The newly designed certification program – which the Pennsylvania Department of Education has given its highest designation – certifies ESL teachers to serve the rapidly growing population of English Language Learners in schools in Pennsylvania and around the country. The graduate students can complete the certification program in a year by taking two courses per semester, including the summer session, or they can stretch out the coursework to fit their schedules.
All the graduate students must be licensed teachers as a prerequisite to earning their ESL certification but they do not need to be fluent in other languages. The ESL model shows teachers how to get lessons across to students without being able to speak their language, while helping those students learn English.
The demand for ESL teachers has increased greatly nationwide with changing demographics that include a rising population of children with limited English. In the decade ending in 2010, the U.S. Department of Education showed enrollments of English Language Learners increased 114 percent in Pennsylvania. About 48,000 ELL students are enrolled in more than two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s school districts, says Dr. Torres, Coordinator for the program.
Through six classes – 16 credits of course work – students learn such things as how to tailor teaching methods to accommodate different learning styles and how to communicate with parents who may have limited English. Lessons include cultural sensitivity and the legal requirements associated with ESL.
In order to be recommended to a district as a second language specialist, candidates must have a valid Pennsylvania Instructional I or Instructional II certificate or its equivalent from another state. After successfully completing six graduate courses, candidates submit documentation to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, which will issue a program specialist certificate for ESL.