New Mexico is a state that is linguistically diverse and rich in culture. On the surface, that sounds great, but from an educational standpoint, it presents challenges across the board. To better equip teachers to face these challenges, the University of New Mexico’s College of Education launched TECLA—Teacher Education Collaborative in Language Diversity and Arts Integration.
The TECLA program is funded by one of three grants from the ECMC Foundation which total $1.27 million. The two other grants help the College of Education enhance its collaboration with community schools in Albuquerque as well as increase its number of Native American teacher candidates. ECMC Foundation is a Los Angeles-based, nationally focused foundation with current assets of $354 million.
The mission of ECMC Foundation is to inspire and facilitate improvements that affect educational outcomes—especially among underserved populations—through evidence-based innovation. The foundation has three priority investment areas: teacher development, college readiness and retention, and career readiness. ECMC Foundation prioritizes evaluation and measurement and is committed to sharing its impact. For more information, visit ECMC Foundation.
TECLA is an interdisciplinary program for student teachers who are interested in teaching bilingual students and English Language Learners (ELLs) in elementary schools. TECLA encourages student teachers to first learn about the communities from which their students come, in order to build on the cultural knowledge they bring to the classroom.
The multidisciplinary partnership is a collaboration between several departments in the College of Education and La Mesa Elementary School, located in Albuquerque’s International District and well-known for its diversity where the majority of students are ELLs. La Mesa ES is also well-known for its innovative and community-based approaches to educating its more than 700 students and families. Two of those concepts include bilingualism and arts integration.
“We don’t see students from this community as being ‘at risk.' We see them as having valuable skills that can be mobilized for learning.” – Leila Flores-Dueñas, associate professor, UNM College of Education
“A number of faculty members in the COE had been discussing the possibility of a language and arts integrated teacher preparation cohort for some time,” said Rebecca Sanchez, associate professor, UNM Department of Teacher Education, Educational Leadership & Policy or TEELP. “This work is only possible because there are so many of us committed to the same goal. One of the nice things about this initiative is that there are seven faculty members from three different departments actively working together on curriculum development, field experiences and interdisciplinary activities.”
The goals of the program include: to work at a school that genuinely represents the demographics of New Mexico and that implements a program that specifically addresses the needs of bilingual New Mexican children enabling teacher candidates to experience, learn through, and practice teaching and learning in a context similar to that which they will soon become part of; to improve the fieldwork teaching experiences of teacher candidates interested in working with bilingual children, so these children can learn content and improve language skills in the two languages meaningful in their lives; and to develop a rigorous and efficient model of teacher preparation that can be disseminated and replicated at a larger scale.
The fourth grade pop choir at La Mesa Elementary School performs as part of Literacy Week.
“The need of a project such as TECLA arises from both the need of bilingual teachers in APS and the revitalization of bilingual teacher preparation programs,” said Educational Linguistics Assistant Professor Carlos López-Leiva. “APS has identified bilingual education teachers as a high-need position since 40+ vacancies for bilingual education positions still remain open at APS.”
“We don’t see students from this community as being ‘at risk,’” said Leila Flores-Dueñas, associate professor, UNM College of Education’s Department of Teacher Education, Educational Leadership, and Policy (TEELP). “We see them as having valuable skills that can be mobilized for learning. Our work is to teach our student teachers to look for that first.”
Oftentimes, especially in poor urban areas like Albuquerque’s International District, community knowledge may be perceived as a deficit to student learning. Through TECLA, student teachers are learning to honor students’ cultural experiences and add academic skills to their base of knowledge. Instead of focusing education on students’ deficiencies, student teachers are learning to honor their students’ cultural knowledge and build on it.
“The curricular integration looks like a comprehensive way of teaching and learning through which learners and educators engage with the content, required by the school districts, from multiple perspectives and multiple ways to learn from, think about, make meaning, describe, and communicate,” said Lopez-Leiva.
“We have also modified the curriculum in our teacher education courses to reflect the interdisciplinary emphasis,” Sanchez said. “We have identified some core assignments and readings that help all of us faculty members reinforce learning happening in the other courses and in the field experience. Our own curriculum planning and communication has strengthened the teacher education courses themselves.”
The TECLA collaboration, which began in Spring 2015, is for three years. TECLA aims to graduate two cohorts of teacher candidates. Each cohort will experience three semesters in TECLA before graduating. During the last semester, the experienced teacher candidates will mentor a newer cohort of TECLA teacher candidates, which enables the UNM and La Mesa faculty, children, and teacher candidates to create a teaching-learning community that supports the preparation of new bilingual/TESOL Elementary School teachers. During the last semester, a third cohort will join the TECLA program. TECLA aims to continue and expand the project.
TECLA is also a research project. All 14 student teachers will be interviewed and evaluated at the end of the course to gauge the effectiveness of this method, including whether it helped with teaching ELLs, if they feel that it made them more effective ELL teachers, and if it increased their interest in teaching ELLs.
The ultimate goal is to train effective bilingual teachers and English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers who value languages, cultures, communities, and their students’ knowledge, as well as their own. “There has been a huge need for our student teachers to spend time in schools where there is language and cultural diversity,” Flores-Dueñas said. “This is the first time in a long time that we’ve created an emphasized bilingual program.”