Reaching early bilingual teachers: Proposed priorities for the National Professional Development Program

Written by: Montserrat Garibay, Deputy Assistant Secretary and Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition

I vividly remember my first day of middle school as a student newly arrived from Mexico to Austin, Texas. I didn’t speak a word of English and was nervous to start a new life with my mother and sister. My first class was like the United Nations, students from all over the world spoke different languages, and we were shy and afraid. It wasn’t until our ESL teacher, Ms. Hernandez, welcomed us with a big smile that I knew R I was going to be fine. My feelings were confirmed when I heard her speaking Spanish.

Within a few months, everyone in the class was learning. Mrs. Hernandez had high expectations for all students; Her classes were rigorous, and she had us working in groups, collaborating, singing, and using different strategies. Her classroom was full of diverse books, multicultural pictures, and a world map containing our pictures and displaying our best work. She also built a strong relationship with my mother and would frequently communicate with her to let her know how I was doing in school. She would share different resources such as food banks and after-school programs for tutoring.

Within a year, I was able to transition to regular English classes. Years later, thanks to Ms. Hernandez’s strong foundation, she graduated from high school., You helped me believe in myself. Ms. Hernandez was my inspiration to become a bilingual teacher. I wanted to be just like her. Her presence has inspired me to embrace multilingualism, become a critical thinker, and actively engage with families. This experience fueled my passion for education and led me to become a teacher.

Nearly a decade later, when I was a bilingual Pre-K teacher in the same school district where I attended middle school and graduated high school in Austin, Texas, I had the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree in bilingual education at the University of Texas at Austin Through Proyecto Maestria, a National Professional Development (NPD) grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

At the time, Proyecto Maestria may not have been called a “grow yourself” effort, but it had the components of what we know today to be useful. This scholarship has opened the door to expand my knowledge about the importance of high-quality bilingual education, the impact it can have on promoting bilingual and bicultural students, and the benefit of continuing as a bilingual educator in my home community. The NPD Scholarship has had a significant impact on my life because it has provided me with the opportunity to further my education with the goal of providing an exceptional education to my students. But getting to this point in my career hasn’t been easy. Being a first generation college student, I had to juggle multiple jobs to pay for my tuition and take remedial math classes until I mastered math. I can only imagine how many doors it could open if it were available to aspiring teachers who needed help getting their foot in that door—and who, like me, perhaps wanted to serve kids like ours, but didn’t have all the necessary resources to get started.

That’s why the Department is proposing new NPD priorities, requirements, and definitions that will increase the numbers of bilingual and multilingual teachers to expand the availability of bilingual programs for all students and help ensure that English learners have access to well-prepared programs. Teachers, emphasizing the support provided to low-income students and raising the level of support for them. Notice of Proposed Priorities (Federal Register::Proposed Priorities, Requirements, and Definitions) – The National Professional Development Program invites public comment for 30 days.

Montserrat Garibay is Deputy Assistant Secretary and Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition at the U.S. Department of Education. She previously served as a senior labor relations advisor in the Office of the Secretary for two years. Garibay has been a bilingual pre-K teacher for eight years and a National Board Certified Educator in Austin, Texas. She served as Vice President of Certified Staff at Education Austin, a local union merged with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. She graduated from the University of Texas-Austin with a master’s degree in education.

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