Advocacy for English Learners

Advocacy for English Learners

by Adrienne Johnson

While in the classroom, I remember many conversations with colleagues about how politicians seem not to understand what it is like to teach and work with high-need students. We discussed how frustrated we were, but we never felt as if we could create change at the state and national levels – we thought that was beyond our skills and connections.

Then, one day, I heard about the TESOL Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C. and decided to attend in order to learn how to advocate on the national stage. Attending that summit in the summer of 2015 completely changed my perspective on advocacy for English language learners. After attending again this summer while representing MIDTESOL, I am convinced that teachers are powerful advocates and that we can create change.

Here are a few steps and resources to help you on your own journey to becoming an advocate:

Why is advocacy important?

  • Local, state, and national representatives make decisions based on their current knowledge and what they think their constituents want. If they are misinformed, they need someone to schedule a meeting with them to give them new perspectives.
  • There are multiple bills related to Adult English Programs which have been introduced in the House and need informed supporters on both sides of the aisle.
  • There is an urgent need for local advocacy for K-12 English Language Learner (ELL) programs in our state governments. ESSA gives control over Title I, II, and III issues back to the states, unlike the overarching federal control that characterized NCLB. This means that decisions regarding funding and accountability will be determined largely at the state level over the coming year and could be in place for decades to come.

Who can meet with Representatives? Surely they are too busy to meet.

  • Anyone can easily schedule an appointment to meet with a Senator or Congressman/Congresswoman. These meetings are short, 15-20 minutes. Often you will meet with a staff member, but these staff members take good notes and use the information to create recommendations.

What if I do not agree with their policies?

  • Some of my most interesting meetings were with Representatives who were not natural supporters of English learners (ELs), and who may have even voiced outright opposing viewpoints. They were eager to be more well-informed and, thus, asked important questions.

How do I learn more?

Change will not happen without us! Each staff member I met with in D.C. was curious, engaged, and open to learning more about the needs of ELs. I spoke with staffers representing Senator Pat Roberts (KS), Senator Deb Fischer (NE), Senator Claire McCaskill (MO), Congressman Dave Loebsack (IA), Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins (KS), Senator Charles Grassley (IA), and Senator Roy Blunt (MO). Next year, I hope you will join me so we can reach more Representatives in our area!

Dr. Adrienne Johnson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at Missouri Western State University, preparing both undergraduate and graduate teachers to teach English language learners.  Adrienne earned her Ph.D. in Linguistics (Second Language Acquisition) from the University of Kansas following 8 years teaching K-12 English language learners in rural and inner-city public schools in South Korea, Chicago, and Michigan.  She has taught in EFL, ESL, bilingual, sheltered, and dual language environments and is always learning. 

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