Ester J. de Jong is Professor in ESOL/Bilingual Education, and the Director of the School of Teaching and Learning. She teaches courses in ESOL/bilingual education and in curriculum, methods, and assessment for English speakers of other languages. Prior to academia, she worked for the K-12 public schools in Massachusetts as the Assistant Director for Bilingual Education and ESL programs. Her research focuses on two-way bilingual education, language-in-education policy, and mainstream teacher preparation for bilingual students. Her book “Foundations for Multilingualism in Education: From Principles to Practice” (Caslon Publishing, 2011) addresses policies and practices of responding to increasing linguistic diversities in schools. She is currently co-PI for a Center of Excellence in Elementary Teacher Preparation grant. She was recently elected President-Elect for the TESOL International Association.
Thank you for joining us as a guest on the NNEST of the Month Blog!
- Could you start by telling us a little about your academic and professional background? What are your current research areas, and how did they become so?
I completed my master’s degree in Language and Literature Studies at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. My specialization was in Language and Language Minorities and my thesis focused on teaching vocabulary through picture books. As part of my studies I became interested in bilingual education as a means to create more equitably schooling opportunities for bilingual learners. So when I had to choose an internship as part of my studies, I wanted to do this somewhere where bilingual programs were in place. At the time, my choices were the UK, Sweden, and the US and I was fortunate that one of my professors had a colleague at the Department of Education in Massachusetts. I did my internship there and learned about two-way immersion programs and realized that this model had an amazing potential for all learners. Since then, one strand of my research has focused on two-way immersion programs; the other strand has focused on mainstream teacher preparation for English language learners as this is the context where I am working now at the University of Florida.
- As an expert in bilingual education and language policy, what intersection do you see (if any) between NNEST issues and those faced by bilingual students?
I believe there are many intersections. One intersection is the power of labels and negotiating the positive and negative associations with different labels and the implications that come when we use labels. We are bilingual users of multiple languages. I like that term because it recognizes the bilingualism and multilingualism of the individuals involved. Another shared experience is the constant challenge of not being recognized for who you are and what assets you bring into the classroom. Many bilingual teachers and learners continue to be judged against a standard that reflects a deficit model rather than a model that recognizes linguistic and cultural diversity as a resource. Bilingual learners continue to be measured against a monolingual, native speaker norm just like many teachers who have learned English as an additional language.
- A major theme of the Summit on the Future of the TESOL Profession was reimagining the profession as an agent of change. How do you think individual students, teachers, and teacher educators can resist native speakerism?
I think this begins in our daily interactions: being aware of how monolingual perspectives permeate much of what we do and countering these discourses through our own actions. Building critical language awareness that helps students and teachers identify how, for example, standard language ideologies and stereotypes as well as fragmented notions of bilingualism are enacted in many ways: through our choices of curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment; our research designs and questions; our formal, explicit policies. Examples include: Teacher educators can build better understandings of bilingual development, bilingual language use and the many benefits of bilingualism; teachers can choose children’s literature that reflect multiple experiences in multiple languages and choose to engage students in critical conversations about language, power, and language use. For others, broader engagement with local, state, and national policies may be the way to build this counter discourse.
- What abilities and responsibilities do you think TESOL professionals have to support mainstream teachers in working with ELLs?
In the United States, many English language learners find themselves in mainstream classrooms and if the mainstream teacher is lucky, there is an ESL specialist in the school to work with them. The ELL teacher of today functions in many capacities: the role of coach, professional development provider, co-planner and co-teacher. In other context, co-teaching is also becoming more common. Again, in the United States in particular, the English language teaching specialist is absolutely central to ensuring that ELLs’ needs are met in the context of a mainstream classroom. One of our tasks is to be able to clearly articulate the expertise we bring to the table and work with administrators to support the valuing of this expertise.
- In your article, “Preparing Mainstream Teachers for Multilingual Classrooms”, you advocate for a multilingual orientation in English language education to counterbalance monolingual stances. In your opinion, what are some of the pedagogical practices that the so-called monolingual teachers can engage in to adopt this multilingual orientation?
Mainstream teachers can do a number of things: include literature from around the world and in different languages; use bilingual books as part of their teaching; allow for students’ use of the native language when working on specific tasks (even though the product may be in English); explore multilingual websites; invite multilingual guest speakers; create spaces (e.g., morning meeting) where everybody learns new key phrases in other languages; promote the value of bilingualism and make a visible effort to learn the language and about the language.
- As President-Elect of TESOL International, what opportunities do you see for TESOL as a professional organization to increase equity in the field?
A commitment to diversity and equity is an important value and TESOL works very hard to educate the public, other organizations about English language learning and teaching and the implications for schools, the workplace, and other settings. We have published a number of briefs (http://www.tesol.org/read-and-publish/newsletters-other-publications/tesol-professional-papers-and-briefs) and position statements (http://www.tesol.org/advance-the-field/position-statements) that are resources for our members to use to advocate for equity in resources, in ensuring quality practices, and anti-discriminatory policies.
- To build on the previous question – in the NNEST Electronic Village Online session, one question was how we as scholars and advocates can affect change in the private sector. What thoughts do you have on this question?
The private sector often operates on other principles than the public sector and are under a different set of obligations and responsibilities. This can make it difficult to have a direct impact. I think we continue to educate and position ourselves as the go-to resource. As TESOL and ELT experts we are in a unique position to provide different stakeholders with the information that they can use to inform decision-making. Here is a challenge for our researchers as well as practitioners: what are the policy issues we need to be able to respond to and what kind of research (data) do we need to be able to contribute to identifying solutions for our English language teachers and students?
- Many of our readers are young scholars and professionals interested in becoming leaders in professional organizations. What are a few concrete steps they would take to reach this goal?
TESOL has many pathways for member involvement and engagement. Our new MyTESOL Community is one of several wonderful mechanisms to become part of multiple communities. I would encourage young scholars to connect at TESOL to a smaller group, such as the interest sections (http://www.tesol.org/connect/interest-sections), where there are often many mentoring and leadership opportunities. At the convention, attend their business meeting and meet others who share your passions. TESOL also has a call for volunteers for members on professional councils, proposal reviewers, and the like – become a member of these entities to understand what these groups do and be an active contributor. Partake in one of the leadership certificate programs (http://www.tesol.org/attend-and-learn/certificate-leadership-programs). Personally, I started out locally first – I became a member of our state affiliate, Sunshine State TESOL, and had an opportunity to become part of their Board and built many of my initial leadership skills there (http://www.tesol.org/connect/affiliates-regional-organizations). This gave me the confidence to step up to become a member at large in the Bilingual Education Interest Section and then chair of BEIS. After BEIS leadership, I became member of the Nominating Committee, followed by three years on the Board of Directors. And now, of course, I have the honor of being the President-Elect for TESOL. There’s many ways to become involved and become a leader in TESOL!