Last week, I was given the opportunity to attend The Joint National Committee for Languages/The National Council for Languages and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS) Language Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. as a representative of the Illinois Council on Teaching of Foreign Languages (ICTFL). Although I saw many familiar faces from conferences I have attended, this was a whole new type of professional development for me. We were a group of language teachers working together to ask our legislators to support policies that value bilingualism.

#JNCL18 Takeaways:

  1. When our IL delegation met with staffers from our Senators’ offices, we found that they all had some type of language experience. Some wished they had taken it more seriously and others were proficient language speakers. The following day, when the group debriefed on the meeting, we found that nearly every state met with staffers who understood the value of language learning. This is a great day for us! No one mentioned the dreaded “I took four years of language and can’t say anything.” As we focus on proficiency and move our students toward competence and confidence using their L2, more and more of these interns will influence legislators to see the importance of being a speaker of more than one language.
  2. Businesses need language speakers. JNCL is not just a group of language teachers. JNCL is formed by teachers, industry leaders, administrators, and companies with a vested interest in hiring bilingual grads! As we listened to the industry partners speak, it became obvious that this move toward proficiency is setting our students up for great success in the job market! From the government to translating companies, everyone is looking to hire grads with proficient language skill.
  3. Your representatives need to hear from you! I was able to visit my representative’s office. I was met by two staffers whose L1 was not English, one Lithuanian, one Hispanic. They were so excited to have a visit with someone advocating the value of language learning. They took all of my JNCL-NCLIS legislative “asks” to review for Congressman Shimkus but they also invited me to connect with his office here in IL. It turns out he is a former teacher and a speaker of Lithuanian and a learner of Spanish. They encouraged me to invite him to my classroom to see what proficiency-based learning looks like. I’m going to invite him this spring in hopes of spreading the word in far southern IL about the state Seal of Biliteracy and the importance of teaching for proficiency.
  4. Everyone can advocate. JNCL is very reasonably priced. I was lucky to represent IL but many of the attendees had paid their own way. If you are able, plan on attending JNCL19! If you know that it is out of your reach financially, subscribe to the JNCL-NCLIS newsletter and then visit your representative’s office in your home state! Whether you see them in DC or in IL, make your voice heard! Language learning is valuable.
  5. The teacher shortage in the US is real and is reaching crisis levels. Please, no matter how frustrated you become with policies and with meddling from non-educators, remember why you went into teaching. We need a new generation of champions for our students and if we discourage teacher ed, the next generation won’t have that. Tap your students on the shoulder and tell them that they would make great educators. Encourage both the use of language in other careers and in teaching. Keep fighting the good fight but help keep our classrooms full!

If you have the opportunity to attend JNCL19, I highly recommend it. Our classrooms are where our hearts are but advocacy is what will keep us and future generations in those classrooms!

Carrie Toth is a Spanish teacher from Illinois with over 20 years of teaching experience. She was the 2014 Central States Teacher of the Year and 2015 finalist for ACTFL Teacher of the Year. Carrie has authored La Calaca AlegreLa hija del sastreBianca Nieves y los 7 toritos, and Vector. She blogs at somewheretoshare.com and can be found on Twitter @senoraCMT.

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