Students who are identified as learners of English are given a formal English language assessment and if the student is not sufficiently proficient in English, they can be placed in a special ESL pull-out class (though quite different, it might be helpful to think about these classes, administratively anyway, as similar to a special education resource room). The purpose of an ESL pull-out class is to support the students’ development of English proficiency; that is, this class is where English language instruction takes place. Often, these classes also help students with their coursework but the main purpose of these classes is to support the development of proficiency in the English language.
Only schools that have a certain percentage of their population identified as ELL have to have a formal plan for meeting students’ linguistic needs in their school improvement plan. So, only schools that have a sufficient population of ELLs are likely to have an ESL pull-out classroom (most urban schools meet this criterion and there is tremendous growth in suburban and rural areas as well). Other schools with only a few ELLs will typically mainstream the students and the “regular” content-area teachers are responsible for helping the student achieve academically while also learning English.
Teachers of ESL pull-out classes must have an ESL endorsement in order to teach these classes in Michigan. Their primary certification area is largely irrelevant although, because these classes tend to not be full-time appointments, most ESL teachers have dual appointments. These dual appointments are typically 1) in ESL and another subject area (obviously, core content areas are going to be more attractive, but all content areas are OK); or 2) ESL-only but the teacher teaches classes at different schools (e.g. in East Lansing, one teacher splits her time between the Middle School and the High School and another teacher splits her time between a lower elementary school (Donley) and upper elementary school (Glencairn).
Bilingual programs are programs in which content subjects (e.g. math, social studies, etc.) are taught in two languages. There are several purposes for bilingual instruction: 1) To support learners’ acquisition of English and literacy in English (best mediated through literacy in the first language); 2) To provide access to the content subjects while the students’ language proficiency is developing; and 3) To help students retain proficiency in their home language and connection to their home culture – the goal being the development/maintenance of bilingualism/biculturalism.
Teachers in bilingual programs typically need to have an endorsement in bilingual education (which is different from an ESL endorsement – but I am not sure to what degree MDE enforces this distinction with teachers).
Sheltered Content Courses
In schools with large populations of English language learners, sometimes classes will be developed in which non-native speakers of English (some of whom are receiving ESL services through a pull-out program and also others who are sufficiently “proficient” in English but are nonetheless non-native speakers of English) are put into one section of a content area course (e.g. US History, Physics, Math, etc.). The reason for this being that the teacher can use particular strategies for language learners to support access to the content. These courses are regular, credit-bearing, subject-area classes but the instruction is tailored to the linguistic and often cultural needs of this special population of learners.
Teachers of these courses are certified teachers in the content area and do not need to have an ESL endorsement. Obviously, highly diverse school districts (particularly urban districts) will prefer subject area teachers who have an ESL endorsement over those who do not. Several administrators that I have spoken to will only hire content teachers who also have the ESL endorsement – not because they will ever teach an ESL pull-out course, but because they are especially qualified to be successful teaching their content area to linguistically and culturally diverse populations. Other districts highly encourage or require SIOP training which also prepares teachers to be effective with this population of students.
For more information
Margo Glew, Ph.D.
Department of Teacher Education
116S Erickson Hall
Michigan State University
Phone: (517) 355-8534
Fax: (517) 432-2795