man outside smiling with young elementary school kids playing in background

Unraveling the Complexities of Bilingual Education

We have the privilege of welcoming Dr. Clara Amador-Lankster in this enriching episode. As the program director for the Master of Bilingual Education at National University, she brings to the table her personal journey as a first-generation immigrant and her vast experience as a bilingual teacher, administrator, and consultant. Dr. Amador-Lankster takes us through the various challenges teachers face in the modern educational landscape, from safety concerns and politics to social emotional learning and the impact of COVID-19. She also highlights the alarming teacher shortages and emphasizes the significant role of teacher preparation programs.

In our discussion, we shed light on the critical importance of teacher support, now more than ever as we navigate through the unprecedented times of COVID-19. Uncover the essential role teachers play in forming nurturing connections with students, and appreciate the urgent need for improved preparation in trauma-informed practices. We also dig deep into the acute teacher shortage dilemma in California and nationwide, and the myriad of contributing social, emotional, and economic factors.

Our conversation further explores the severe policy issues causing teacher shortages in California and other regions. The teaching profession has unfortunately lost some of its appeal due to insufficient compensation and support, leading to a decrease in teacher candidates and increased retirements. We touch upon the specific shortage of bilingual, specialized, and STEM teachers and the strategies being implemented to combat this. Get enlightened about the impacts of Propositions 58 and 227 on bilingual education in California and the growing demand for bilingual teachers. This is a compelling episode filled with insights and perspectives you won't want to miss!

Show Notes

  • 0:07:31 - Challenges Teachers Face During COVID-19 (82 Seconds)
  • 0:14:07 - The Importance of Trauma-Informed Teaching (93 Seconds)
  • 0:21:02 - Teaching Policies and Educational Pathways (91 Seconds)
  • 0:26:31 - Challenges With Teacher Substitutes and Shortage (106 Seconds)

0:00:01 - Announcer

You are listening to the National University Podcast.

0:00:10 - Kimberly King

Hello, I'm Kimberly King. Welcome to the National University Podcast, where we offer a holistic approach to student support, well-being and success - the whole human education. We put passion into practice by offering accessible, achievable higher education to lifelong learners. We're talking about some of the challenges teachers are facing in today's environment, and some of these challenges include safety challenges, politics in education, social emotional learning, the flu by way of COVID-19, the de-implementation, substitute teachers, poverty, teacher shortages and then, of course, the teacher prep programs. These are all a few things that we're going to be talking about today and what happens to going back to basics in the teaching educational world. Join us, we'll be right back. On today's episode. We're discussing the challenges teachers are facing and we're joined by National University's Clara Amador-Lankster.

Dr. Amador Lankster is the program director for the Master of Bilingual Education, with multiple and single subjects and bilingual authorization, plus post-credential bilingual authorization for public school teachers. In California she's worked as a bilingual, dual language teacher, bilingual coordinator and school site administrator in Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles County of Education for over 10 years. Nationally, she has authored and designed long-term professional development for teachers of English language learners and dual language learners in public schools across 26 states. She earned her PhD on educational policy and organizational change from the University of Southern California, and her latest research is centered on bilingual, dual language education, equity, pedagogy and racial linguistics, early childhood education, literacy and equity for non-white women, faculty advancement in higher education. Whew, that is a lot and very impressive. We welcome you to the podcast, Dr. Amador Lankster. How are you?

0:02:23 - Dr. Clara Amador-Lankster

I'm fine, thank you. It's a pleasure to be here today. Thank you for opening up space for us to talk about teachers, teaching and their challenges.

0:02:31 - Kimberly King

Absolutely, and that is exactly what we're talking about today. But before we get to that, why don't you fill our audience in a little bit on your mission and your work before we get to today's show?

0:02:43 - Dr. Clara Amador-Lankster

Great. So I am a first generation immigrant from Madrid, Spain. I am the only member of my family that resides in the United States, except that, of course, I put my family together here. I form my own family together in the United States. I have been, as a first generation immigrant, over 30 years in the United States. I came to the United States as part of an international agreement between the Spanish Ministry of Education and the California Department of Education as a bilingual teacher, because 30 years ago they also needed bilingual teachers as we need them today badly. So some things have not changed and that's why I'm so excited that I get to talk about this, because my life work the life work of my career has been really centered around preparing teachers, preparing effective teachers and, more than anything else, preparing effective multilingual, bilingual teachers to start the classrooms in the state of California. So my career spans from being a bilingual classroom teacher working in transitional developmental dual language programs, to being an administrator at one of the schools in South Los Angeles serving 99% Hispanic Latinx students. To working as a consultant for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, working with a large, large, fairly funded grant to provide professional development for second language learners nationwide to becoming a manager of bilingual consultants and ESL consultants and ELD consultants teachers that are helping language minority students across the union to provide access and equity for all of our students.

