The bilingual student population in Texas has increased by more than 300,000 in the past decade, but while the number of bilingual certified teachers also has increased during that timeframe, the number of certified teachers hasn’t kept pace with student enrollment growth.
Bilingual educators have been identified as a shortage field in Texas each year since 1990, and in most years, English as a Second Language (ESL) has been identified as a shortage area. Both are still considered shortage areas today due in part to the rigorous certification process.
Educators wanting to become certified for a bilingual teaching position must take two additional tests not required of teachers in other subject areas—the Bilingual Target Language Proficiency Test (BTLPT) and the Bilingual Education Supplemental test.
These additional certification exams are considered by many to be more difficult and expensive, and many bilingual and ESL teachers feel their pay doesn’t reflect their true workload—even in districts that pay stipends.
After attaining the appropriate certification, bilingual teachers are hired at the same salary every other entry-level teacher starts at, plus whatever stipend their district offers, or, less commonly, a signing bonus. The median stipend districts in Texas pay for bilingual teachers is $3,000, according to this year’s TASB Salary Survey. While it certainly helps, some prospective candidates may not see the stipend as an appropriate value for the additional work required of them and may look to use their coveted skill set in a different field.
These are just some of the difficulties districts across the state are experiencing with hiring bilingual and ESL educators. We’ve come up with a short list of things to do to help recruit and retain bilingual teachers and overcome some of the obstacles many districts face.
- Look beyond our borders for talent
- Many districts in the state, regardless of size, are focusing efforts on recruiting teachers from countries like Puerto Rico and Spain. Teachers in Puerto Rico are already United States citizens familiar with American customs and culture, and they could double or triple their present salaries by taking a job in Texas. Spain's Education Ministry operates more than 20 regional offices in the United States, with two in Texas. To participate in Spain's placement program, teachers must have at least three years of experience, and must commit to working three years in the United States. Teachers' travel costs, and sometimes the recruiting trips for districts, are covered by the Spanish government.
- Leverage stipends and signing bonuses
- Most districts already offer stipends to bilingual teachers, and some offer signing bonuses on top of the stipends to aggressively recruit educators who can teach bilingual or ESL students. It’s important for districts to allocate appropriate funds for teachers in shortage areas, and equally as important for HR staff to publicize all the benefits they offer these educators.
- Participate in lots and lots of job fairs
- Sometimes it just takes outhustling other districts to properly staff your schools. Hosting job fairs in your area and participating in others around the state while emphasizing your need for bilingual and ESL teachers can really make a difference in attracting the right number of educators to your district. Travel to towns with higher Spanish-speaking populations and set up shop. Some districts even host “bilingual teacher job fairs” early in the spring to target their efforts specifically to those hard-to-find teachers and not lose them in the whirlwind of a regular job fair.
- Ease the apprehension concerning certification
- Walk prospective teachers through the certification process. Yes, there are more exams for bilingual certification, but offer up resources and study guides to help teachers properly prepare for the tests. TexasTeachers.org has many helpful resources for teachers getting ready for the BTLPT and Bilingual Education Supplemental test, as well as an online study community for group learning.
- Use tactics that work with teachers in other subjects
- If something is working in attracting English, math, and science teachers, keep using that strategy. Your district may be more in need of an ESL teacher, but that doesn’t mean all of your recruiting tactics have to change. Use what works. Sell your district's culture. Sell the community. Sell the environment. Whatever your district is strong at, leverage that benefit and stick with it.
The struggle to find and keep bilingual teachers is ongoing and is occurring throughout the state. Through strategic recruiting and by using some of these tactics, districts can improve their chances of recruiting enough effective bilingual teachers to keep up with the needs of the state’s growing bilingual student population.