Teachers across Arizona are going back to school to learn how to conduct a structured English immersion classroom, as the state mandated last month.
But English language acquisition specialists say the classes are nothing more than teaching techniques that instructors should already be using.
The state attorney general gave final approval in October, requiring all teachers in Arizona to obtain 15 hours of structured English immersion, or SEI, by August.
The classes focus on "best practices," teaching techniques to help students learn in different ways, through visual aids, gestures, and repetition.
However, some schools don’t see the requirement as enough.
In addition to the state requirement, all teachers at Mesa Junior High School will have English as a Second Language endorsements by 2008.
The school has seen rapid changes in its student population, with about 65 percent having a home language other than English.
It’s an answer to a growing dilemma at the school — how to teach students with deficient language skills.
Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction, says the SEI training is effective.
"We lead the nation now in our requirements for teacher education," he said. To meet the requirement, teachers take 60 hours of training.
But it’s a far cry from what teachers really need to in order to answer the needs of English language learners, said Irene Frklich, director of the Mesa Unified District’s English acquisition department.
"(The classes) are Band-Aids to cover a 1-foot wound," Frklich said. "It doesn’t even give you the basics."
Mostly it’s because the classes focus on techniques teachers should already be using in their classrooms, she said, adding that what teachers really need is to understand how language is acquired and how to work with the kids who need to soak up vocabulary.
That’s why Mesa Junior High is taking it a step further, said Cathy McDaniel, principal of the school.
In the Tempe Elementary School District, Maria Munoz, a new kindergarten
teacher at Holdeman Elementary School, says she would like to provide different ways of teaching for her students, but understands the state’s requirements. They’re not much different than the ones she had in California.
She brought a technique with her from her former California district which includes sending home "skills packets" with translated instructions for Spanish-speaking parents who want to help their child review lessons.
On top of each packet, a sheet lists skills like "I can say my ABCs" or "I can count to 100," and parents practice these things at home with their child.
"(The Spanish-speaking) moms are really eager to help them learn," Munoz said.
"I just feel my job is to provide a good foundation for them so when they move up they’re ready (for standardized testing)."