February 25, 2017
By Joe Zavala
It's an axiom understood and practiced by thoughtful neighbors and Walt Disney alike: If you want visitors, promise them a good time, then deliver. Only in the Southern Oregon Education Service District's case, the friends are those rare birds seen but seldom captured — bilingual teachers.
And the flip side of the transaction has nothing to do with social status. It's about making sure minority students have the same opportunities as their white counterparts.
Southern Oregon University on March 18 will host the Southern Oregon Region Educator Job Fair, giving school districts primarily from Oregon, Washington and California an opportunity to make their pitches to potential employees. For the first time, in an attempt to bridge the ever-widening gap between minority students and minority teachers the fair will offer special deals "for qualified bilingual candidates."
Bilingual teachers who register ahead of time can receive two nights in a hotel, a networking breakfast, a dinner with "Mojada" author Luis Alfaro and members of the Latino Network, tickets to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's play "Mojada," a tour of the Rogue Valley and a luncheon at Grizzly Peak Winery — all free of charge.
"The issue of a lack of bilingual teachers is not just our region, not just statewide, it's nationwide," said SOESD English Language Learner, Migrant Education and Indian Education Coordinator Charlie Bauer, who's organizing the annual job fair. "Just to serve our region one of the things that I am trying to feature is what an incredible region it is to live in. Most folks don't know about it, especially if they're from out of state, so I'm doing the best I can to publicize that."
The SOESD serves the 13 school districts in Jackson, Josephine and Klamath Counties, and Bauer attends monthly meetings with the superintendents, the English language learner coordinators and the curriculum directors. According to Bauer, all three of those groups believe the SOESD needs to step up its recruitment efforts targeting bilingual teachers.
It's a request that's strongly supported by the 2014 Oregon Minority Teacher Act status report, released by the Oregon Education Investment Board in July of 2014. According to the report, the percentage of minority students in Oregon's K-12 student population shot up 19 percentage points to 35.3 percent between 1997 and 2012, while the state's percentage of minority teachers over the same span rose only slightly from 3.9 percent to 8.3 percent.
The report highlighted the disparity between Latino students and Latino educators, noting that, "In 2012/13, Oregon had 21.5 (percent) Latino students and only 3.6 (percent) Latino teachers. Given that over 20 (percent) of all K-12 students in Oregon public schools report a language of origin other than English, it is imperative to increase the number of Spanish speaking teachers in the workforce, particularly as Oregon's dual language and bilingual programs continue to need more fully bilingual teachers who can use Spanish as a bridge to English, foster parental involvement and communication, work with newcomer students and deliver content in two languages."
In an effort to follow the report's advice and that of his colleagues, Bauer chased several local foundation grants (funding such perks could not be covered by the SOESD's budget), and personally contacted Oregon Shakespeare and Grizzly Peak Winery. Then, SOESD set up a Facebook page and Bauer fired off emails to all the migrant education and teacher education programs in Oregon, California, Washington, Nevada, New Mexico and Idaho.
Bauer's goal was to draw 25 applicants who are bilingual. As of Thursday, 19 had applied.
That represents a massive improvement from a year ago, when Bauer estimates that about 100 candidates showed up to the fair, but only one of those was a minority and none bilingual.
Why does it matter? A study titled "Does it Matter if My Teacher Looks Like Me?: The Impact of Teacher Race and Ethnicity on Student Academic Achievement," conducted by the Urban Institute and Education Policy Center in 2001, showed an increase in the reading and mathematics scores of African American and Spanish-speaking elementary students at fourth and sixth grade when taught by a teacher of the same ethnicity.
The reasons for this are complicated. Zuna Johnson, who's an English second language teacher at Ashland High and an English language learning teacher at Ashland Middle School, says helping English learners succeed in the classroom goes well beyond the actual classroom work.
"Teaching Spanish-speaking children necessitates communication of course with the families," she said. "It's definitely (important) to connect the family to the school. ... And when people come from another country and another culture, schools operate differently in every culture in the world. So the way American schools operate is really different than how Mexican or Guatemalan or Chinese schools, for that matter, operate. So to introduce the parents to the culture of the school is as important as getting their kids into the school. And having the parents be part of the education of their kids is really critical."
Source: Ashland Daily Tidings