Voices Vol 41 No 2


SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS: Bilingual ESL Middle School

Gray Areas: Don't Ask, Don't Tell

By Tina Kern

How does your district screen for new students?  Is the procedure the same for Kindergarten students as well as new students from upper grades? Or from other countries?  Returning students?  Does your district use an oral test to determine eligibility for ESL/Bilingual services?  Or does your district utilize a full array of tests encompassing oral, reading, and writing skills?  Are you involved in the process?  Do you know if the process in your district is in compliance?

When is the last time you have consulted NJDOE Bilingual Code Chapter 15? (http://www.state.nj.us/education/code/current/title6a/chap15.pdf )
Do you monitor the NJ Department of Education Bilingual website?  (www.nj.gov/education/bilingual )   The WIDA website?  (www.wida.us )

I know that we are so busy, but do we check the veracity of our information before we make or assist in making a decision about a student or potential ELL student? 
What do you do if the answers to your questions seem to be in a “gray area”?  What if the Bilingual Code does not specifically answer the question you have? 

I have posed all of these questions in an effort to elicit some response and interest in what has occurred, or might occur, in districts, and your responsibility in the complete education and advocacy for your students.  Especially now, with ACCESS testing still burned in our recent memories, I recall the questions or uncertainty concerning this particular test.  With the oral test change, and what seemed like hours of reading online in order to refresh our recollections and update our information, I felt comfort in the fact that I could reach out to our colleagues for any questions that still seemed unanswered by the manuals and WIDA Toolbox online.

And again more questions emerge.  Questions beget other questions.  For example, since many districts have now consolidated leadership positions so that the ESL/Bilingual Departments are integrated into other areas, such as Basic Skills, who is checking for changes in rules and regulations, continuity in programs, etc.?  Who is the person responsible for decisions?  Does that person or persons remain current in their knowledge and include all professionals in the district in the dissemination of that information?

I have so many questions that, of course, are unanswered because only you and your colleagues know the extent of commitment for your population of ELLs.  I can only hope that everyone, whether or not they read our hotlist, go on our website, or even are a member of our organization, has the integrity to “do the right thing”, even when it’s not the popular choice.  I hope that you ask and that you can tell the proper way to advocate for our ELLs.

In today’s world, where many districts discourage out of district professional workshops by refusing to accept professional days which necessitate subs in the classroom, some of us are forced to take personal days for our professional development.  I do it because I want to know that what I am doing in the classroom is right, morally and educationally.  A knowledgeable teacher is one of the earmarks of an excellent teacher.  I find it difficult when I’m in a meeting with several people, and they are espousing what they consider valid current information and, yet, it isn’t.  Some people clearly are not keeping current at all and repeat misinformation.  Sometimes it’s a teacher that hasn’t visited important sites and consulted colleagues.  Sometimes it’s a colleague that voraciously reads every educational and state website with their own interpretation and masterfully reports this information at meetings without ever considering the interpretation, or asking advice. Sometimes it’s a supervisor that is overwhelmed by the many hats she wears. It is difficult and time consuming, but our voracity impacts on the district and can make your team less effective. Then the “gray areas” become points of contention that influence the education of our ELLs. We all need to know explicitly what is legal and responsible… or know—and want – to make the “gray areas” become clearer.

Do you know anyone who wasn’t sure about an issue on testing (or something equally important), yet didn’t ask….and didn’t tell?  I shudder at the thought of not having a professional organization to help me so that my decisions are correct, moral, and honest.

That’s where being a part of NJTESOL/NJBE becomes essential for all concerned educators – as you are. You are reading this because you are a member of our organization.  To be informed, to remain informed, is imperative. There always seems to be new or more material to read, peruse, digest, incorporate, or update.  I really enjoy being on the internet, reading articles, checking my sites, but when I automatically shout, “I’ll be there in a minute” for dinnertime, and then emerge at least an hour later, I know I fell, once again, into the black hole of information..  It energizes me, mesmerizes me, and steals minutes that turn into hours.  Yet time and time I return because it is my career and my passion. 

On the other hand, I’m sometimes so grateful when a colleague emails or calls with important information so that I don’t feel obligated to “do it all”.  Being part of and connected to resources and colleagues is invaluable – so lucky to have NJTESOL/NJBE friends to share my interests and enthusiasm.

I feel privileged to work with so many leaders in Bilingual and English as a Second Language Education, which is evident at our conference.  This knowledge of regulations, methods, materials, etc. is offered to our colleagues, as well as forums to share views, or search for solutions.

The good news is that our NJTESOL/NJBE Spring Conference is filled with current information for our colleagues. Our friends from the State of New Jersey always inform us with information on the cutting edge of State rules and regulations.  Of course, our keynotes this year are incredible.  Though the final schedules and lists of workshops are not available at the time I am writing this, I look forward to the many outstanding quality workshops and know that there is a plethora of information pertinent to every member.  We offer you the best of the best.  I appreciate the challenge of attending, and having to find a way to join us.

As always, I look forward to personally greeting our members at our annual ESL/Bilingual Middle School Special Interest Group (SIG) meeting.  We again have a meeting each day in which to share ideas and pertinent workshops, and converse with friends.  This year I have subtitled our meetings, “The Challenge and Beyond” because as we wind down the year and review our challenges, we look forward to integrating the new methods and ideas “beyond” the conference.   In addition, I invite you to my workshop, “Excellence for Our ELLs”, May 30 at 10:30 a.m.  Bring your enthusiasm and share my quest for providing the best education for our students.

A highlight of the conference is, of course, the scholarships and awards we present to deserving students who exemplify the high ideals we share.  Having to choose just one person for each award is a monumental task, but the pleasure it gives proves that all the work we do to advocate in our field  is worth it!  If you haven’t attended one of our award presentations, give yourself a treat and join us. 

As a result of my constant inquiries and research, I go to bed at night knowing that I’m doing everything I can to uphold our standards and best practices as I advocate for our ELLs.  It sounds mundane but we are here to maintain the integrity of our field. And that’s why our conference goes beyond being just “important”. Knowing you are with other professionals that care always leaves you with a great feeling of accomplishment.  I have always been energized by our NJTESOL/NJBE conference.  See you there!