Demographically, Florida ranks third in the number of immigrants who have immigrated to the U.S. over the past twenty years. Until the Consent Decree of 1990, the myth that ESOL students were all concentrated in south Florida exacerbated many efforts for support in other parts of the state. On the other hand, proponents for ESOL students’ needs in south Florida expressed their concerns that they felt “alone” with the challenges of seeking sufficient support to meet the needs of the growing linguistic diversity among their students. Today we can say, “We’ve come a long way, baby!” We cannot deny, however, that our students and our profession remain marginalized.
ESL professionals sometimes describe their discipline as an amorphous and undefined field within educational circles. They struggle for recognition and are frequently excluded from policy making boards that influence standards and principles relative to ESOL students. Florida, like most states, has relatively few language professionals in positions of influence at the state level. As ESOL professionals we can make a difference. Likewise, we can convince our students and their parents that what they have to say can also make a difference. Read tips below for practical advice!
Stay abreast of issues that will impact your students through newsletters, the internet, newspaper editorials from local papers, and local other sources.
Identify and share issues.
Join the FLSSTESOL list serve (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Access back issues of the TESOL Federal Update on tesol.org.
Know who your local and national officials are and on which committees they serve.
Learn the process for action at the local, state and federal levels. Find out how and when these processes might influence your program and/or students.
See Legislative Contacts within the SSTESOL Advocacy Home Page to find names and addresses of your congressional representatives.
Identify policymakers. Build a relationship with your local representatives and invite them to your class. Let them see how ESOL instruction benefits the community. Start with regional supervisors, city council representatives or school board members first. Concentrate on one and build a relationship.
Use success stories liberally. Have students write stories about themselves and how ESOL instruction is helping them towards success in school and/or towards participation in the community. Share them with policymakers. Contact the local newspaper and try to get a feature article about ESOL in your district or your school.
Communicate. Write letters, make phone calls, make personal visits, and give testimony particularly when called upon by SSTESOL or International TESOL.
Write to Legislators
Identify yourself as a constituent.
Identify only one issue per letter.
Identify a bill specifically, if appropriate.
Write the letter in your own words and personalize the issue.
State your position succinctly.
Provide background facts.
Be specific about what you want the legislator to do.
Write to say you approve, not just to complain or oppose.
Include pertinent information from local papers.
Be positive and concise, not vague, rude or threatening.
Briefly thank the official.
Don’t apologize for taking the person’s time.
Follow-up. Follow-up letters with a phone call, especially if you have not received a reply.
If your legislator takes a stand or casts a vote that reflects your position, send them a thank-you letter.
with officials to address specific concerns.
Do your homework regarding the specifics of a focused issue.
Address no more than one or two issues and do not plan to spend more than 30 minutes with your legislator.
State the issue and the desired outcome: “I’d like to talk about adult ESL education. We need your support for maintaining current levels of funding because…"
Personalize the issue in human terms: “I have 25 adult students in my ESOL class who are preparing to enter the workforce when they improve their English...”
Know how to respectfully disagree if the policymaker is an opponent.
Seek a commitment, but be prepared to explore what issues must be resolved before a decision can be made.
Offer to serve as a resource and to provide additional information.
If you receive a negative response, ask if you can send further information, but don’t press for a change in position on the spot.
If you can’t answer a question, admit you don’t know and say you’ll get back to them.
Write a thank you note for their time.
EMPOWER YOUR STUDENTS
Educate your students to become advocates. Use pending legislation as a comprehensible and meaningful learning experience. Assist them in gleaning information about an issue and have them write letters to their legislator.
Plan projects. Invite at least one official annually to your class. You might tie this in with other cultural events or celebrations in your school or specifically within your classroom.
Be flexible. Be prepared to alternate dates and to accept alternate officials who might be available to represent the official you originally invited.
Invite parental involvement. Mutual encouragement among parents and children can assist all of them to believe that their expressions have the potential to make a positive impact upon the perceptions of policymakers.
* Adapted and used with permission from Dynamics of Grassroots Advocacy. (2000). Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.