Multilingual paraprofessionals represent a largely untapped pool of potential teacher talent—largely because policies have made it difficult for them to advance to lead teacher.
The nation’s linguistic diversity is growing steadily, particularly among the youngest children. Around 66 percent of the country’s dual language learners (DLLs) are enrolled in grades K–3, beginning the process of learning English as they continue developing their native languages. A growing body of research suggests that DLLs do best in schools that help them access rigorous academic content and learn English while continuing their development in their home languages. These multilingual instructional approaches are only viable for schools that have multilingual teachers on staff. Yet a majority of states report shortages of bilingual, dual immersion, and ESL teachers. States and districts should look to multilingual paraprofessionals to help fill these essential roles.
Multilingual paraprofessionals represent an untapped pool of potential teacher talent. Approximately one in five paraprofessionals speaks a language other than English at home. Furthermore, paraprofessionals often have the linguistic and cultural competence schools need and significant experience instructing and supporting students. Yet, they often face significant bureaucratic, linguistic and financial barriers to entering the teaching profession.
A new paper from New America’s Dual Language Learners National Work Group, Teacher Talent Untapped: Multilingual Paraprofessionals Speak About the Barriers to Entering the Profession, highlights these barriers using data from focus groups conducted with multilingual paraprofessionals in five cities.
Focus group participants characterized the teacher credentialing and licensing process as burdensome and often unrelated to the practice of good teaching. Others described the challenge of navigating this process without access to reliable information on career pathways from their district or state. Some noted the ways in which their multilingualism served as a hindrance to their career advancement due to reliance on English-language licensure exams. And virtually all shared their uncertainty about being able to take on the costs of obtaining additional credentials while needing to work and fulfill familial obligations.
Solving these challenges won’t be easy. However, focus group participants offered a variety of solutions to help break down barriers. These include adopting competency-based approaches to teacher licensure and certification and creating Grow Your Own teacher residency programs designed to address these obstacles.
Taken together, the paper adds to the existing research and helps amplify the voices of a group of educators often overlooked by the U.S. public education system.