In the late 1980s and early 1990s everyone who was working with English as a second/additional language learners was working very hard to set up appropriate parameters for this relatively ‘new’ specialty area. In fact the Ministry of Education was so engaged in the process that it included an ESL Advisory Committee, an ESL Curriculum Committee and a coordinator of ESL Programs.

Sadly these groups and positions no longer exist. It would be easy to brush this aside as no longer relevant as ‘everything is now in place’. We know better! In particular, working and learning conditions continue to be problematic. What saddens me even more is reading that not much has really changed; the issues are still there and no one seems to be agitating or doing much about it.

Let me explain. Recently I was reviewing past newsletters of BC TESOL [formerly ESL PSA]  and ran across the initial results of a survey done on behalf of the PSA membership about that very topic. This was September 1991.That summary is available for your perusal here 1991 PSA News Learning and Working Conditions.

The concerns revolved around several interrelated issues: inadequate staffing, lack of funding, gaps in teacher training, the low status of ESL, problems with integration and the sometimes ineffective and unequal delivery of service to ESL students. [p.2]

Sadly, these are a carbon copy of the issues we struggle with today – and some new ones have been added in the intervening years. So why is there not much happening to make things better? Here are a few examples of current issues:

  • classes/groups are no longer deliberately ‘smaller’ to support optimal language learning
  • caseloads continue to be high and the diversity of needs continues to grow as well
  • the paperwork has increased [exponentially, I would argue]
  • specialized training to work with ELLs, while much more available, is not considered a ‘required’ element  in most school districts
  • funding for programs and materials is often nonexistent
  • some are still teaching in ‘holes in the wall’ rather than proper teaching spaces
  • the needs of our learners are still low on the list of priorities and poorly understood by our classsroom/subject area colleagues, not to mention our administrators.
  • integration into the grade level programs is still problematic. Students often have to ‘wait out a term’ to be able to move forward in their education

What was considered ‘an anomaly’ in 1991 has become the norm. Immigrant and refugee learners coming to our schools is not a passing phenomenan, it is a daily reality. BC TESOL continues to lobby for planning, funding and staffing that optimizes equitable access to a great education for all learners but it needs your support to truly make a difference. Feel free to contact any executive member with thoughts and suggestions. The PSA is YOUR organization. Their contact information is on the website.

What are you doing in your district and school?  If you want to write me, I would love to hear from you and share ideas and strategies. Nothing would be publically shared without your permission. Email me at: shelmer@shaw.ca