COLUMBUS — Officials at the city’s language immersion schools, which promote fluency by teaching entirely in a foreign language, say there aren’t enough teachers qualified to teach every subject in another language.
Immersion experts said the problem dilutes the total-immersion school principles, and some parents want the school district to place limits on what roles English-speaking teachers can play.
This year’s placement of an exclusively English-speaking third grade teacher at Ecole Kenwood, a French-only immersion school in Columbus, has prompted school officials to examine how teachers are recruited and assigned to the schools.
When Ecole and the Spanish Immersion Academy, also in Columbus, first opened in 1987, the schools recruited French-speaking teachers from Louisiana or helped foreign-born teachers pay for green cards, officials said. However, money is much tighter in the district now.
As hundreds of new immersion schools open nationwide, it’s impossible to keep up with the demand for foreign-language-speaking teachers, said Julie Sugarman, a research associate for the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, D.C.
“People coming from other countries don’t have the right credentials to teach,” Sugarman said. “And kids who grew up here don’t have the language skills to teach in another language.”
Hiring English-speaking teachers for courses like gym or art is one way immersion schools are compensating for teacher shortages, but such stopgap measures compromise programs’ integrity, said Nancy Rhodes, director of foreign- language education at the Center for Applied Linguistics. “It’s totally unacceptable,” Rhodes said. “If you don’t have a speaker of the foreign language teaching, it’s not immersion at all.”
Often, language teachers are trained to teach foreign languages at high schools and don’t have the certification to teach at immersion schools, said Carmen Suarez Graff, principal of the Spanish school.