BGSU professor’s research explores reasons for – and possible solutions to – shortage of world language teachers

Dr. Brigid Burke co-authored a paper that found secondary world language teachers have an outsized influence in inspiring further generations

By Nick Piotrowicz

While studying widespread shortages among world language educators, Bowling Green State University researcher Dr. Brigid Burke discovered a paradox within the profession.

The most cited reason for becoming a world language teacher was an influential secondary school world language teacher, the very position most often in short supply in the U.S.

Burke, an associate professor in the BGSU College of Education and Human Development and the coordinator of the World Language Education program, and co-author Diane Ceo-DiFrancesco of Xavier University published research earlier this year in Foreign Language Annals about how world language teachers are recruited and retained.

The research found that the No. 1 reason world language educators chose their path was due to a world language teacher they had in high school, suggesting recruitment of these educators will be paramount in confronting shortages. 

“In our data, it was shown that 84 percent of world language teachers became world language teachers because they were inspired by their teachers and what they experienced taking a world language,” Burke said. “That’s huge. If every world language teacher picks someone to recommend, that gets the word out.”

Currently, there is no disputing that the need for more world language teachers is great.

From 2008-09 until 2015-16, enrollment in all teacher preparation programs dipped nearly 38%, with states reporting more shortages in world languages than any other subject, according to American Academy of Arts and Sciences data. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the need for qualified teachers in a wide variety of districts.

Burke said schools often maintain interest in world language education from both administration and families, yet are discontinuing programs in many cases simply because there is no qualified teacher available to teach a particular language.

As one of Ohio’s largest producers of teachers, BGSU is actively addressing the general teacher shortage issue and is taking multiple steps - such as involvement with Project IMPACT, the U.S. Department of Education grant program that aims to recruit and develop teacher candidates, especially in key content areas.

Part of the world language teacher shortage lies within the expertise of teaching a language, which is not obtained quickly or easily. World language teachers must develop not only as educators but be able to speak fluently in another language. 

“Expertise is part of it,” Burke said. “Being a world language teacher takes more than some of the other content areas because, not only do you have to have the skills in math, reading and writing that other teachers have, you have to have a high level of proficiency in another language. You’re teaching content-based instruction now where you need to be teaching and promoting cultural and communicative proficiency. It's not teaching out of a book anymore.”

Burke and Ceo-DiFrancesco, however, suggested a collaborative solution borrowed from another industry that already has experienced shortages: Trades. In certain areas of commercial construction in which union labor is most common, a collaborative approach among unions, contractors and union members has benefitted all three, the researchers found.

When there was little collaboration, union membership stayed low, which Burke and Ceo-DiFrancesco predicted could occur without action in the case of world language education.

Similarly, they recommend a collaborative approach among teacher education programs, current and former world language teachers, university professors, pre-service teachers and professional organizations to create task forces with the purpose of recruiting the world language teachers of tomorrow.

Burke’s research discovered that world language teachers often loved their careers and found them rewarding, but suggested that the process of recruiting teachers should be more collaborative and accountable in the future to increase enrollment in world language education programs.

“We don’t have people whose job it is to recruit in the world language education realm, so it’s all falling upon us already in the profession who have our own jobs and responsibilities to do, so there is a big missing component,” Burke said. “This recruitment really needs to be happening. There needs to be way more collaboration and it needs to be localized for us to move forward.”

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Media Contact | Michael Bratton | mbratto@bgsu.edu | 419-372-6349

Updated: 10/20/2022 09:50AM