With number of English-learning students rising, Missouri faces shortage of trained teachers

Published: Sep. 3, 2019 at 6:29 PM CDT
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The number of students learning English as a second language in Missouri schools has skyrocketed more than tenfold since the mid-1980s.

Data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education show, in 1985, there were 3,156 English Learners in the state. In 2018, there were 38,952 of them. The classes keep growing, even in small districts, like Marion C. Early in Morrisville.

"Here at school, that's where they hear English. That's where they communicate English, that's where it's predominant. At home, it's that first language that's native to their parents," said Brent Dunning, MCE's Director of Student Services.

Marion C. Early has taught children of farm families for a century. Now, it has nearly one out of every 10 students learning English as second language. Even the school's website features two language options: English and Romanian.

According to DESE, the most common foreign languages in Missouri are Spanish, Arabic and Vietnamese. That's not the case in Morrisville.

"We see a predominance of Romanian for the most part," Dunning said.

Dunning said, this year, MCE has a full-time teacher to help English-learning students. He said the kids are eager to learn.

"They're fully capable of it, it's just a matter of making sure we're using the right vessels to get to them," Dunning said.

Professor Andrea Hellman coordinates a Missouri State University program that trains teachers to teach English to those who speak other languages.

"It's very difficult to work with English learners in a way that they can be successful in the grade-level curriculum. So it's not just simply teaching them conversational English but it's teaching them the academic language," Hellman said.

Hellman said she's pushing for more teachers with master's degrees to become certified English as a Second Language teachers for children who need to be bilingual.

"We have had shortage of specialists for English Language Learners nationwide and Missouri is in that category also," she said.

Hellman says Monett, Carthage, Springfield and Neosho have the largest populations of English-learning students in the Ozarks.

Dunning said, right now, there's no way to know how much the Marion C. Early population will grow.