Learning to teach: Sacramento County moves to train more bilingual teachers amid educator shortage

Nearly 42,000 students are learning English in local schools

California, like much of the nation, has a teacher shortage. According to the California Teachers Association, the state needs an additional 100,000 teachers to meet the national average in student-to-teacher ratios. In Sacramento, the shortage is particularly noticeable when it comes to students learning English as a second language.

On that front, a recently announced partnership is taking a nascent stab at making headway.

In November, the Sacramento County Office of Education announced a partnership with Sacramento State University and Loyola Marymount University to increase multilingual teachers in local school districts. Funded through 2019, in part, by a grant from the California Department of Education, the initiative could go longer depending on its success, said SCOE spokesman Tim Herrera. But it isn’t live just yet.

“It’s not off the ground yet,” Herrera said. “We had to get the grant to start developing the program, and all the particulars. It’s in the very early stages. We have enough funding to train 35 teachers. It’s a start. We’re seeing where this goes.”

The plan is to provide resources and training to educators around the state, both before and after credentialing, though the emphasis is on pre-credential training. Ideally, more new teachers would then be equipped to serve Sacramento County’s diverse student body, which includes not only native Spanish speakers, but Hmong, Russian, Vietnamese and Cantonese speakers, said SCOE Deputy Superintendent Al Rogers.

“There’s a huge demand,” Rogers said. “We have a diverse multilingual population. There’s something like 240,000 students throughout our county—but close to 42,000 of our students are English learners. That’s a really significant percentage.”

More than 60 languages are spoken in Sacramento County, Rogers added.

“The issue of a teacher shortage is bad enough, but when you have a population like that—that’s multilingual and multicultural—you really need a group of folks that can do a good job for those kids who speak multiple languages,” Rogers said.

Rogers admitted that the $625,000 grant will not cover the entire program, nor will it solve the multilingual teacher shortage. But he insists it’s a significant step.

“We’re hoping to build a pipeline of qualified bilingual teachers,” Rogers said.

That pipeline could run through high school, where interested students would be groomed to become bilingual educators through a program called The Seal of Biliteracy. The initiative also calls for bilingual workshops and a regional center where current teachers can get trained in languages pertinent to their classrooms. Ready to print and use resources would also be offered online.

The ideas are encouraging to Laura Vu, an organizer with Hmong Innovating Politics—a local grassroots advocacy group representing the Hmong community. Vu said the need for multilingual teachers is something her organization has been citing for awhile. According to Vu, South Sacramento, North Sacramento, Oak Park and Del Paso Heights have the greatest need for multilingual educators.

“When [Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent] Jorge Aguilar spoke to the community about what he will do to recruit more diverse educators, he shared with us his plan … to [create] a possible incentive to [have] teachers come and work for the school district while their tuition or credential is paid for,” Vu said. “I think that’s such a practical approach to creating more bilingual and multilingual educators. I’m pretty excited to see how that rolls out.”

So is Rogers, who says county schools are facing a challenge all of California is struggling to solve.

“The big picture is that the whole state is really experiencing a teacher shortage,” he said. “We know that that’s a problem everywhere.”