The story of an ELL educator: She once was lost but now she’s found


by David Sheridan

Back when Krista Fulbright was a high school social studies teacher, she was assigned to teach Medieval History and Geography to students who were English Language Learners (ELL) and that challenge panicked her.

Take Action ›

Every student, including every English Language Learner, deserves the opportunity for the very best education we can give them. Take the NEA Opportunity Pledge: Click here›

She didn’t have a clue how to teach ELL students. She felt lost. Then she reached out to an ELL teacher. Her colleague gave her a number of excellent suggestions for tailoring her instruction to students not proficient in academic English. Krista calmed down, and teaching the ELL students turned out to give her a huge lift. They were eager to learn.

That experience piqued Fulbright’s interest in ELL education. Today, in St. Joseph, MO, she is an endorsed ELL tutor and is close to earning her Masters in ELL education. And not only does Krista Fulbright love working with ELL students, she has also become their champion.

Krista Fulbright

Last summer Krista attended a meeting sponsored by the National Education Association to test three new professional development modules on ELL advocacy, ELL standards-based education and assessment for ELL students. At this meeting, she met ELL educators from around the country, and experts briefed her on ELL issues, including the civil rights of English Language Learners.

She returned home fired up — determined to be an advocate for English Language Learners. In her school district, like many districts across the country, the ELL student population has grown fast, but funding has not keeping pace with that growth. There is not sufficient ELL staff to serve the needs of students. Moreover, general classroom teachers desperately need professional development in educating ELL students.

Krista has put into practice the five action steps she learned for ELL advocacy:

  1. Isolate the issue.
  2. Identify allies.
  3. Be clear on the rights of ELL students.
  4. Organize and educate others on the issue.
  5. Identify outlets to address the issue.

Her message to her fellow educators is: You can do this too.

Krista has enlisted the support of her ELL colleagues as well as her local association president and state association president in her quiet crusade to improve the education of English Language Learners. What’s more, she has presented what she learned at the NEA meeting to two members of the school board — a major step forward for the cause.

A friend and colleague has kidded Krista about being a “pit-bull” once she gets hold of an issue. “But I’m sweet,” she responded. Now she realizes that in advocacy work being a sweet pit-bull is not a bad thing.

“I am optimistic. I think ELL advocates across the country, in collaboration with our allies, can bring about major improvements in the education of ELL students. Collaboration is the key.”

Reader Comments

  1. American used to be thought of as a melting pot. Now we seem to take pride in a patchwork quilt mentality. English is the language of this country, not a Babylon of dozens of other languages where no one understands each other.

    Non English speakers do not belong in main stream public schools. In Massachusetts, a decade ago, the voters said no to spending tax money on teaching students to speak English in public schools

    But to no one’s surprise, the idiots (bleeding heart progressive liberals pandering to minority votes) who are elected to run the state decided that every teacher now needs to be able to teach anyone who speaks any language.

    To be ‘relicensed’ a new certification/test must be passed. One more bit of energy going to pander to those who will not do for themselves and take the initiative to learn English. It has nothing to do with citizenship or national origin. In fact it does speak to the lack of desire of non English speakers to assimilate into American culture.

    The constant complaints about diluting teaching time are valid. The reasons for the diversions are not: not dealing with discipline issues, incompetent administrators who are hired through an inane system of no experience in leadership or management, unions that do little to promote advocacy for teacher improvement, over concern for every niche issue that pops up rather than concern for the 99% of people in the mainstream, effort poured into worry about non English speakers in public schools, teacher evaluation systems so out of control they are a joke, association dollars pouring into political campaigns that are likely supported by only some less than majority percentage of members, people like Gates, Bloomberg and others that think they know what is best for education and pour millions of dollars into their own agendas to steer education towards socialism… and on and on. Oh yeah, in between all that, teachers are supposed to teach.

    There are a fixed number of hours in a day, When all these ‘legislated’ tasks are worked on, there is little time left to provide the teaching time necessary.

  2. English language learners? How about you speak the language then come to America’s public schools? Does no one care how much the native (English) speakers are getting shortchanged. There are only so many hours in a day and if extra effort is spent on non English speakers, those kids are short changed. Simple.

    1. You assume that ELL students are not americans, I am a 3rd genteration and began my schooling with little or no english skills , Speak of being short changed, in the English school system.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *