by Adrienne Johnson
James Rice shares his reflections on his visit to Iowa K-12 ELL programs
In preparing to write this follow-up to Mr. Rice’s visit in October of 2016, MIDTESOL reached out to Mr. Rice to ask him to share what he learned and experienced on his visits to West Des Moines Community Schools and Johnston Community School District. Mr. Rice shared these thoughts:
I appreciated the invitation from MIDTESOL to visit ELL programs in Iowa. For representative government to work, it is crucial to have citizens reach out to their elected officials about how policies affect them.
One way of doing that is through meetings, like when Adrienne [Johnson – MIDTESOL Advocacy Representative] came to Senator Grassley’s office is [sic] Washington. Other options include contacting Senator Grassley and other federal and state legislators via mail or e-mail or going to a town meeting. However, when talking about education, there is nothing like being in a classroom. Senator Grassley greatly enjoys visiting schools and so do I.
One of the things that stood out from my visits was the range of students with different languages and backgrounds and different levels of English fluency. It was also impressed on me how long it can take to gain fluency in a new language. I saw teachers that knew not just each child’s name, but knew about their students’ home lives and understood their unique needs. Moreover, they went above and beyond to help each student.
The visit reinforced the fact that even well intentioned rules and regulations from the federal level can’t possibly account for the individual needs of each student as well as the teachers who know them personally.
All of this perspective will be very helpful for Senator Grassley to have the next time anything related to federal policy regarding ELL comes before the Senate.
Concluding thoughts on advocacy for ELLs in Iowa and other MIDTESOL states
Mr. Rice’s visits were prompted by a meeting with MIDTESOL representative Adrienne Johnson in Washington, D.C., in June of 2016 at the annual TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit. MIDTESOL is grateful to Mr. Rice for taking the time in his busy schedule to learn about our students and schools. This visit is just a small piece of a greater effort to increase understanding about the unique challenges, strengths, and needs of our ELLs and the field of ELL education. A lesson we can all gain from this experience is that it never hurts to reach out to your representatives and ask them to visit your school, talk to your students, and spend some time learning how the policies created in state and national capitals affect these diverse students.
Action Steps – What can you do today?
If you are inspired to help MIDTESOL advocate for English learners in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska – and we hope you are! – please consider taking one or more of the following “action steps.”
- Contact your elected representative directly to share your thoughts on ELL education. You can email them, send a letter or fax, or just call their office directly! Consider inviting them to visit your school when they are in town. Find your D.C. representatives’ contact information here: https://www.congress.gov/members
- Do not forget about your local and state representatives! As discussed in “Advocacy for English Learners,” one of the major changes in the soon-to-be implemented Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as compared to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), is that educational decisions will be decided primarily at the state level. This means that your state legislatures are, right now(!), in the process of approving policies that will affect important decisions related to classifying, exiting, and monitoring English learners, among other decisions. [Editor’s Note: For more information about ESSA, read “Every Student Succeeds Act.”]
- Help MIDTESOL gather state specific information to share with your representatives at the next TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit. Compile a list of key facts and statistics about your school or district. Perhaps share an inspiring success story from one of your students. Maybe you have heard a representative make a comment that is inaccurate, and you have evidence that you think would be helpful to clear up such misconceptions. We appreciate your input and field-based experiences! You can share your facts and stories with Adrienne Johnson or Thomas Riedmiller: http://midtesol.org/contact-us/
- Attend the 2017 Advocacy & Policy Summit in Washington, D.C., June 18 -20. The TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit is held each summer and is open to anyone! TESOL members receive a discount. You will receive advocacy training, policy updates, and have a chance to meet your representatives personally. Be sure to contact MIDTESOL if you plan to attend so we can coordinate visits with MIDTESOL representatives! Website: http://www.tesol.org/advance-the-field/advocacy-resources/tesol-advocacy-policy-summit
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. Originally from Colorado, when she is not teaching, you can find her running, biking, swimming, playing with her kids, and just enjoying being active outdoors.