Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Teaching World Language and Immersion

Delaware has found itself looking for language teachers that don't exist, according to a WHYY article ( Language teachers aren’t quite mythical, but they don’t exist in the United States in the quantities districts want to hire them. In the scheme of things, Delaware was looking relatively close: eying students next door in Maryland. The state was, however, recruiting future teachers in ways teachers aren't usually recruited, inviting the fluent Mandarin speakers among them to spend close to a week in Delaware with accommodations at a mid-tier hotel -- notwithstanding they still had a ways to go before graduation.

Some states are recruiting their world language teachers internationally. World languages are among the top five teacher shortage areas for 2017-2018. Fully 41states (4 in 5) reported it as a shortage area. States may designate particular languages.

Foreign language is an area where districts routinely place teachers who are not yet fully certified. Sometimes, though, programs have to be put on hold.

World language teachers teach in public schools at all levels from preschool through high school AP.

Demand for foreign language teachers varies by state. It’s not just recruitment strategy that determines who has unmet needs. Some states place a greater emphasis on foreign language study at the high school level, even making it a graduation requirement. Some have special programs that require an unusual number of foreign language teachers at the elementary level.

According to a 2017 report by the American Councils on Education, states vary widely with regard to K-12 world language enrollment ( The states with the highest enrollments, percentage-wise, tend to be in the Mid-Atlantic and, to a lesser degree, New England.

New Jersey is the leader, at 51.18%; it is the one state with more than half its K-12 students enrolled. The District of Columbia is right behind, with 47.17%. Delaware, Maryland, Vermont, and Wisconsin each have more than 32%.

Even states that have significantly lower percentage of their students learning foreign language often have difficulties finding enough teachers. Seattle Public Schools, for example, notes that they are experiencing shortage in this area and that all world language positions are difficult to fill. The problem is expected to get worse as foreign language is set to become a graduation requirement for most students.

Notably, some states are stepping up their world language opportunities.

Languages Taught in Schools

Spanish is by far the most commonly taught non-English language nationwide. It is the most common in all states. The Councils on Education place the number of Spanish learners nationwide at 7,363,125; the next largest group is French, at 1,289,004. This is followed by German, Chinese, and Latin. Japanese is relatively common. Languages other than Spanish, French, and German – three long-time academic traditions – are sometimes referred to as less commonly taught languages or LCTLs. Chinese is considered an LCTL, though it is offered to more students than in the past and is just a little behind German at this point. The Councils on Education has called it an “explosion”.

California, Texas, and North Carolina each have more than 100 high school LCTL programs. Washington State, Virginia, and Ohio are credited with between 60 and 99 LCTL programs as are a number of states in the Northeast and Great Lakes area.

States formally recognize a number of language endorsements; some leave open what world language certifications may be issued. Pennsylvania lists fully 28 world language credentials, among them, Farsi, Swahili, Pashto, Urdu, and Romanian.

World Language Teaching Assessments

States use various assessments to assess language proficiency. Some states use an oral interview or computer-based interview in the target language. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages offers both types of oral assessment ( Educational Testing Services (ETS) makes teacher assessments available in some languages.

It is not necessarily mandatory to speak at the level of a native speaker, though it is of course desirable. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages has expressed concern over level of language ability of language teaches.

A pedagogy assessment may be required, whether at the onset or a later stage.

World Language, Immersion, and Bilingual Teaching: Blurring Lines

There is a state-specific element to the credentialing process. Bilingual credentialing is a distinct endorsement in many states. It may be attained by a person with similar language skills. Bilingual has traditionally been for teaching students in their native language. A teacher who has a bilingual endorsement typically also needs curricular endorsement; he or she might be an elementary generalist or a teacher of middle school or secondary subjects.

The lines between world language teaching and bilingual/ second language teaching can be blurry. Two-way immersion programs enroll two groups of students: English language learners and native English speakers who are learning a non-English target language. Unlike traditional foreign language programs, dual language immersion programs are most common at the elementary level. Parents elect to put children in 50:50 or even 90:10 immersion programs.

Delaware is considered a leader with regard to dual language immersion. Utah is another leader, with elementary immersion programs in Spanish, Chinese, French, German, and Portuguese. Total world language enrollment in Utah was estimated just a little above the national average at the time of the 2017 report. Dual language immersion students, though, spend a lot more hours of their day with a language teacher.

These language teachers are not just teaching a language -- they're teaching content in a language. It can be hard for districts to keep programs going in middle school. Recruitment is of course among the challenges.

Having fluency or near fluency in a language other than English is a huge asset. Having strong pedagogy and content skills can make a teacher that much more desirable.