With the increase in bilingual jobs and the difficulty in filling them, a common question is if bilingual teachers should get paid more for their skills.
At the La Cosecha dual language conference in New Mexico a few years ago, I saw representatives from a dozen school districts vying to entice bilingual teachers to come work for them. Most of these were small districts from states that did not traditionally have large populations of Latinos. The expansiveness of our nation’s bilingual programs is amazing and encouraging but the lack of teachers is discouraging.
If you work in World Languages or Bilingual Education you are surely aware of the lack of bilingual educators. Finding certified, experienced teachers who are fluent in English and are also proficient in another language, be it Spanish, Mandarin, ASL, French, etc., is nearly impossible. I have yet to hear of a school district that does not consider the difficulty of hiring qualified, bilingual teachers a serious factor impeding the growth of their bilingual or World Language programs.
Even the speakers at the general session had to put in a plug to come work in their state. The Washington State Superintendent told us that Washington is giving $5000 stipends to teachers who are bilingual and even giving extra to all staff (even bus drivers!) who are bilingual, because it is that important of a skill. He also mentioned something about free Starbucks for life… The speaker from New Mexico who followed him reminded us with a wink that New Mexico is looking at teacher raises also, and that New Mexico may not have Starbucks but they have green chiles AND red chiles. Hmm, maybe it’s time for me to look into moving to a new state.
The good-natured competition for teachers is intense. With my own district exploring the possibility of salary stipends for bilingual and special ed teachers, we must ask “Are bilingual teachers worth more?” The idea of paying bilingual teachers more is a contested one.
Should we pay bilingual teachers more?
There is no question that bilingual teachers have extra duties that regular ed teachers do not. They are often faced with sub-pair curriculum or even a complete lack of curriculum. They need to write all documents in both languages, and translate anything that would be a great lesson but is not a resource in the target language. If you are bilingual, how many times have you been asked to make a parent phone call because you speak Spanish? Not to mention that getting the additional required bilingual license can cost upwards of $10,000 depending on the program. Yet many other teachers see this as setting an unfair precedent. If bilingual teachers get paid more why not special ed teachers? What about science teachers who have the extra work of setting up labs? Why not every specialty position that is hard to fill?
Would paying teachers more encourage more of them to become bilingual or bilingual certified? I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s nice to be wanted and to work in a field where you know that your bilingual skills are valued.
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