Has the World Gone Mad? Thoughts On Co-teaching ELLs in the Mainstream Classroom

Yikes!!! Things are happening in the world of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and they are NOT ALL GOOD! I’ve been reading and hearing bits and pieces about how the new CR Part 154 regs have changed (they determine the rules and parameters for ELLs and ESL teachers), but never did I imagine the current scenario: ESL teachers are now required to co-teach in mainstream classrooms on a regular basis.

Before I retired a year ago, after 22 years as an ESL teacher, I taught a mostly pull-out program. Although I often wanted to collaborate, I co-taught with only one willing co-teacher every day for three years in a third grade classroom, and occasionally I co-taught a special unit (ex. Chinese New Year) with several other teachers in the building who sought or welcomed my input. For the most part, all the teachers I interacted with preferred the pull-out model for their English Language Learners because they knew how “out of synch” the ELLs were in their classrooms, and how much they would benefit from differentiated instruction in my classroom. Whenever possible, I tried to support the work that the mainstream teacher was doing in the classroom while I had his/her students in my classroom. This, of course, was not always possible and never with Beginners, but everyone understood that. Usually they expressed relief when I came to collect a Beginner.

Here is a quote from an ESL teacher commenting on the new regs
(from a NYS TESOL listserv)that require ESL teachers to co-teach in a mainstream classroom:

“Here are my thoughts regarding CR Part 154: As a result of these changes, ESL teachers have lost their independence. We’ve been reduced to classroom aids at best. What a waste of talent, experience and instructional time. ESL is a discrete subject, with its own goals, knowledge base and methodology. All the good ESL teachers I know have a well-ordered system for imparting the English language to new learners, and know which materials are most effective and when to use them. Many of us have spent years collecting and developing these materials. Thanks to CR Part 154, all of this is out the window: We’re part of the regular ed. classroom now–too often in the same sense that the furniture is. None of the classroom teachers I know have training in ESL. None of them are aware of the revealed wisdom contained in CR Part 154. Even if they were, and cooperated fully, there is not enough time in a day to for me to stay abreast of the goings-on in five or six different classes and come up with lessons relevant to ESL students and everyone else. It is now impossible to work with beginners in any meaningful way without disrupting an entire class full of kids. More advanced students no longer have a sheltered environment where they can practice their developing language skills, or have a difficult concept retaught in a way that they can understand. Students with no English whatsoever are now forced to sit through lectures on Hamlet. Regardless of what the studies say, this is not what the parents of ESL students want. They simply want their kids to learn English in the most effective manner possible. For newcomers to America, mastering English is critical to success in school and in life. It is imperative that ESL be taught as a stand-alone class by people who know what they are doing and without unnecessary distractions.” (Comment by Stephen Blanchard: sfblanchard@yahoo.com)

I completely agree with everything this teacher has said. Are you experiencing these changes in your district? As a mainstream or ESL teacher, how do you feel about them? It took me nearly three years, including student teaching for the second time in my life (I have a degree in teaching secondary English), to fulfill the requirements for my certification in TESOL, and even so I felt it was really challenging for the first several years. Based on my 22 years of experience, without that kind of preparation, no one is qualified to teach ELLs.

What I would rather see happening is encouraging teachers who would like to collaborate,giving them some common planning time and making sure they have compatible schedules. There are times when it makes sense for co-teachers to be in the same classroom and times when the ELLs need to be taught separately because of their special needs. They are, after all, learning a new language; something that seems to have been forgotten by the policy makers

During the three years I co-taught with a mainstream teacher all our planning was done during our own lunch breaks, before school began, and often after school. Without this kind of support from the administration, co-teachers eventually become exhausted and stop co-teaching. Now teachers are being told to do this, still without the necessary support, causing resentment from both sides.

Would love to hear your comments….

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barbara suter

I'm a retired teacher who enjoys writing and sharing in this; unique blogging community.

16 thoughts on “Has the World Gone Mad? Thoughts On Co-teaching ELLs in the Mainstream Classroom”

  1. I’m with you on this. While the majority of my ELLs are close to reclassifying, the few I have that are recent immigrants are best served by specialized, intensive instruction. Simply “mainstreaming” ELL1 and 2s can’t meet the needs of ELLs alone. It is so difficult to jump into an upper grade classroom with little to no English. I am grateful for all of the specialized instruction my students receive.


  2. “…being reduced to classroom aides …” is not the direction we want for our talented ELL teachers, that’s for sure. I support the idea of co-teaching, to a degree, but I have found that the success of it turns on administrative support: is there common planning time? are there enough resources? I think the goal of reducing the isolation of an ELL student is a good one. Making it happen, the right way, is the difference between sink and swim.


    1. I appreciate what you said about reducing the isolation of the ESL student, but believe it or not, most ELLs feel incredibly isolated in their classrooms and welcome the respite from that feeling when “pulled out” of their classrooms where they get maximum attention.


  3. I was an ESL teacher who pushed in during 4th grade writing time. The whole team planned together and I taught the same lesson, with some modifications in all 3 classrooms. It was some of my best teaching. but we had time to plan together. We all had the same daily plan time and, three times a year, we had a workday to plan/evaluate a unit. My principal wrote a grant so we could have those three days and a facilitator to help us.


  4. Your post reminded me of a child in my class last year who came directly from Japan. Without a pull out ELL program and a dedicated a teacher who had specialized knowledge,he would not be where he is today: a well adjusted seventh grader with enough of a grasp of the language to be mainstreamed for math and science for now, and completely in a regular classroom next year. The short sightedness of policy makers is truly astounding.


  5. Are forgetting what is best for the student in favor of what someone (and I don’t mean the child’s teacher) else thinks is best? How can having a child sit in a room where A/V doesn’t understand what is going on be in that child’s best interest?


    1. I totally agree. I’m not sure what you mean by A/V…. There are some people who think it’s better not to “isolate” the student from his/her classmates by pulling them out of class for a period or two. Guess what? They are often miserable in their classrooms and can’t wait for a reprieve. Most of my former students’ teachers told me the kids watched the clock diligently and couldn’t wait for their ESL time!


  6. The regulations are unfunded mandates that lead to less service overall and have a devastating impact on the amount of instruction students receive. This is not ideal at all. The impact on students at schools with the least resources is unjust. I started a petition to gather the truth about how people are reacting to double counting of content tome as ESL services. I am at the HS level. How much time do you think I get in a regents based course to teach my content objectives. Yep you guessed it, none. Arthur Goldstein and I gave an interview on Telemundo. I have kids demanding to be placed back in my class. I have kids shutting down, acting out and being denied the instruction they need. I have co teachers unable to understand why I am in their class, why they must have units and lessons available for modification and my input, and why their content area is being double counted for the purpose of ESL service. This is not going well at all.


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