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TESOL Statement on Back to School for English Learners and Teachers

by Deborah J. Short, President, TESOL International Association | 09/11/2020
As school doors open around the world, TESOL International Association salutes the educators who welcome their learners to the new academic term. Teachers are essential workers and play a more important role than ever in this time of uncertainly amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Students and their parents rely on teachers. They expect them to be present and inspiring, calm and competent, ever striving to instill knowledge. As Brayden Bell, a teacher in Ashland City, TN pointed out in The Washington Post (10 September 2020), when society has a serious problem that cannot be resolved, schools are obliged to handle it “and somehow schools are expected to do what no one else has been able to do — even though it’s vastly beyond their expertise, their experience and their mission.”

The COVID-19 virus has created a genuine crisis for educators. Since March, many have had to adapt to online teaching, virtual collaborations, and keeping themselves and loved ones safe and healthy. Some face job insecurity or have family members working as first responders. But after the initial shock, teachers stepped up. They, the educators, educated themselves and took action. They pivoted to remote teaching, mastered technology apps, and advocated for their learners’ needs, ensuring they had food as well as instructional supports.

But make no mistake, the picture is not rosy. TESOL International Association wants to emphasize that English learners have struggled during this time. Many of them come from underserved, diverse communities and are dealing with immeasurable challenges and external stressors including:
  • the ongoing lack of access to the electronic devices and broadband services and unfamiliarity with learning platforms needed for online instruction;
  • reduced face-to face, real-time interaction with teachers who can make the subject area topics comprehensible to them while they learn English as a new language;
  • the public health crisis and economic downturn inflicted by the pandemic;
  • systemic racism and inequalities victimizing Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, LGBTQ, and immigrant communities.
All of these factors continue to have profound consequences in educational settings and have  left English learners of all ages in a vulnerable position as they return to the classroom.

Despite their advocacy and the best efforts of educators to effectively and safely teach, providing high-quality English language instruction has proven difficult, and more training with online platforms is sorely needed. Professional development has had to transform and shift to remote formats. Educators continue to need support to build virtual communities that can help them master a new set of technical skills and reimagine how to convey information, differentiate instruction, and provide feedback.

Whatever the format – remote, face-to-face, or blended – as the new school term begins, TESOL International Association encourages teachers to use their knowledge, skills, and expertise to make informed instructional and assessment decisions based on sound pedagogy and second language learning research. TESOL will continue to provide free resources on effective teaching strategies for English language professionals to utilize during this time of COVID-19. Educators can also join us for our casual and complimentary myTESOL Lounge Live sessions to ask questions about English language teaching and share ideas. Moreover, they can watch TESOL webinars on topics such as tips for teaching online, using digital tools, working remotely with students who have disabilities, and applying antiracist and translanguaging teaching practices in writing lessons. They are available on the TESOL International Association YouTube channel.

Apart from its own advocacy efforts and collection of teaching resources for English language professionals, TESOL International Association is calling on global leaders and education officials to provide supplemental funding and support for English learners and teachers as schools return to session. In addition to increasing financial support for electronic devices, internet access, and teacher training, TESOL advises all schools to strengthen their mental health services and foster the socio-emotional well-being of English learners during these challenging times.

None of us can predict the future. What we do know is what teachers have been collaborating and advocating for their students over the past six months so they can return to teaching. They are teachers because they love the profession, and no matter how their instruction is delivered, , teachers will design and deliver lessons that meet their learners’ needs, promote their educational success in a positive way, and express their care and support.