My latest work, of course, has been my work at National University, where I have been here for the last 20 years. Can you believe it? 20 years, wow. And in the last 20 years which I don't know where they've gone, the last 20 years I've been able to really be instrumental and very much a thought leader in the preparation of teachers for our department, for our college and our university. We are the largest teacher preparation university in the state of California. For the last 16 years we're talking the largest as in in lives and bounds, the largest. We prepare teachers for multiple cyber credentials, single cyber credentials, education specialist for mild, moderate, moderate, severe and of course, we prepare administrators and counselors, psychologists and everybody else. In that work I have been pioneering in the foundational thinking of the ITL program, which is the Inspired Teaching and Learning program to prepare teachers for the state, and in that work I have been continued with the preparation of bilingual teachers. So at this time I sit as the academic program director for the new master of bilingual education, preparing teachers in multiple single subject settings with a bilingual authorization, in Spanish and English, because, you know, Spanish is my native language, this is my second language, and I myself, I'm multilingual.

And one of the things that I think most people would never know about me and I'm going to share with you is that I am married to my husband, who is African American from the south, and he's also a professor of criminal justice at National University, and I have adopted four daughters one from Jalisco, Mexico, one from Shenzhou, southeast China, one from Chongqing, central, continental China, and one from Los Angeles. With what? Malan ancestry. So I am the adoptive mother of four beautiful girls from different parts of the world, and so when I come to the table and prepare dinner time like we will do, you know we do so many times we have four continents at the table, and so we have Africa from my husband's ancestry, we have Europe from my ancestry, we have the Americas from our daughter's ancestry, and Asia, China, from the other two. So I'm excited to be here.

0:06:36 - Kimberly King

That's amazing. Wow, when is your book and your movie? I swear that's amazing.

0:06:42 - Dr. Clara Amador-Lankster

You know what you just gave me an idea. As a matter of fact, I already have the book title. But it's funny because the book it has to do with my life journey as an adoptive mother. So the title is pregnancy of the heart and I already am starting to sketch the chapters to figure out how to project this notion of pregnancy, not of your tummy and biological, but emotional pregnancy of the heart for adopting children that are orphanages around the world. And I may have to think of another book, Kim. I may have to think of another book for my profession.

0:07:16 - Kimberly King

Let me know if you need a publicist. I happen to know one here. We'll do One of the United Nations coming around the table every night. I guess that's really wonderful. Well, wow, we have a lot to talk about, but an impressive background doctor. Today we are talking about the challenges teachers are facing, and today it's just. The challenges continue, don't they? After COVID-19, of course? What are some of the broad areas of challenges teachers have been facing these days?

0:07:47 - Dr. Clara Amador-Lankster

So I think COVID-19 really turned our lives upside down for many of us and we're still in the process of recovery and we're still in the process of internalizing what changed drastically for us and forever For teachers. For us as teachers, it was a very dramatic challenge to be asked to go from teaching on ground and on site our little ones and our students to having to teach a screen, with children in the screen, in Zoom or black boxes, because many of our students in middle and high school would not choose to turn their cameras on. So we were looking at a black screen with 30 black boxes looking back at us right. So as teachers, we were never prepared to do something of the sort. Many of us had never taught virtually. We had always taught in person and we needed that personable connection with the children. And so COVID-19 really just absolutely challenged all of our beliefs and all of our preparation in terms of how to better reach students. The level of isolation that came out as a result of COVID-19 was so unprecedented and so terribly unexpected that teachers failed, that they were not able to really have the connectivity with other peers or colleagues. Teachers also realized that they couldn't really connect with the students in meaningful and social, emotionally effective ways. And so the level of isolation, coupled with the lack of preparation that we had for going virtual overnight, the fact that we did not know how to best connect with students during that time, has really created and resulted in other additional challenges that we face today. So isolation and social, emotional health I'll begin there because I think that's going to be critical for this conversation we have unprecedented levels of teacher attrition and teacher living the profession.

