by David Sheridan
Back when Krista Fulbright was a high school social studies teacher, she was assigned to teach Medieval History and Geography to students who were English Language Learners (ELL) and that challenge panicked her.
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She didn’t have a clue how to teach ELL students. She felt lost. Then she reached out to an ELL teacher. Her colleague gave her a number of excellent suggestions for tailoring her instruction to students not proficient in academic English. Krista calmed down, and teaching the ELL students turned out to give her a huge lift. They were eager to learn.
That experience piqued Fulbright’s interest in ELL education. Today, in St. Joseph, MO, she is an endorsed ELL tutor and is close to earning her Masters in ELL education. And not only does Krista Fulbright love working with ELL students, she has also become their champion.
Last summer Krista attended a meeting sponsored by the National Education Association to test three new professional development modules on ELL advocacy, ELL standards-based education and assessment for ELL students. At this meeting, she met ELL educators from around the country, and experts briefed her on ELL issues, including the civil rights of English Language Learners.
She returned home fired up — determined to be an advocate for English Language Learners. In her school district, like many districts across the country, the ELL student population has grown fast, but funding has not keeping pace with that growth. There is not sufficient ELL staff to serve the needs of students. Moreover, general classroom teachers desperately need professional development in educating ELL students.
Krista has put into practice the five action steps she learned for ELL advocacy:
- Isolate the issue.
- Identify allies.
- Be clear on the rights of ELL students.
- Organize and educate others on the issue.
- Identify outlets to address the issue.
Her message to her fellow educators is: You can do this too.
Krista has enlisted the support of her ELL colleagues as well as her local association president and state association president in her quiet crusade to improve the education of English Language Learners. What’s more, she has presented what she learned at the NEA meeting to two members of the school board — a major step forward for the cause.
A friend and colleague has kidded Krista about being a “pit-bull” once she gets hold of an issue. “But I’m sweet,” she responded. Now she realizes that in advocacy work being a sweet pit-bull is not a bad thing.
“I am optimistic. I think ELL advocates across the country, in collaboration with our allies, can bring about major improvements in the education of ELL students. Collaboration is the key.”