Dr. Walichowski & The Crusade for Bilingual Education


Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: July 17, 2015

FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT

As she shepherds the next generation of bilingual educators, Dr. Miranda Walichowski, clinical assistant professor and coordinator of the undergraduate bilingual education program, cannot help but reflect on her own journey to the field. Indeed, her story is much like theirs.

Over the course of her career as an educator, she has seen K-12 students end up academically misplaced or lacking proper language development. Her experience was no different.

“I felt like I was always being moved around and it was never purposeful or where I should be right from the start,” she recalled.

“It almost seemed like they would place me in random classrooms, only to realize too late: ‘She knows too much English for this class, so lets move her to another class two or three months into the school year.’ That was frustrating because I, like so many students, lost a lot of academic years that way.”

When she became an elementary school teacher, she saw that many students were actually alingual; That is, they lacked proficiency in both their native and secondary languages by the time they were in the fourth grade.

Since then, districts have curbed the issue by creating more uniformity in the way they define their second language programs and goals. Currently, schools are better equipped to monitor growth and identify students for placement in bilingual, dual language and English As a Second Language (ESL) programs.

Still, Dr. Walichowski asserts, there is still plenty of work to be done: “And that is what I want to be part of: seeing bilingual education help students realize their full potential because that is what is at the heart of everyone that has been called to serve in education.”

Wanting to help "students realize their full potential... is at the heart of everyone that has been called to serve in education." - Dr. Miranda WalichowskiTweet This

AN UPHILL BATTLE

As she sees it, there are two great challenges in recruiting high school students in Texas to eventually become bilingual educators.

First, she fights against misconceptions of the teaching profession as a whole. Especially in minority groups, many families hope their academically high performing children do not pursue a career in education.

“There are even parents that will persuade their children against it,” says Dr. Walichowski. “They’ll say, ‘Why would you want to go to education when you can go into law or something more lucrative? If you are college material, go big. Don’t settle for education.’”

Second on her list of challenges is the difficulty of maintaining proficiency in a second language. Even for those students who decide to pursue a career in bilingual education, many cannot speak and write Spanish at an academic level. In her undergraduate program, she and her committee deny as many as 25% of applicants because they lack the necessary Spanish language proficiency to teach.

According to her, this mostly stems from cultural assimilation in Latin-American communities.

She explained, “As a second, third or even fourth generation Spanish speaker, children start to see the value in speaking English for pretty much in anything they want to do; Their favorite cartoons are in English. Their friends around the neighborhood speak English. So then it becomes less necessary to learn Spanish.”

THE BATTLE PLAN

In spite of those challenges, Dr. Walichowski feels she has a proven roadmap to success.

To add to her efforts to quell fears about the teaching profession, she tells prospective students there are multiple professional opportunities for college graduates with an education degree. The leadership skills and knowledge base students gain in the program are invaluable for many career paths, she says.

To address issues with secondary language proficiency, she teaches a course called Seminar in Teachers as Effective Communicators, which develops proficiency as it applies to educators. Coursework covers specific teaching scenarios like conducting a parent-teacher conference completely in Spanish.

However, Katie Standefer, who graduated from the undergraduate program in 2015, says what she valued most was Dr. Walichowski’s personal and professional guidance.

Standefer worked closely with her as an honors researcher and credits Dr. Walichowski with giving her a chance to present research at a major national bilingual education conference.

She says, “Through her mentorship, I have developed many personal and professional skills and relationships that will help me be a successful classroom teacher.  She is a patient and kind professor who is always striving to develop herself further and continue to learn.”

For all her efforts, Dr. Walichowski is confident her bilingual education students are destined for great things. Employers agree, as they say students who graduate from the program enter the workforce amply prepared and already performing like experienced teachers.

She said, “It’s great because sometimes you’ll see teachers who are whole-hearted and passionate but they might not have the skills or the knowledge to teach well. Or you have some that have a lot of knowledge and skills but their heart is not in it. Our students have a combination of both, which makes them exceptional.”