We are finding ourselves in many parts of the union that we are experiencing severe teacher shortages. We are not able to find enough candidates that are interested in becoming teachers. And why is that? There are multiple factors that will contribute to that. First of all, teacher and teaching and becoming prepared to become a teacher is a highly demanding and robust preparation that requires time and money beyond your bachelor's degree. So the level of isolation that we're experiencing COVID Also, you know, also resulted in teachers beginning to question and wonder if this is what they wanted to do for their careers, and some of them did retire after COVID. Some of them, I mean COVID, was the accelerator for their retirement decisions. Some of them decided to maybe, do you know, maybe two, three more years and then retire. So what happened is at the time that you know, over the last, I would say, five to 10 years. So we have experienced that teaching as a profession is a highly you know it's a teaching as a profession is a profession where you are not going to be compensated at the level that other professionals with similar regression would get. And also we find that in schools today there is there are multiple levels of concerns in terms of these variables. One is social emotional health and two is school safety. So let me start with social emotional health.

Teachers, now more than ever, are working with students who develop, developed a learned helplessness. During COVID-19, these students have learned how to not be able to help themselves, and so they are also showing indicators of passive learning, learned helplessness. And so the teachers have noticed that there is a lack of motivation on the part of the students to do work. There is a lack of motivation for them to engage with other students, creating spaces where teachers, now more than ever, have to invest themselves in. If the students do not know that you care about them, the students will not care to learn about anything. You have to teach. So at the bottom and at the root of teaching and learning. There has to be a connectivity of care. There needs to be a caring connection that allows the student to know that you care about me and I matter. I do matter, and if you show me that I matter, I will choose to invest myself in learning. But if you show me that I don't matter, lady, you can teach till the cows come home. I'm not going to learn a single thing from you, because learning is a volitional act. Learning is an act of freedom. We choose to learn from whom we choose to learn, and we choose to shut down at times when we don't connect with the teacher.

So what we find in is that students and youngsters in general, and youth, have gone through the trauma of COVID-19 and many of them experience the trauma both at school and at home. In many households there was a higher level of violence, domestic violence, a higher level of conflict that, added up to other variables of poverty and food insecurity, created some real trauma for students. So students come to us with trauma and guess what? In many cases, as teacher preparation institutions, we have not done our job at preparing teachers to be able to serve and respond to trauma, you know, to students that have experienced trauma. That is a whole other area of our preparation that we need to really focus on moving forward, because the state has definitely begun to shift in their program requirements and the program standards requirements to have teachers have an understanding of how to teach with trauma informed practices. But we're in the beginning stages, ok, we are just beginning to scratch the surface here of what it is that we need to do so as teachers, and you know this, we've been in the position of Locus parentis, in the position of the parent, we have been the psychologists and we've been the priests and the pastor and the therapist. We have had all these roles right, that we are to children, that we are to youth, to youngsters, to minors, and yet we ourselves sometimes don't feel prepared well enough to respond holistically to the needs of the children that we serve.

Ok, so that's the first piece of concern that I have as a director of our teacher preparation program. I take it very seriously that we need to better prepare teachers in the area of trauma informed practices. Additionally, the area of social emotional learning has been historically not addressed in the last 20 years at the level that it should, and so now, in the last 10, the Union and the state of California are beginning to pay more attention to social emotional learning practices. So we're looking at, for example, the five competencies of the CASEL framework right, such as self awareness, self management, positive decision making, positive relationships, decision making that is responsible, and so teachers are beginning to incorporate strategies into social emotional learning for students, and that's all very good and very healthy for the students.

However, who takes care of the teachers?

Who supports the teachers?

Who provides the spaces for teachers to truly manage their social emotional learning?

And that's an area where I think schools and school districts in general need to understand that that is a challenging in the teaching profession today.

We are overworked, we are underpaid, we are misunderstood and, in many cases, we're scapegoated.

