Kirsten Halling, OFLA Teacher Recruitment and Retention
Professor of French, Wright State University
How can we, as language teachers, ensure the longevity of our profession and avoid the epidemic of program cancelations due to the current language teacher shortage? By identifying and recruiting the next generation of language teachers. Do you have students who are natural born teachers? Students whose passion for the language reminds you of your own? Then consider mentoring these future teachers by giving them a window into the profession.
Given the severity of the current world language teacher shortage, The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has put together a whole program specifically targeted to language teacher recruitment. ACTFL’s Educators Rising 2.0 program can be used informally in a one-on-one setting, within the context of an after-school program, as a language club activity, or as a component of Educators Rising Ohio. Their comprehensive program provides master teachers with every imaginable resource for supporting future language teachers, from the practical to the inspirational. And in the very near future, these English-language materials will be translated into Arabic, French and Spanish and will be available at the same location for use in language clubs and even in the classroom (Back). This short article will explore the language teacher shortage and introduce ways that language teachers can inspire a future generation of educators to continue the boundary breaking work we do.
Prior to the pandemic, the nationwide teacher shortage was already causing problems, with approximately 112,000 unfilled vacancies, especially in high poverty urban and rural areas. However, not all disciplines were affected, with a glut of certified elementary school teachers and a dearth in high school Special Education, Math, Science, and Foreign Languages (Jacobsen). Factors propelling the crisis include mass lay-offs and program cuts during the Great Recession, an increasing student population, declining enrollments in teacher education programs, and an annual 8% rate of attrition due to wages, working conditions, personal or family reasons, and retirement (Sutcher et al.).
It is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has heightened the crisis with extra stress placed upon teachers whether teaching in-person, online, or miraculously performing a combination of both. According to a recent CNBC poll, K-12 teacher satisfaction fell from 69% pre-pandemic to 44% in October, and 27% of all teachers were seriously considering leaving the profession (Dickler).
According to the Commission on Language Learning’s Report on the state of language education in the 21st century, “forty-four states and Washington D.C. report that they cannot find enough qualified language teachers to meet current needs,” but there are no real statistics to reflect what happens when qualified language teachers cannot be hired. However, we can all share horrifying anecdotes about canceled language programs, delivering language content through computer software, and combining classes and/or levels. And of course, then there is the nuclear solution, whereby a state can deem language study unnecessary, thus depriving children in poor rural and urban districts of the opportunity to learn and dream about the world outside their door.
As with every aspect of life, the future is in our children, and it impinges on each of us to recruit those children who would be as happy teaching a world language as we are. To do this, it is time to change the narrative and to focus on why we do what we do and why we wouldn’t do anything else. Children and their parents need to understand that teaching is not only a job, but a calling. And language teaching is especially rewarding because it gives students the gift of culture, travel, communication, and confidence. Our classes are interactive and creative because we teach EVERY subject in a different language (history, linguistics, art, architecture, world politics, geography, music). Our jobs are exhausting but rewarding because we have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of so many.
If you have a student who would be a great teacher, consider sharing ACTFL’s free Educators Rising 2.0 materials with them, available without a membership at this address: https://www.actfl.org/advocacy/educators-rising If all of us can recruit just one World Language teacher, we can ensure that the opportunities we enjoyed in school will continue to be available to future generations. For more resources, ideas, and information, please feel free to reach out to Kirsten Halling, chair of the Ad Hoc Teacher Recruitment and Retention Committee at Kirsten.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back, Michèle. Future Educators Recruitment Project. Connecticut COLT World Language Exchange. Fall 2020. https://michele-back.education.uconn.edu/flerp/
“Building Educational Capacity.” America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st Century. Commission on Language Learning, American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Feb. 2017. https://www.amacad.org/publication/americas-languages/section/5
Carver-Thomas, Desiree, Linda Darling-Hammond & Leib Sutcher. “A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the US.” Learning Policy Institute. Sept. 15, 2016. https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/coming-crisis-teaching
Dickler, Jessica. “More teachers plan to quit as Covid stress overwhelms educators.” CNBC. Mar. 1, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/01/more-teachers-plan-to-quit-as-covid-stress-overwhelms-educators.html
“Educators Rising 2.0.” ACTFL Language Connects. https://www.actfl.org/advocacy/educators-rising
Walker, Tim. “Teacher Shortage is Real and Growing and ‘Worse than we Thought.’” NEA Today. April 3, 2019. https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/teacher-shortage-real-and-growing-and-worse-we-thought