience in school settings with diverse student populations. “The program essentially requires only five courses more than our regular duel certification programs in elementary education,” added Song.
The practicum for these candidates is completed in one of our Studio Schools. “Candidates who are in the tri-certification program are placed in those schools that have inclusive classrooms with special education students as well as English Language Learners,” said Regester.
The Studio School model allows schools to team UMSL educator candidates with school staff expertise in providing elementary students more in-depth and targeted support, flexibility, and intervention where it’s needed. Our candidates gain a broader scope and more intentional experiences related to student learning.
The demand for teachers with multiple skills to address language, racial and cultural diversity along with special learning needs is growing. The percentage of public school students in the United States who were English language learners in school year 2012–13 was 9.2 percent, or an estimated 4.4 million students. Special needs students account for about 13 percent of all public school students, and Autism diagnoses continue to rise.
Chances are that educators will face classrooms that include special needs students and English language learners (ELLs), and occasionally teachers will be confronted with ELL students with special needs. On the other hand, teachers with dual expertise in special education and TESOL are of tremendous value in avoiding misinterpretation of limited English proficiency as a learning disability, or steering clear of negative and biased attitudes towards a student’s ethnic and racial origin. Knowing where to start and the options on how to proceed are confidence building skills for any educator, especially new ones.
Both ELL and special needs students enter the classroom in their own little worlds that can be opened up under the guidance of a great teacher. Children with disabilities benefit from learning in a regular classroom, while their peers benefit from being exposed to children with a diversity of talents and temperaments. English learners benefit from being exposed to American culture in the classroom, but also enrich classrooms by sharing their cultures and customs with American students. Well prepared educators help make that happen and create classrooms as places where all students learn and expand their world, grow, enrich their lives and the lives of those around them.
“I’ve had teacher candidates in this program tell me how much it has expanded their understanding of learning styles, learning needs and the role of teachers in fostering inclusiveness, cultural awareness, and respect in their classes and their schools,” said Regester.
The program attracts ambitious future educators who recognize the need for a personal and professional journey towards greater awareness. For more information about the BS Ed: Elementary Education 1-6 /Special Education + TESOL program, please contact the COE Office of Advising and Student Services at (314) 516-5937 or email Kim Song at firstname.lastname@example.org or April Regester at email@example.com