Dr. Jamie Harrison is an Assistant Professor in the College of Education’s Curriculum and Teaching Department who specializes in teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), also called English as a Second Language (ESL).
Historically, this discipline has been perceived in academic circles as somewhat exotic, but as the population in our country becomes increasingly diverse, some forward-looking educators are seeing ESL as a mainstream activity. That is the case with Auburn’s University’s College of Education.
“Starting in the summer of 2014, all students in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching will take our ESOL infused literacy classes,” Harrison said. “When a school system rapidly changes in terms of its language demographics, this can be very frustrating for teachers. Requiring our pre-service teachers to develop the skills they will need before they go into the classroom demonstrates progressive thought, and will make our graduates even more valuable.”
In our immediate area, Opelika’s schools are seeing an influx of Latino students whose native language is Spanish, and Auburn’s schools are seeing lots of Korean students, whose families are here for the Kia-Hyundai industries along the I-85 corridor.
“This literacy requirement is not at all common on college campuses, but I think it is just a great thing we are doing here at Auburn,” Harrison said. “I worked in public schools for 12 years as a mainstream reading teacher, but I always carried my ESL perspective into the classroom, as well. I was in Georgia, and many of my Latino students did not even hear English spoken at home, so I know how important it is to be prepared for these settings.”
Harrison also taught English in Korea for two years, in what she describes as a “living laboratory.”
“The trend in ESOL studies is to mainstream the students rather than take them out of the classroom, in the same way that special education students have been in integrated settings for a number of years,” Harrison said. “It really becomes an advocacy thing, where we can teach other teachers about language, or at least collaborate in the classroom. The main thing our pre-service teachers here at Auburn must have is a good understanding of the language acquisition process, and the wide range of language abilities that an English learner might present. Perhaps that student can read, but not speak English. It takes time to learn a second language, especially the rigor of academic English in the classroom.”
Complicating matters recently in Alabama was the legal battle over House Bill 56, widely considered the nation’s strictest anti-immigration law, parts of which were struck down by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Many teachers felt the law put them in the compromised position of asking a student about his or her legal status.
“I taught a graduate course in literacy and ESOL this summer, and we had guests lecturers come in from the Southern Poverty Law Center to discuss the lingering ramifications of HB 56,” Harrison said.
“Their focus was on the rights of immigrants to access public education in Alabama and the United States. One takeaway from their presentation is that our schools will continue to become increasingly diverse, so Auburn is doing the right thing to prepare our pre-service teachers for the 21st century classroom.”