"We are way behind what we need," said Lily Chang, the district's Asian bilingual consultant. "I place ads in ethnic papers. I recruit at job fairs and conferences at universities. But everyone is looking for (Asian bilingual teachers). It seems like we are stealing from each other. There are just not enough to go around."
State law says that a district must provide a bilingual classroom whenever there are 10 or more students of one language group in a grade level.
Not Enough Students
But often a district may not have enough students of one group to form a class, or no qualified teacher who speaks the language. Thus, Chang said, it is common in Garvey to have a mixture of languages within one class. Some students may speak Cantonese, some Mandarin and still others the Chiu-chow dialect, for instance.
In fourth-grade teacher Pat Fier's classroom at Emerson School in Rosemead last year, for example, there were 32 students who were native speakers of Cantonese, Vietnamese, Spanish, Thai or Tagalog, the chief language of the Philippines. Most of them knew some English, except for the Thai and the Filipino students, who knew none. Fier spoke English and a little Spanish and was taking courses to learn Vietnamese. A Vietnamese-speaking aide translated when Fier needed help explaining difficult concepts.
Although such diversity would seem to overwhelm the most capable teacher, Fier had an upbeat attitude. "The work is challenging but very interesting," she said. "I couldn't do it without my aide. You can do a lot of things as a group (using only English). But certain things you need the aide for, maybe to explain a math concept or the parts of speech."
Often, there are not enough aides of the right language group. John McCrea, a government teacher and chairman of the Social Science Department at Alhambra High School, said last year he was assigned an aide who spoke Spanish, but his class was predominantly Asian.
Finding appropriate textbooks and other materials in Asian languages is also a serious problem, school officials say. Alhambra recently sent a group of administrators to Taiwan to purchase Chinese-language books. But, according to Ponce-Gilman, the district's bilingual coordinator, most of the foreign materials they found either followed a different sequence than American curriculum plans or were too advanced. Thus, the district has no complete series of Asian-language textbooks, but mostly dictionaries, some works of literature and supplemental materials.
Because of the scarcity of bilingual instructors and books, school officials say they have had to make the best of limited resources. In the Rowland Unified School District, which serves Rowland Heights and part of La Puente, Asian students account for about 19% of the district's 18,788-student enrollment. The district has offered teachers daylong workshops on teaching strategies and revising the curriculum to meet the needs of limited-English-speaking students, bilingual education coordinator Debbie Stark said. This year, the emphasis is on helping teachers understand the different Asian cultures.
Must Undergo Training
In Alhambra, all teachers hired in the last two years must undergo 35 hours of training in English-as-a-second-language (ESL) techniques. In addition, any new teacher must, as a condition of employment, agree to accept a bilingual teaching assignment if needed, Ponce-Gilman said.
In contrast to bilingual education, which uses the child's native language to give instruction in such basic courses as math and reading, ESL relies on techniques that allow a teacher to teach in English. Such teachers learn to gear their speech to the students' level of proficiency and employ visual props and pantomime to aid comprehension.
Alhambra also established an innovative program last fall to meet some of the most pressing needs of immigrant youngsters. The Elementary Assessment and Orientation Center was created to ease the burden on teachers and other school employees of helping immigrant students adjust to the school system, said director Edmund W. Lee.
The eight-member staff assesses the language proficiency of all new grade-school students and provides those who test at the lowest level with nine weeks of intensive English lessons. It also provides physical examinations and a general orientation to American culture. A similar program is operating at the high school level.
Reliance on ESL
Because of the shortage of bilingual teachers, districts in the San Gabriel Valley have relied heavily on the ESL approach. Most schools offer three levels of ESL academic courses. A limited-English student generally takes about three years to attain a level of proficiency that will allow him to join a regular classroom. Many teachers have balked at teaching students not fluent in English, despite the pressing need for more ESL instructors.