As teachers, we need to do it all, but then who supports us and who really helps us with our own social emotional regulation? Sometimes teachers cannot cope with the level of demand that they have in front of them, because we have many students that come to us from family structures that are struggling, given, you know, factors of poverty, social economic status, migrant status, migratory patterns of families, families that have experienced domestic violence, domestic abuse, families that have experienced neglect, and so the students come to us with any level of complexities and we have 30 students, we have 25 students, we have 33 students and they all need our attention, right by name and last name. So I would say that one of the challenges that we have as teachers is we need districts and administrators in school sites to pay close attention to the social, emotional needs of teachers so that teachers will choose to remain in their profession and will not leave due to burnout, due to isolation, due to despair and you too, frankly, feeling exploited many times because of the work that we do and the underpayment of our work.

0:16:54 - Kimberly King

Wow, you hit so many points, doctor, and I literally can hear your passion. But you are living this life as a teacher and going through all of these challenges, both at the classroom level and at the school level and you did talk a little bit about that, especially due to COVID-19 and then just maybe the, you know the, as you said, you're really kind of being everything for these students, especially at the social, economic level and emotional health. So it's thank you for bringing up these points that we don't really think about on a general level. So, again, I can really hear your passion and I appreciate that, and let's talk a little bit about more, about the acute shortage of teachers in California and the nation and why you think that's happening right now.

0:17:42 - Dr. Clara Amador-Lankster

So that is a severe policy problem that is connected. That is happening in California and elsewhere at a national level. And again it connects back to what I just mentioned the fact that the teaching profession as such has become less attractive to incoming teacher candidates, to incoming candidates thinking of the profession, even if they had an interesting children or they had an interest in working with minors or an interest in a subject matter, what they find is that they can get better compensation, better salaries, in other lines of work. And because of the fact that and I haven't touched upon this point yet, but I will in a minute because of safety issues, having to deal with schools and schooling, we find that a lot of incoming candidates are choosing to direct themselves to other professions. So we have a problem with the recruitment of potential candidates becoming teachers for California and elsewhere. That's point number one. Point number two not only are we recruiting fewer candidates, many schools of education have experienced a decrease in the number of enrolled candidates becoming teachers, and that means that we're preparing fewer teachers. And that is compounded by the fact that we have a lot of teachers that are in the age, in the generational space, of boomers, that are literally choosing to retire, and some of them are choosing to retire earlier because they are no longer interested in working in a space right now where there are so many multiple demands placed on teachers and such responsibility, with little to no supports in terms of social, emotional, health as well as compensation. So we have fewer candidates coming in and we have more teachers retiring. So, guess what? We are experiencing an acute shortage of teachers because we don't have enough bodies to staff the classrooms that we need in schools.

Now, clearly, there are many different policies that have been enacted at state level. You know, on one hand, we have the pipelines that are trying to provide access points for paraprofessionals and teacher, instructional assistants to become teachers, and so there are some federal excuse me, state funded grants that allow local education agencies, in partnership with universities, to prepare the pipelines that go from the paraprofessional into the teaching career through the teaching credential, either through an undergraduate credential program or a graduate credential program. We're also looking at the partnerships that join the high school to the community, college, to the institution, the university, and there are spaces where we're creating pipelines that begin to identify high school students that have expressed an interest in contributing back to their community by becoming teachers and so identifying those high school students that then are routed into the pathway of the community college for a two-year associate of arts degree, which will then be routed into a four-year institution to get an undergraduate blended credential, and so we are working on those spaces. There is definitely seed money from the state for those grants to develop and that's a very promising piece. And on that point I am very interested, as a director of the master of bilingual ed, to be looking at how do we identify potential candidates from high school to an international school, and so we have a lot of resources from high school to enter into a community college and then transition into national university for their credential in multiple subjects and with a bilingual authorization. That's kind of obviously my area of interest and impact because of the bilingual program. So we have forces at work right now that show us that we don't have enough teachers to go around. And, for example, just in the case of the bilingual teacher education preparation, I am currently the president-elect for the California Association of Bilingual Teacher Education. We are an affiliate of CABE, which is the California Association of Bilingual Education. We are an affiliate of CCTE, the California Council of Teacher Education, and we are in partnership, a strategic partnership, with Californians Together, which is a policy think tank for the state of California advancing the equity of language minority students. So, in my role as a president-elect, I just had a two hour board meeting this morning for the organization. We are looking at how to promote more and more universities to prepare bilingual teachers, because we have an acute shortage of bilingual teachers.

