Angela Gardner, OFLA Public Relations and Advocacy Chair
Spanish Teacher, Ross High School
Dr. William “Bill” Rivers is the executive director for the JNCL-NCLIS, leading efforts among language educators and other stakeholders to advocate for language education in the United States of America. OFLA Public Relations and Advocacy Chair Angela Gardner reached out to Dr. Rivers for his comments on how language educators can get involved, and why these efforts are so vital to our programs.
AG: Language educators have a great deal of responsibility and many duties in their institutions. Why should we also be tasked with advocacy efforts?
BR: Firstly, and most importantly, what we do every day in our classrooms, with our colleagues in our departments, and in our buildings is in fact the most important form of advocacy. Bringing enthusiasm, dedication, and a love of languages to our students, modeling that for our peers and principals, is the foundation of all other advocacy. If your classroom is alive, if your students love what they are learning, we are all a long ways towards a better future for languages in America.
That being said, the second part of advocacy is making the case for what we do to audiences beyond our schools and classrooms. To be blunt, if we don’t advocate for ourselves, no one else will. There’s no magic bullet that will ensure that school boards, state government, and the US Department of Education continue to support what we do. We always face competing priorities, and we must make the case for what we do. Moreover, our grass roots advocacy is powerful and attracts additional support. We have a great story to tell about the Language Enterprise – that languages matter to national security, economic growth, and social justice, and that bilingualism, however acquired, confers lifelong educational, cognitive, and employment benefits (and we have the receipts for all of this!). It’s up to us to tell our story.
AG: What can you tell us about the successes of language advocacy efforts in the last six months? The last few years?
BR: The last two years have been challenging, but we’ve managed to keep all of the Federal programs supporting language acquisition funded, and we’ve been able to keep the Office of English Language Acquisition intact (OELA supports English Learner programs, and a great deal of this support focuses on Dual Language Immersion). In Congress, we saw the introduction of the World Languages Advancement and Readiness Act and the Paul Simon Study Abroad Act, among other proposed legislation. At the state level, our coalition has helped defeat “coding-instead-of-world-languages” bills in Florida, Maryland, Virginia, and elsewhere.
AG: Newer educators in the field may be unsure how to get involved. How can new professionals get started in advocacy efforts? What is in it for a professional that is new to the field?
BR: The first step, beyond taking care of business in the classroom, is to join your associations! The state language associations, like OFLA, are excellent sources of top-notch professional development, learning, and networking. I’m always amazed at what I learn at state conferences, and all of our state organizations have a wide range of opportunities for PD and for connections with peers and mentors. Second, if at all possible, I recommend joining your national-level language organization (such as AATF, AATSP, AATG, ACTR, and so forth). These give you connections K-20, as well as deep language-specific expertise on all sorts of pedagogical and methods questions. All of the language – specific organizations have scholarship opportunities for your classroom students and for you as well. Third, ACTFL, which is the big umbrella for language teaching, and if you’re in higher education, MLA as well. These organizations offer an amazing possibility to meet and learn from peers, and to give back with your knowledge and experience. These are the easy steps, and they go beyond advocacy – I can’t stress how important it is as a professional to join, connect, and learn.
At the same time, please follow the Joint National Council for Languages: sign up for our newsletter (www.languagepolicy.org), follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@jnclinfo). This gets you our weekly newsletter, but more importantly, our policy action alerts. The alerts come to your email, where you click on a link that takes you to a form that helps you to exercise your First Amendment right to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” You have the inalienable right to ask your elected officials to act on your behalf! The policy action alerts facilitate this action, and they’re very easy to use. Together, the language profession sends more than 25,000 messages to Congress each year.