Scholarship helps teachers support English language learners

Issue: Volume 98, Number 17

Posted: 10 October 2019
Reference #: 1HA0J9

As the number of English language learners in our schools continues to grow, a scholarship aims to help more teachers gain tertiary Teaching English in Schools for Speakers of Other Languages (TESSOL) qualifications.

Lisa DeVargas is studying for a TESSOL (Teaching English in Schools for Speakers of Other Languages) qualification from Wintec in Hamilton and will finish at the end of 2020. She was given a Ministry of Education tuition fees scholarship to support her study, which will give her the skills needed to support English language learners in our schools.

Earlier this year, funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) was provided for more than 49,000 students in 1,450 schools around New Zealand. The students represent 171 ethnic groups, 164 countries of birth and speak 134 different languages.

Horsham Downs School, where Lisa is a Year 5 classroom teacher and in charge of ESOL, was once a rural school on the outskirts of Hamilton. Suburban spread saw the school’s roll expand quickly, with several immigrant families moving into the area. 

Some of the children speak no English or have English as a second language. About 10 per cent of the school’s 400 students receive ESOL support and Lisa says this number is growing. 

She thinks it’s important there are qualified TESSOL teachers for these students and their families, saying they deserve every opportunity to be supported and to learn. 

Lisa has been teaching for about 15 years and says: “I decided to apply for the TESSOL scholarship and do this qualification because I have specialised in literacy and loved working in a multicultural school.”

Extra stresses for children

“The study I am doing allows me to put myself in the role of what it would be like for those children,” Lisa says. “It’s similar to classroom teaching, but there are so many other factors that you need to be aware of; from the culture shock of moving to New Zealand with no support, to the isolation of living in a new country. All those extra stresses that a lot of our mainstream children don’t have.”

Lisa’s course includes doing a case study and she comments: “The relationship I have been developing with the child and his mother has been lovely, and it has made working with him really powerful. It’s a really rewarding experience and as much as it is making my life extremely busy, I would encourage anyone to do a qualification) because it does make you a much stronger teacher.

“Doing the case study allowed me to understand the stresses for these children coming into the school system. And it’s really highlighted for me the resilience these children have and the areas that are challenging for them – like developing friendships and understanding social cues. They often don’t understand, so it affects their friendships and learning inside and outside the classroom.”

Walking in students’ shoes

A requirement of the Wintec course is to learn a language and Lisa is learning Spanish. 

“Learning a language has been a lot more challenging than I thought, but it’s been great as a teacher to put myself in my English language learners’ shoes,” she says.

As well as doing administration for the English language learners at Horsham Downs School and supporting teachers, Lisa is released from her classroom each day to work with the students. There are currently about 40 and Lisa works with them individually or in groups, depending on their needs and progress.

“These students are positive and enthusiastic because they know they are lucky to be learning English with support. A lot of them really respect teachers and they are such hard-working students. Once they get past that overwhelmed, sinking feeling, they work really hard,” she says. 

Lisa is happy to answer questions. Email:

Applications open for TESSOL scholarships

Each year, the Ministry of Education offers TESSOL tuition fee scholarships to teachers of new migrant, Pacific Island background and international students in state-funded early learning centres, primary, intermediate and secondary schools. 

More than one teacher from each school can apply for a scholarship; in fact, this is recommended, as studying together provides collegial support.

The initiative is based on the belief that providing TESSOL support for mainstream teachers of students from diverse language and cultural backgrounds improves outcomes for students. Teachers with TESSOL qualifications are more effective for all the students they work with, not only the English language learners.

Applications for 2020 TESSOL scholarships are due by Friday 1 November 2019.

For more information: Scholarships for people working in schools – (TESSOL)(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:59 am, 10 October 2019

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