In 2016, proposition 58 passed in the state of California. This proposition enable the state to begin to open and accept bilingual programs, both 50-50 models, 90-10 models for English and Spanish, so that all of our students, either English monolingual or Spanish monolingual, or English dominant and Spanish dominant, would have access to bilingualism and biliteracy into languages. So we're having schools open up and down the state. We have new districts bringing in new bilingual programs. We have families requesting that their children be dual language learners. We have white and black occasion monolingual families who want their children to be bilingual. We have Hispanic Latinx families that want their children to be bilingual.

And guess what? We don't have the teachers. And why won't? We don't have the teachers Because before Prop 58 in 2016, we have Proposition 227 in 1998.

And Proposition 297, which was the UNS initiative, literally dismantled bilingual education as we knew it and actually made it pretty much illegal in the state of California, right? So the only language of instruction was English and as a teacher you will be penalized if you use Spanish. So, of course, universities shut down all the teacher preparation programs, leas, local location agencies shut down all the bilingual teacher preparation programs, and so we didn't have those places to prepare teacher. Well, now we have schools opening up and down the state, left, right and center, but we don't have the teachers.

So we are accelerating the preparation of bilingual teachers at National University in particular, we are very proud to say that a candidate can get a full based, credential, multiple subject plus a bilingual authorization and a master's degree in 17 months. That is unheard of, okay. And so we are sort of coming into the market saying we might be your solution. We have accelerated intensive courses for adult learners and we might be the answer for you. So the shortage is in bilingual teachers, in specialized teachers, in teachers of mathematics and science. Those are the four areas where we have the greatest need. And of course, the problem is that it's very difficult to attract STEM teachers because guess what, they can be paid much more and better at a lab, at an institution, at a corporation, much more than as a teacher. So those are the broad areas where we have shortages right now that are severe and acute.

0:24:52 - Kimberly King

Wow. Again, it's things that we need to talk about and continue, and I really do truly appreciate your background in all of this. We have to take a quick break. Some more interesting information coming up in just a moment, but please stay with us and thank you, doctor. And now back to our interview with National University's Clara Amador-Lankster, and we're discussing teachers and, oh my goodness, all the several challenges they're facing today, and we're going to talk about safety in schools in just a moment, but first I want to get to about substitutes and principles and how that is a challenge as well. Can you expand on that?

0:25:35 - Dr. Clara Amador-Lankster

So not only are we experiencing an endemic, an structural shortage of teachers in designated areas as I mentioned bilingual teachers as well as teachers of math, science and special education but in addition to that, as a principal, if I do not have a teacher, I at least definitely need a substitute teacher, because I need a certificate of person to cover that class, and we are experiencing across the state also a serious endemic shortage of substitute teachers. In other words, not only do we not have access to regularly certified teachers, but also substitute teachers, and that is again because we're finding that in many cases, when we're talking about a one day teacher or 30 day permit, individuals are actually choosing to go into other lines of work because they do not want the risk associated with working in schools, and for the compensation they receive it's not worth their time. And so we are also having to look at policy situations and policy solutions that address the shortage of substitute teachers as a serious problem for the state and for public schools in California.

0:26:51 - Kimberly King

OK, thank you for talking about that too, because it's so important and people again don't really realize really what's going on behind the scenes. And, speaking of behind the scenes, what are some areas of hope for teachers who love what they do?

0:27:07 - Dr. Clara Amador-Lankster

So let me just share one more challenge that I think is important before I forget and I don't think I thought about it before you asked and then I'll answer your question, if that's OK with you. The world of artificial intelligence is here. Ai is here and is impacting our work as teachers, as educators. Every day, we find ourselves again non-equipped, non-prepared, non-trained to know how to better capitalize on the use of AI, and so it is now that we, as universities and schools of education and teacher education departments, are beginning to grapple with how to best prepare our candidates on the use of AI, artificial intelligence. We know that technology is highly promising in so many ways for our teachers. We know that we have been using places like sim school to begin to have our candidates apply their clinical practice understanding in the classroom. We know that we have other areas, for example, such as GoVideo again, sim school we have. There is a great deal of opportunity for educators to utilize technology and virtual reality as a new space for them to learn how to best reach students. Our university has also integrated virtual worlds into tech courses and into nursing, and we have several initiatives that are focused on examining the efficacy of the metaverse. In the words of my colleague, Cynthia Chandler. So, in terms of what's helpful for teachers and for those of us who love the profession, clearly we are talking about broad challenges that we face as a profession, but it's also true that, now more than ever, we need to understand the importance of connection, the importance of community, the importance of being relevant and the whole mattering movement, meaning that we matter. And so I think, for teachers that love the profession and teachers that were called to teach and teachers that want to connect with students, there are obviously many opportunities for growth, for improvement, for efficacy.

