As schools in Maine and across the nation flounder in their searches for world language teachers, the University of Maine at Farmington is rolling out a new major in hopes of pumping out educators to fill the gap.
Starting next fall, UMF plans to welcome its first class of world language education majors.
“Command of a foreign language is an essential skill for Maine students in a global economy,” UMF President Kathryn Foster said in a news release. “This exciting new program will prepare language teachers for service in elementary, middle, and high schools, at once educating Maine’s youth and addressing a critical shortage in K-12 language teachers.”
Maine schools have struggled in recent years to find and court qualified world language teachers. Some districts, especially in rural areas that might not have such an easy time convincing a qualified teacher to relocate, have had to turn to technology to fill the gap.
Madison Area Memorial High School in Somerset County drew widespread media attention last year after it decided to purchase Rosetta Stone — a language-teaching software — to teach its students. Schools in the Bingham, Dyer Brook and Lincoln areas also are relying on computer software.
Schools have been scrambling for answers because Maine high schools are required to ensure that each student is proficient in at least one language other than English before they can earn a diploma.
Rosetta Stone and similar programs have the added benefit of allowing districts to expand the languages open to their students beyond French and Spanish. In addition, each student can progress at their own pace, repeating lessons without holding up the class or pushing ahead if they’re catching on quickly.
But some administrators view computer programs as a less than ideal alternative to a human teacher.
“The use of computer software in the classroom can only go so far,” Katherine Yardley, associate provost and dean of UMF’s College of Education, said Wednesday. “Districts are eager to hire fully prepared and certified language teachers, recognizing the important role of the teacher in conveying passion for the content, developing relationships, differentiating curriculum, and supporting individual learners.”