New program will certify language experts as teachers

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, September 6, 2012

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N o Child Left Behind requires that classroom teachers be certified.

This seems like a reasonable requirement, until one considers Native American tribes trying to impart their languages in the schools.

In that case, most of the experts — in some tribes, the only fluent language speakers still around — are not certified teachers.

To sidestep this barrier, the Arizona State Board of Education last week approved a policy to allow tribes to certify speakers of their own languages to teach in public and BIE-funded schools.

Although the Navajo Nation is fortunate to have many credentialed teachers in Navajo language and culture programs, the new policy is welcome news, said Navajo Superintendent of Schools Andrew M. Tah.

"We have lots of elders around who have a lot of knowledge," Tah said. "They could be an asset to the schools."

Unlike most of Arizona's 22 state- and federally-recognized tribes, Navajo can start implementing the new certification almost immediately because it already has a similar partnership with the state of New Mexico.

"New Mexico has been doing this, so we already have an assessment," Tah said.

Since Navajo was not traditionally a written language, the assessment is oral. In addition to Diné language and culture, there is also a character component.

Tah said the Department of Diné Education is also partnering with Diné College to administer the assessment, so people wanting to pursue the new Native Language Teacher Certificate could come to either DODE's office in Window Rock or Diné College in Tsaile.

A Native American advisory group worked with the state to develop the new policy, according to a press release from the Arizona Department of Education.

Tah said DODE had a big hand in it.

"We've been working with them on this for years," he said.

In the release, Arizona Superintendent of Schools John Huppenthal praises the new policy.

"I am pleased with the unwavering support of the State Board of Education in supporting this new policy," he is quoted as saying. "These Native American languages are in danger of becoming extinct. It is imperative that we work to support Native American communities in their efforts to preserve their languages through the generations."

The tribal government's assessment will not be the only requirement for the new certificate, however. Like other teachers in Arizona, the Native language teachers will have to pass a fingerprint clearance and pay an application fee, and the certificate must be renewed every year.

Kathy Kitcheyan, Apache language mentor teacher at San Carlos Unified School District, stated in the release that the new policy will help her tribe with its language preservation efforts.

"I'd like to thank the Superintendent and State Board for having the Native American Advisory Committee and for moving this forward. This was a long time coming," she said.

When it comes to educational sovereignty, however, Tah said the new credential is just one more step in a long process.

For one thing, the Navajo Nation still needs to get Utah on board.

"We're already working with the Utah Department of Education on something similar," the superintendent assured.

In Tah's opinion, the tribes should settle for nothing less than full accreditation authority for schools located on their reservations.

"We don't need an outside entity to come in and tell us how to teach our children," Tah said. "We should be the ones to do that."

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