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Finding a Solution to the Dual-language Teacher Shortage at Portland Public Schools

By Alma Morales Galicia | March 5, 2018

Alma Morales Galicia
Alma Morales Galicia is the Teacher Fellows Program coordinator and business operations analyst in the Department of Dual Language at Portland Public Schools.

Creating a successful district recruitment strategy for dual-language teachers takes ingenuity, collaboration, and a commitment to excellence and support.

These factors have all been at play at Portland Public Schools (PPS), the largest district in Oregon, since the beginning of 2015/16.

At that time, we were looking to expand our districtwide language immersion offerings—a critical aspect of increasing equity and opportunities for historically underserved students—but we didn’t have enough bilingual teachers.

As a result, we were forced to shuffle teachers and change programs, which jump-started discussions about how to recruit more dual-language educators.

Ultimately, we decided to focus on alternative licensure, and we launched the Portland Dual Language Teacher Fellows Program in 2016/17.

We recently finished recruiting for our third cohort of fellows. As of early February, 43 people were enrolled in the program.

All the participants are from the local community, and many already work in PPS as educational assistants.

Program Details

To qualify, applicants must be bilingual (current participants speak Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese) and have a bachelor’s degree.

Eligible candidates then take the following steps:

  1. Submit a program application to the Department of Dual Language at PPS
  2. Complete a language proficiency assessment and take “Protecting Student and Civil Rights in the Educational Environment” (a state licensure exam all teachers must pass)
  3. Apply to the Graduate School of Education at Portland State University (PSU) and choose one of the following programs:
    • Bilingual Teacher Pathway (for candidates interested in teaching at the elementary level)
    • Graduate Teacher Education Program (for candidates interested in teaching at the secondary level)
  4. Apply for a teaching or substitute teaching position during the external hiring process at PPS

If candidates receive a job offer from the district, they then apply for a restricted teaching license (which can be renewed twice as fellows complete their PSU coursework).

Program Supports

The Department of Dual Language at PPS, through which the program is offered, provides fellows with various supports as they make their way through the program. For example, to reduce financial barriers, it covers the costs of all application and exam fees until fellows enroll at PSU.

Additionally, the department holds workshops and provides training to help guide fellows through the PSU application process—and as they apply for external teaching positions.

Once fellows are in the classroom, they are paired with a teacher mentor, who provides professional support and coaching.

Program Impact

The program has allowed us to continue to grow our language immersion opportunities, and it has had an overwhelmingly positive impact at our schools and across the district.

For example, parents who speak the partner language and whose English might be limited are now able to communicate with their child’s teacher and become more engaged.

PPS has also been able to diversify our workforce—currently, more than 80 percent of our fellows are teachers of color, and 100 percent are highly bilingual.

Continuous Improvement

PPS has partnered with REL Northwest to help us make data-informed decisions that have enabled us to refine the program and better support our teachers.

For instance, REL Northwest provided support on developing a participant survey and conducted a research review on effective practices for recruiting and retaining bilingual teachers.

In addition, based on data REL Northwest analyzed from focus groups with fellows, we reshaped the focus of one of our major trainings.

Our experience shows that by providing various supports and using data to optimize recruitment and retention efforts, districts can build a strong, stable dual-language teacher workforce for years to come.