Eliminating the ban on bilingual education in most Massachusetts public schools in 2017 gave school systems and parents greater flexibility to choose programs that best suited their students. But the new policy also exposed the glaring scarcity of qualified, bilingual teachers for the more than 90,000 Massachusetts schoolchildren then classified as English language learners—nearly 10 percent of the state’s public school enrollment, according to estimates.  

Fortunately, says Lynch School of Education and Human Development Professor C. Patrick Proctor, the Lynch School stood ready to address the need. Proctor, co-director of the Bilingual Education Certificate program, and Lynch School faculty colleagues Maria Estela Brisk, Anne Homza, and Mariela Páez had spent the previous three years developing and running the Teaching Dual Language Learners program, an in-house bilingual certificate curriculum.

C. Patrick Proctor

Lynch School of Education and Human Development Professor C. Patrick Proctor (Photo by Christopher Soldt)

TDLL was not tied to state endorsement, because such a certification didn’t exist at the time, explained Proctor.  “When bilingual education became legal again, we were able to quickly pivot, create two new courses, and apply for state approval to be a bilingual education endorsement provider. Now we have the state-approved Bilingual Education Certificate which offers more in-depth course work and a deep bilingual education experience.”

The BEC is a four-course, synchronous, and asynchronous instructional series designed for student teachers, practicing teachers, administrators, literacy specialists, coaches, and paraprofessionals seeking Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education endorsement for bilingual education. Often completed within a 12-month timeframe, the first two courses focus on bilingualism’s history, theory, and research; bilingual education; and second-language acquisition. The latter two courses concentrate on instructional applications of the theory and research, stressing a critical focus on language, race, and equity in relation to literacy instruction in bilingual education settings.  

“From a professional development or in-service perspective, BEC has been very successful,” said Proctor. “The state made bilingual education grants available to districts, and we’ve collaborated with large districts serving high percentages of bilingual students that are expanding their bilingual education options.  Given the relatively small numbers of pre-service, bilingually endorsed teachers graduating from universities, districts want to ‘grow their own’ bilingual educators, so they’ve sanctioned the state-endorsed BEC for their teachers.”

Currently, BEC district partners include Boston, Lynn, Milford, Salem, and Worcester, and approximately 200 teachers from those districts enrolled in some or all BEC courses, noted Proctor, acknowledging the contributions of doctoral students Jasmine Alvarado ’22 and Rachel Moody ’23, in program organization, course instruction, and bilingual practicum supervision.

Rebecca Westlake, director of English learning and bilingual education for Salem Public Schools, lauded the BC partnership with SPS. “We’ve deepened our knowledge of pedagogy for emerging bilingual students and engaged in collaborative projects that directly impact the work of launching our two-way immersion, Spanish-English dual language program, and used our coursework to better inform how to recruit and engage families of bilingual and Spanish-speaking students, plan lessons for our first kindergarten class, and to better position ourselves to start and sustain a culturally affirming dual language program.”

School district partners include Boston, Lynn, Milford, Salem, and Worcester, and approximately 200 teachers from those districts enrolled in some or all of the Bilingual Education Certificate courses.

Because the University doesn’t attract many bilingual students from bilingual homes and communities, the BEC program enrollment for new bilingual teachers is relatively small, noted Proctor, clarifying that there are separate sections for BC student teachers and for practicing teachers. But a productive partnership with the Lynch School’s Charles F. Donovan Urban Teaching Scholars program—an intensive, one-year Master’s in Education program that prepares K-12 teachers to work with students and families in the nation’s urban schools—has resulted in a steady flow of four to five participants each year, he said.

Puerto Rican native Mariam Gorbea Ramy ’18, M.Ed. ’19, now a third-grade Spanish teacher at Boston’s Hurley K-8 Dual Language School, was one of those Donovan Scholars, and among the first BC students to earn the BEC.

“As a multilingual and multiracial student, the BEC was a safe haven for me during my formation as an educator,” said Gorbea Ramy, whose mother is Lebanese. “It was one of the only spaces I encountered during my five years of BC undergraduate and graduate study that truly celebrated me as a bilingual individual, that understood the academic and identity formation challenges that bilingual students face, and constantly provided access to research on non-monolingual populations. Almost two years out of the program and now a teacher, I feel just as supported and encouraged by the BEC faculty as I did while a student."

Proctor said the BEC leadership hopes to make the program more accessible to multiple language speakers in Vietnamese, Haitian Creole, and Mandarin, among others. “We want bilingual teachers who are representative of the bilingual students they will be teaching, so our program doesn’t replicate the demographic problem of a majority white teaching population working with a majority non-white student population.”

Phil Gloudemans | University Communications | March 2021