by Mark McGowan
About this time last year, Norm Stahl learned that NIU’s Department of Literacy Education had earned recognition from the national TESOL (Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages) organization.
Good news, the department’s chair thought, spreading the word among his colleagues but nowhere further.
Then, during a phone call a couple weeks ago with a staffer at the Illinois State Board of Education, it suddenly hit him.
NIU is the first – and still only – school in the state to enjoy TESOL’s nod of approval.
“To achieve national recognition from TESOL, our ESL/bilingual education program had to demonstrate through rigorous assessment that our students are meeting a set of national standards that entail the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary for 21st century educators of English language learners,” Stahl said.
“Our course objectives, subject matter, class assignments and assessment activities rest on a foundation of the TESOL standards as approved by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education.”
Students who graduate from the department “know they are some of the most highly trained ELL specialists in the country,” Stahl added. “They know that they have met rigorous standards. They know they have the competencies and the knowledge required of individuals who succeed in this profession. They make a positive difference in the lives of children and their families”
TESOL’s mission is to develop and maintain professional expertise in English language teaching and learning for speakers of other languages worldwide.
The group values professionalism in language education; individual language rights; accessible, high-quality education; collaboration in a global community; interaction of research and reflective practice for educational improvement; and respect for diversity and multiculturalism.
Training ELL educators is one of the cornerstones in Stahl’s department.
Across the past decade, the department has undertaken formal partnerships in training ELL teachers with more than 20 school districts, five postsecondary institutions, ISBE and the Illinois Resource Center as supported by school district, state, federal and private foundation grants and contracts.
Literacy Education is currently partnered with ISBE, the Chicago Public Schools and the Illinois Resource Center in the federally funded Bilingual Transition to Teaching initiative to recruit and train bilingual teachers from outside the teaching profession.
The department also is a partner in Project Success, another federal program meant to boost the number of Illinois classroom teachers and other educators with approval to teach English-as-a-second-language and/or bilingual students.
Meanwhile, students of Professor Chris Carger have worked with bilingual children across northern Illinois through Project ROAR: Reaching Out through Art and Reading.
“We’re committed to English language learners not just because of the great population shift in the core service region for NIU, but because it is simply the right thing,” Stahl said.
“The nation is in the midst of the greatest influx of new Americans in our history and, furthermore, Illinois is now No. 5 in the country for Spanish speakers – Hispanics,” he added. “The greatest growth in our school populations is of individuals who are English language learners. In the long run, the English language learners in the schools today are the very students who are going to make up the NIU population in the years ahead. NIU has no choice but to be involved in our schools today.”