I believe that now more than ever, we are at the point, at the intersection, of teachers becoming true leaders, becoming leaders in their own communities, becoming leaders in their own classrooms and advocating for the rights and the well-being of their students. When we go into this profession, we know that we will be the last one to leave the classroom if something happens to our students. We know that if we need to give it all, we will. We know that our calling is something that goes beyond a bunch of coursework and a bunch of clinical practice experiences. We know that we are shaping the future with the work that we do day and day out. We have enormous responsibility for the future of the state, the future of the country. We don't take that lightly, because we know that we are creating the next generation of leaders, the next generation of nurses, the next generation of medical doctors and electricians and plumbers. Really, we are, in a way, shaping the future with our daily work.

What I do believe and I like to send this message to my colleagues, teachers across the state and the union is that we need to take care of ourselves as well. Historically, we have taken care of everybody first, and then, when we had some time left, we took care of ourselves just a little bit, just enough to help us survive. That is no longer enough. That is no longer enough. We need to establish a balance between our work life, our personal life. We need to carve those moments during the day where we can do mindfulness with our students and ourselves. We need to provide spaces for joy, for absolute joy the joy of crafting, the joy of craft, the joy of painting, the joy of hearing a group of students chant. We need to really immerse ourselves in those moments of joy that only come in the presence of innocence, in the presence of children and students. We need to carve those spaces for us to restore our soul, to restore our heart, to know that what we do matters, and matters greatly. That is our daily work, our daily surrender, our daily dedication that is going to continue to shape this nation in what it will become in the future.

It's not a silver bullet. I'm not giving you a quick answer telling you okay, yes, let's just go strike and get a better pay. That is not the solution. The solution is for us, each and every day, to carve spaces to restore ourselves in a way to become much more. I mean, you cannot give what you don't have. If you are depleted day and day out, because all you're doing is giving, you have nothing else to give.

Somewhere along the journey, we need to restore ourselves and replenish ourselves on a daily basis with the moments of joy that we know are just within our grab. Just yesterday, I was in a kindergarten classroom and just to see 24 beautiful little boys and girls chant and smile and laugh and talk and Google, it made my day. Nothing was greater than that yesterday, and so I think, as teachers, it is our responsibility to find those places. Of course, as a profession, it's continue to push the envelope in policy and compensation changes. But ultimately we need to also understand that the government, both of the state and the union and the federal government they need to take measures to control and to monitor the level of unexpected violence that is happening in schools with young, innocent children today.

0:33:25 - Kimberly King

You know what and you're just putting out all of these things that are happening. I love what you said is go back to being joy-filled and taking care of ourselves as well and just bringing back that innocence of what it means to be a child. Maybe just turn back the hands of time a little bit. It feels like just things have changed tremendously in the world that we're living today, so it is okay to be a little bit more innocent and enjoy being children and respecting that. I think you bring up a really good point. So interesting doctor, thank you for all of your knowledge and for the information you've shared and your passion for sure. If you want more information, you can visit National University's website at And again, thank you for your time.

0:34:15 - Dr. Clara Amador-Lankster

Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure, thank you, thank you.

0:34:21 - Kimberly King

You've been listening to the National University podcast. For updates on future or past guests, visit us at You can also follow us on social media. Thanks for listening.

Show Quotables

"COVID-19 just absolutely challenged all of our beliefs and all of our preparation in terms of how to better reach students. The level of isolation that came out as a result of COVID-19 was so unprecedented." - Clara Amador-Lankster, Click to Tweet
"The world of artificial intelligence is here... and is impacting our work as teachers, as educators. Every day, we find ourselves again non-equipped, non-prepared, non-trained to know how to better capitalize on the use of AI." - Clara Amador-Lankster, Click to Tweet