Today’s SpokenFirst contribution comes to us from Haley De Korne, a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania in Educational Linguistics.
Getting Native languages into more classrooms:
Teacher certification policies across the U.S. are growing
Michigan Public Act 168 of 2010 might not sound like interesting reading, but it is part of a steadily-growing and exciting trend to bring more Native languages into classrooms. The first ingredient for a Native language class is a teacher, and that is what this Act, and others like it, aim to help provide. Teaching Native languages in classrooms is certainly not the only way to promote the vitality of threatened languages, but many experts agree that it is a very significant step towards the long-term health of a language. The increase in policies relating to the teaching and learning of Native languages in public schools is therefore great news!
Teacher certification is controlled at the state level in the United States, so although there has been a national law promoting the certification of Native language teachers and the use of Native languages in classrooms since 1990 (the Native American Languages Act, or NALA), it is ultimately up to individual states how they will go about letting Native languages and Native language teachers into classrooms (if they do at all). When NALA was passed in 1990 only three states had policies relating to Native language education; as 2010 draws to a close the number has reached 15. In 2009 California became the 14th state, and last week, on September 30th, 2010, Michigan became the 15th. The other states that have some form of recognition for Native American language teachers are; Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Hawai’i, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Arizona, Nevada, North Dakota, and Oklahoma.
Each state has a different policy, but generally these policies recognize the unique expertise of Native communities to determine who is qualified to teach their language. Several states have policies making tribes the only authorities who can certify Native language teachers (for example Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana), while others have policies of collaboration and cooperation between state education authorities and tribes for joint certification (for example Wisconsin, Minnesota, Wyoming). The policy that has just passed in Michigan establishes a collaborative certification process, where tribes and state education officials will agree on a Memorandum of Understanding establishing Native language teacher certification.
The growth in these policies is the result of huge amounts of effort from many tribes and educators, who deserve great thanks. There is no rest for the weary though, as work continues to create learning materials, curricula, and to put other supportive policies in place (for example ensuring Native language classes are recognized as meeting graduation requirements). Other states seeking to develop Native language teacher certification policies might benefit from the policies that some of the states listed above have adopted. For example, Washington State began piloting a policy of tribal control over certification in 2002, and, finding this to be very successful, made the policy permanent in 2007. Their approach to teacher certification has been proven through the period of testing to be effective; the final report on their experiences implementing this policy is available at http://www.pesb.wa.gov/home/firstpeople. Creating new policies can be slow and difficult, but it can have great results in the end. So which state will be the next to get more Native languages into classrooms by supporting Native language teachers?
Haley De Korne
To read more of Haley’s work, please click here.