Calling All Bilingual Teachers: Iowa Wants You

Oct 17, 2016

Can you imagine moving to a new town and going to a new school where you can’t understand what anyone is saying? Thousands of students in Iowa have that experience every year. In fact, the number of English language learners in the state has increased by 452 percent in the last 20 years. 

Lia Plakans, who is an associate professor of education at the University of Iowa, says that many of those ELL students are coming to districts that are in more rural parts of the state. 

"In Iowa City, they have over 50 languages in the schools, and in Des Moines, they've reported over a hundred," she explains. "The schools with the highest ELL percentages, however, are more rural. Denison, Storm Lake and Perry, have some of the largest percentages." 

Bilingual students are much more college ready and career ready than students who aren’t. Students who can interact with different languages and different cultures seamlessly are real assets. - Jobi Lawrence

Some of those more rural districts are scrambling to try and train teachers to work with the influx of ELL students. During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Plakans and Lisa Wymore, who was one of the teachers who helped build the dual language program in Marshalltown when they saw an influx of Spanish speaking students in that district. 

According to Plakans, teachers who are bilingual and lilerate in spanish, french, arabic and swahili are in high demand. 

David Cassels Johnson and Jobi Lawrence, who is Iowa Department of Education Title III Director, also join the conversation. 

Cassels Johnson and Plakans were just awarded a $2.2 million grant to help train more teachers in the state. They hope to provide professional development for around 80 teachers who want to learn more ELL techniques.