The most qualified teachers often graduate from hard hitting school.
Lok Adhikari was 10 years old when ethnic cleansing forced his family to move from their native Bhutan to a refugee camp in nearby Nepal. Both are nations in South Asia in the Himalaya Mountains.
“We lived in a tent house for 17 years,” he said. “We didn’t have electricity. We were allowed to get water from one tap twice a day – one tap for 100 households. We had to stand in line.”
The family toilet was a shared toilet. The people behind the compound were hostile strangers. Outside the camp, Adhikari said he had to lie about his refugee status to avoid being beaten or subjected to unpaid labor.
Today, this 40-year-old father of two is a US citizen living in South Middleton Township. He works as a teaching assistant at Iron Forge Elementary School, dividing his time between supporting special education teachers and English learners.
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“I came to this country in 2008,” he said. “Being in a community where everyone speaks English was really struggling at first. It was like a shock. The clothes are different. The food is different. All people are different.”
When he moved over from Nepal, his family had no choice but to settle in North Dakota. The relief organization placed them there. They learned to adapt to their circumstances and grow with them. They became Americans, like so many others through the generations.
“I came in the first group,” Adhikari said. “I had no relatives here. she [the agency] trained us how to talk to people, how to shop, how to go to the grocery store. They helped me get my first job.”
And with change came a chance to give back. As an English teacher in Nepal, Adhikari is now helping the children of other refugee families to learn the language and adapt to a society far removed from their own experience, their tough school.
recruitment of teachers
The number of English students enrolled in the South Middleton School District has nearly doubled from about 55 in late May-early June to 99 in late October, said Alex Smith, director of student services.
Much of this increase is due to an influx of Bhutanese refugees who arrived in the township 10 years after the first wave found that the Harrisburg area offered good jobs and the opportunity to eventually start their own businesses. Over the years, Bhutanese have built a network in south-central Pennsylvania through outreach programs to support other families immigrating from Nepal.
Over the summer, the South Middleton School Board approved the hiring of two additional English teachers to fill the two positions already earmarked for 2022-23. A nationwide teacher shortage complicated an already difficult search for specialized certification.
Against all odds, South Middleton filled the two new positions within months. One person was a teacher recruited by the Capital Area Intermediate Unit who was already familiar with the district, Smith said. “She thought it was a good fit.”
The second person had experience with the Big Spring School District before taking a break in Pennsylvania in the west of the country, he said. “She wanted to retire for family reasons, so we were very lucky.”
South Middleton now has an English teacher in each of its four school buildings.
Finding an educator certified as a specialist in English language learning programs is just as difficult as finding a high school teacher certified in chemistry and physics, said Michael Gogoj, assistant superintendent for the Carlisle Area School District.
“I would put that in the same stadium area,” he said. “It’s a very specialized area. It’s certainly not a position that anyone can fill on short notice. You really need to have some background, an understanding of what you’re doing.
“That makes it a challenge,” Gogoj said. “It’s very difficult. We actually had good experiences this summer. We were lucky to find good people for our vacancies.”
Tina Keller is the Chair of Education at Messiah University and an Associate Professor who directs the 15-credit undergraduate program in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.
“We start with the introductory course, where we talk about the cultural influence of a first language, the influence of families, sociocultural perspectives, and all those influences that contribute to one’s experience of a new culture,” Keller said. “We also bring in basic elements of linguistics. The second course looks at the methodology and how best to support English learners. We spend a lot of time looking at case studies, teaching demos, and reviews. The students deal with current trends in the industry. They are also beginning to research different types of English learners in our area.”
The Midstate region has a large number of refugees fleeing war-torn areas, Keller said. There are also migrant workers who have worked here for generations, particularly in Adams County, which is known for its orchards, she said.
The third year of undergraduate studies examines the four fundamental parts of language – reading, writing, speaking and listening.
“My students start writing lesson plans and unit plans,” Keller said. “They also attend professional conferences.” The third course culminates in Messiah University students designing their own professional development plan. The last course is a combination of professional practice and internship.” You teach with a certified teacher. They unpack what they learn in the classroom.”
Messiah University also offers a graduate program tailored for current teachers looking to expand their skills and range of certifications, Keller said. “The course is online and aimed at working adults. Most graduates are already teachers. You don’t have to cover lesson planning. They already know that.
“We’re seeing growth,” she said. “College students are beginning to realize that no matter what they end up teaching, they will have English learners in the classroom. They realize that if they are better prepared to support English learners, they will be better classroom teachers.”
Heather Bosnyak is a Spanish teacher at Carlisle High School and the district director of world and English language development. “It’s really a great certification,” she said of teaching English to speakers of other languages.
While languages other than English would be helpful for an English speaking teacher, these teachers do not need to be proficient in other languages.
“There is no way we can expect everyone to be proficient in all the languages that our students will come up with,” Bosnyak said. “It’s really English lessons in English.”
Joseph Cress is a reporter for The Sentinel, covering education and history. You can reach him at [email protected] or by phone at 717-218-0022.
“Being in a community where everyone speaks English was really struggling at first. It was like a shock. The clothes are different. The food is different. All people are different.”
— Lok Adhikari