December 2009 – Volume 13, Number 3
Perspectives on Community College ESL
|Jose A. Carmona (Ed.) (2008).
Craig Machado, Series Editor
|Washington, DC: TESOL
|pp. vi + 195
|$22.95 U.S. for TESOL members;
$31.95 for non-members
Volume 3 of the Perspectives on Community College ESL series, entitled Faculty, Administration, and the Working Environment, explores a variety of issues related to teaching ESL at community colleges. The 15 chapters focus on five primary areas: teaching and culture, support for adjunct faculty, collaborative efforts at the college, uses of technology, and employment conditions. The resulting volume comprises diverse perspectives on the strengths, challenges, and realities of community college ESL.
The first section, Teachers, Culture, and Pedagogy, addresses the marginalization of non-native English speaking teachers and students. In the first chapter, Maum provides an overview of issues facing non-native English-speaking teachers in the workplace (NNESTs) and outlines the unique strengths they bring to the ESL profession. To raise awareness of those strengths and minimize marginalization, Maum proposes collaboration between NNESTs and their native-speaking colleagues in the workplace and teacher-training programs. Park (Ch. 2) addresses the issue of NNESTs from a more personal perspective. She describes her development as a multi-competent teacher, whereby she was able to exploit her own language-learning and intercultural experiences as a non-native English speaker to better meet the needs of her students. Essential to her professional development was the mentorship of her program director who encouraged Park to critically reflect on her own learning experiences to inform her teaching. These chapters serve to introduce the central themes of the book, namely, the lack of recognition of ESL teachers as professionals and the resulting need for increased institutional support. The final chapter in this section (Ch. 3) explores how teachers and administrators can promote retention of ESL students as they transition to mainstream classes. McGrath enumerates the challenges facing both ESL students and content-area faculty who are often under-equipped to work together effectively. He then outlines ways to ease students’ transitions, including support courses and texts, tutors, and ESL sections of English courses. Although McGrath mentions the need for content faculty to attend ESL workshops, I was left wanting more specific strategies for facilitating deeper institutional commitments to address the needs of ESL students. Community colleges must turn to more innovative and sustainable strategies which will ultimately require a substantial commitment by all faculty to adapt their teaching practices. Carmona (Ch. 4) provides an administrator’s perspective on the development of a multi-level language literacy class for adult students at a community college in Florida. By helping students strengthen their Spanish and English literacy skills simultaneously, the program addressed a key barrier to these students’ pursuit of educational goals at the college. As a whole, this section lacked a strong coherent thread, which speaks to the complexity and diversity of issues facing community colleges.
Part Two outlines the many challenges associated with adjunct work and proposes strategies to mitigate those challenges. Chapter 5 chronicles the experiences of one of the authors, Sacharow, as she finishes her MA TESOL program and begins adjunct work at a community college. Many who have worked as adjuncts will relate to Sacharow’s account, from the initial warm welcome at the new faculty orientation to her ensuing sense of isolation and marginalization. What made the difference for Sacharow was the mentorship of a full-time faculty member. In addition to mentoring, the authors present some concrete suggestions to better integrate adjuncts and increase collegiality. Nehrebecki (Ch. 6) adopts a broader view of adjunct support as encompassing curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment. She describes how the development and implementation of unified assessment for an ESL program in New Jersey provided much needed support for adjunct faculty while also increasing student pass rates. This section demonstrates how increased adjunct support is necessary for both faculty retention and program integrity.
Part Three focuses on collaboration between community college ESL programs and other educational entities. In one of the volume’s most interesting chapters, Ford (Ch. 7) describes a joint research project conducted by a community college ESL program and a university in Hawaii to address the needs of the growing population of developmental bilingual students in the college ESL program. This chapter presents a constructive example of how collaborative research can bridge the gap between teachers and researchers in ways that benefit everyone, especially students. Ch. 8 highlights the benefits of collaboration between academic ESL, developmental education, and administration to promote higher retention of at-risk students. With the help of federal funds, a college in North Carolina developed a week-long training for teachers of developmental English courses for this purpose, which resulted in higher retention rates. Since the federal funding did not include academic ESL teachers, the institution came up with its own monies to pay ESL faculty to attend the training. I would have liked to see the impact of this training on ESL student retention. The last chapter in this section (Ch. 9) describes the collaborative efforts of community college education faculty (ESL and elementary/exceptional education specialists) to better prepare pre-service teachers for K-12 instructional contexts. The teacher training program worked with the local school district to provide pre-service teachers with opportunities for observation and mentorship. As a whole, the section demonstrates how collaboration among educational sectors can make significant improvements at the program and institutional levels.
Part 4 looks at the ways in which technology can enhance teaching and learning. Reynard (Ch. 10) describes the development and implementation of an online version of a federally funded ESL correspondence course in Ontario, Canada. Despite the careful design of the program and initial support by faculty and students, it was not as successful as anticipated, which Reynard ascribes to inadequate teacher training. In Ch. 11, Giambrone explores how technology can mitigate teacher burnout by offering some concrete examples of online resources and course design options to reinvigorate one’s teaching practice.
The final section, Working Environment, explores the benefits and challenges of community college employment. While serious problems persist, the view presented here is not wholly disheartening. Sun (Ch. 12) reviews the results of several surveys which investigate ESL employment conditions in the state of Washington, nationally and globally. The data suggest persistence over the last decade of inequity in working conditions and pay and lack of access to professional development. On a brighter note, the Washington study prompted a large-scale advocacy effort which resulted in some improvements in these areas, especially increased salary and decreased workload. Sharla Jones (Ch. 13) explains how administrative decisions at a community college in Texas undermined the integrity of the ESL program. The administration made significant changes to the ESL department without the input of any ESL faculty, which was a departure from the procedures of working with other departments at the college. In the concluding chapter, Petro provides a first-hand account of her decision to leave her university teaching position to join the tenure-track faculty of a community college. Petro cites job security and professional respect as advantages to her move. However, the disadvantages she describes—a high teaching load, standardized testing, and lack of credit for ESL courses—are not unique to community colleges.
Together, these chapters explore a wide spectrum of possibilities and contradictions inherent in community colleges. Because of the breadth of topics addressed in each chapter, however, some authors had difficulty maintaining a clear focus. I had to reread often to reorient myself to the main thread of a specific article. Despite minor flaws of focus, this compilation will be very helpful to anyone involved in the world of community college ESL by articulating common challenges and providing strategies to improve them.
Peninsula College, Florida, USA
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