Day 1: Diverse Teachers for Diverse Learners

The Diverse Teachers for Diverse Learners conference started today with the registration at 3.30pm in the McCance Building of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. Within minutes, I was networking with other scholars and professionals, both from the UK and other countries. Numerous countries are represented at the conference, mostly representing universities from the UK and countries such as Norway, Finland, Hungary, Iceland and Canada, but there are also teachers here – not surprising, given that the conference is about teachers!

The main event today was the introduction to and setting the tone for the themes at the core of the conference; i.e. Images of Teachers (concerned with identity of teachers in the western world, including images of bilingual teachers), Culturally Responsive Teacher Education and Power and Identity in Policy and Practice of Teaching.

What a brilliant idea this was to start with the welcome from four bilingual NQTs (newly qualified teachers): this gave a real-life feel to the conference from the very beginning and provided down to earth examples of how bilingual teachers, in this case in Scotland, fit in and adapt (or not) to their new teaching environment. One of the teachers spoke of how difficult it was for her, being German, to adapt to the new educational environment, new cultural concepts (things obvious to the children she taught but not to herself) and of how she has felt she has grown and considers herself to be in the position of providing her pupils with great learning experiences, using her bilingualism as an asset. Another teacher, Scottish, spoke of his experience of teaching Gaelic at a school in Glasgow. It is often forgotten that Gaelic is a minority language in the UK and needs to preserved. This particular teacher spoke of his pride in the cultivation of the language and awakening pride in learners in being able to speak Gaelic. The NQTs reminded us of how minority languages can feel like a “handicap” to bilingual speakers in educational environments, to the point where some reject it, and of the need to cultivate it and it being a part of their identity.

Their presentation was followed by short presentations from various scholars from different countries on the situation of EAL/bilingual learners and of bilingual teachers in educational settings there.

  • in Canada:
    • the teaching market is mostly saturated with many teachers unable to get full-time jobs (Ontario and parts of Manitoba)
    • international qualifications and dialects of English might also bar bilingual teachers from being able to enter the profession,
  • in Finland:
    • non-native children have been found to be educationally 2-3 years behind the natives
    • teachers’ expectations appear to be lower of EAL pupils
    • teachers of diverse background are practically non-existent (throws a different light on the usual positive stories I hear about the Finnish educational system)
    • as it’s very difficult to get into teacher training, for bilingual teacher it becomes extremely difficult
  • in Iceland:
    • most immigrants are new arrivals
    • 6.5% of school children have a mother tongue other than Icelandic
    • of all teachers, 2% are internationally educated
    • the majority of immigrants and Polish, but Polish teachers (people who used to be qualified teachers in Poland) are very rarely employed as teachers in Iceland
  • in Norway:
    • country wide: 14.9% immigrant population
    • the immigrant population in the capital city of Norway, Oslo, is 31%
    • in schools: in the whole of Norway, there are approximately 19% of immigrant children, but in Oslo schools it is 40%
    • some pupils are entitled to specially adapted teaching in Norwegian (but normal approach is mainstreaming)
    • very very few might be entitled to teaching in their mother tongue
    • teachers with immigrant status make up 4.7% of all teachers
  • in Scotland:
    • around 140 languages spoken amongst school children
    • receiving EAL support are approximately 29,000 children
    • only 2% of teachers are ethnic minority teachers ( this definitely sounds right: in all my time at schools in Scotland, working peripatetically with numerous schools in Edinburgh and Fife, I actually did not meet teachers from ethnic minorities – other than working for the EAL Services)

These initial insights do reveal that, in all of these countries, bilingual teachers from ethnic minorities are not proportionally represented in the school cadre at all – far from it, in fact. It will be very interesting to hear the papers on this subject – particularly, why that is the case, what social processes are behind this situation and how bilingual teachers in different countries negotiate their identities and their realities. I would argue that the very fact that bilingualism itself is an asset should be an encouragement for governments to ensure that more bilingual teachers are in employment in their countries. Some countries seem to be opposing the idea: in Canada, for instance, according to two Canadian scholars today, even speaking the “wrong” (for instance, Scottish rather than Canadian) English could bar one from being able to enter the profession. In other countries (Norway), moves have been made to try and build up the numbers of bilingual teachers, but this has been largely unsuccessful – so the question is: why? Again, I am really looking forward to hearing some of the recent research on the topic – tomorrow!

What becomes apparent from the statistics presented is that, in recent years, most countries have experienced surges of immigration. This includes Scotland, Finland and Norway. If EAL children in various countries are to be included, then using bilingual expertise to the educational systems’ advantage is a necessity, yet this does not seem to be the case. One of the attendees mentioned this to me later today – and I totally agree! – confident bilingual teachers will ensure more and more confident bilingual learners. We therefore need to make sure they can enter the profession on equal terms with other teachers across the globe. Of course, numerous questions need to be answered for this: for instance, what do interested parties (immigrant and non-immigrant teachers and stakeholders such as parents) believe makes a good teacher? Who should actually be allowed to teach? Do those who would argue against the inclusion of bilingual teachers in schools understand the impacts of bilingualism on learning of EAL and non-EAL learners? Those – and many more – questions I am certain will be raised over the next two days – and I can’t wait to find out and understand more about the complex issues surrounding these matters.

The final item on the agenda for our time today in the McCance Building was a presentation from SAMEE. The acronym stands for Scottish Association for Minority Ethnic Educators (http://www.samee.org.uk) and is a networking, training, consultancy and research development body in Scotland – for minority ethnic teachers. Originally started with no money, delivering trainings and workshops across Glasgow, they’re now getting recognition from the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) and are beginning stronger and stronger. Providing a forum for professional dialogue between ethnic minority educators is a terrific idea and clearly very well received. I wish I knew of an equivalent for England – if you do and I’ve missed something – let me know!

In the evening today, we all received a lovely reception and welcome by the representatives of the Glasgow City Council at Glasgow City Chambers (absolutely stunning on the inside – what interiors!), which was another terrific way to network with colleagues and scholars.

I cannot wait for tomorrow!

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