The Invisible Work of Dual Language Educators

Blog Post
Jan. 3, 2020

Teachers across the United States are doing unpaid overtime and “invisible work” before and after school, on weekends, and during their presumed breaks. For teachers working in dual language and bilingual programs, this problem is exacerbated by the lack of ready-made materials in their language of instruction, so many put in additional time and resources to find, create, and translate materials. Grievously, this added responsibility placed on dual language educators often goes unnoticed. A new study by Cathy Amanti, The (invisible) work of Dual Language Bilingual Education teachers, captures the sentiments of dual language and bilingual educators in Georgia and brings their hidden work to light.

The study builds on the concept of “invisible work” which criticizes the ways in which roles and responsibilities from the home to the workplace are often gendered. The three types of invisible labor all fit neatly within the expectations of the work that teachers perform as caregivers and instructional leaders. Through a qualitative interview method, the author sought the perspectives and experiences of six elementary dual language and bilingual educators around their selection and production of curricular materials.

The sentiments that Amanti captured were telling. All participating teachers had some curriculum materials provided to them in their language of instruction. When materials were available, teachers often felt a need to adapt them to meet their students’ linguistic and individual needs. Most of the teachers reported easier access to materials for math, and expressed difficulties finding resources for science, two of the subjects that fall heavily on language teachers. Dual language teachers often used the same methods of acquiring resources that English teachers employ, such as borrowing from colleagues, purchasing curricular materials, or requesting resources from administrators. Yet, dual language teachers often spent additional time translating existing English resources, like district-adopted curricular materials only accessible in English, or resources that their English partner teachers had created or found.

Translating a document is time consuming; 300 words takes about one hour of labor. Nevertheless, “none of the teachers reported being given any extra planning time to translate and create the curriculum materials they need as a consequence of teaching in a language other than English.” Dual language teachers typically have two cohorts of students during the school year as well, meaning that they are responsible for students in two full classes, often leading to extra planning, preparation, and meetings.

Participants in this study reported developing supplemental materials for their primary language of instruction, ranging from PowerPoint presentations and games, to graphic organizers and worksheets. And though creating curricular and supplemental materials is expected, none of the teacher participants reported having explicit guidance on how to best prepare materials for dual language classroom, nor how to distinguish between the quality of materials available online. Many participants sought ideas on websites like Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers, despite growing concerns about the quality of supplemental educational resources on these popular sites. During an interview, one teacher declared, “That, of everything that I’ve wanted, with all of the workshops that we get sent to, that’s what I want the most is, how do you make materials?”

The “invisible work” raised by the teachers in the study needn’t be an unending or unseen burden. First, administrators must respect teachers’ meager planning time by refraining from assigning unnecessary tasks or meetings. Dual language programs should also be restructured to allow for more paid planning and preparation time so educators are not continuously working for free outside their scheduled hours. This may require additional funding to pay teachers for an extra planning period before or after school each week, or hiring part-time staff to cover non-instructional duties such as recess and lunch monitoring, so that teachers can use that time for planning and preparation. Districts should ensure that teachers are given professional development in which they are guided through the process of creating high-quality supplemental materials. If districts have an instructional coach, coaches can support and, even better, develop ready-made materials for immediate use.

Navigating the expanse of available materials should also, ideally, become increasingly easier with technology. Open educational resources (OER) are free, openly-licensed materials that teachers can download, share, and modify to meet their students’ needs. OER resources include worksheets, lesson plans, activities, and even full, year-long curricula. Though resources in languages other than English are not yet widely available on many of the OER sites, dual language teachers can translate and share these resources back through OER sites. And while this solution still involves educators translating materials, it may be more efficient in the long term, as available resources continue to build in an online depository. Given their digital nature, OER resources may be more easily altered to suit students’ language and academic abilities. Using OER also protects teachers, schools, and districts from potentially costly risks associated with copyright violations. As Kristina Ishmael, New America’s OER expert and former dual language second grade educator, explained, “If it is openly licensed, you can translate it.”

Ishmael highlighted the role of states taking a “larger approach to some of the openly licensed curriculum,” including New York’s encouragement of EngageNY and Louisiana’s openly licensed English Language Arts curricula. Portions of EngageNY’s math curricula have already been translated to Arabic, Bengali, Simplified Chinese, and Spanish. To help determine the quality of resources, teachers can use Achieve’s comprehensive OER rubrics and the ratings featured on OER sites, which often include a 5-star review metric and opportunities for user comment.

Where materials are available, Ishmael explained, “You have your traditional publishing companies that will just translate,” and that publishing companies from other countries are often overlooked. States and districts should consider engaging with publishers outside of the United States to bring foreign languages in authentically, rather than as translations of English materials.

Dual language immersion programs, hailed for the academic, cognitive, and future economic opportunities they bestow upon students, are wholly dependent on multilingual educators. Each of the aforementioned changes are critical to create a culture in which dual language and bilingual educators can thrive. And to the dual language educators nationwide doing this essential “invisible work” each day, we see the invaluable effort you put forth on behalf of your students, and we thank you wholeheartedly.

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