The nation’s linguistic diversity is growing steadily, particularly among the youngest children. Around one in six kindergartners in U.S. public schools are dual language learners (DLLs), beginning the process of learning English as they continue developing their native languages. A growing body of research suggests that DLLs do best in schools that help them access rigorous academic content and learn English while continuing their development in their home languages. These multilingual instructional approaches are only viable for schools that have multilingual teachers on staff. Yet a majority of states report shortages of bilingual, dual immersion, and ESL teachers. States and districts should look to multilingual paraprofessionals to help fill these essential roles.
Multilingual paraprofessionals represent an untapped pool of potential teacher talent. Approximately one in five paraprofessionals speaks a language other than English at home. Furthermore, paraprofessionals often have the linguistic and cultural competence schools need and significant experience instructing and supporting students. Yet, they often face significant bureaucratic, linguistic and financial barriers to entering the teaching profession.
A new paper from New America’s Dual Language Learners National Work Group, Teacher Talent Untapped: Multilingual Paraprofessionals Speak About the Barriers to Entering the Profession, highlights these barriers using data from focus groups conducted with multilingual paraprofessionals in five cities.