Wilson College is the first college in Pennsylvania to offer post-baccalaureate teaching certification in American Sign Language (ASL). This teaching certification, awarded through the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), is accepted in most states.
ASL is growing in popularity with students across the country. According to a recent survey by the Modern Language Association, ASL almost pipped German to be ranked the fourth most popular language taken by college students. And increasingly, ASL is being offered in high, middle, and even elementary schools as a "foreign language" equivalent.
"ASL is the fourth most used language in the world," Theresa Whitbread, one of Wilson's first ASL certification students, said. "It makes sense that it should be offered as a foreign language option. Not to mention, there's always a chance you could lose your hearing as you age. Why not start early to allow yourself a life filled with communication?"
However, there are not enough qualified teachers to meet the demand. When the Bethlehem School District decided to offer ASL to high schoolers, they recruited ASL interpreters to teach. Whitbread and two other experienced ASL interpreters jumped at the chance to teach students the language. Unfortunately, they could not earn the professional certification required by the state because there was no program in place to certify teachers in ASL. That's when PDE approached Wilson and asked us to develop a path to ASL certification.
Beth Byers, Wilson's director of teacher certification pathways, said the department chose us because we have a long track record of providing qualified individuals with the instruction they need to become certified teachers. Our Foreign Language Intern Pathway (FLIP) is primarily online, and students complete their certification while teaching.
PDE and the College worked out the requirements, and Wilson has accepted its first four students. "The program offers insightful classes that educate us while also allowing me to have the ability to work full time and take care of my children," Whitbread said. "The asynchronous online approach is not just me and my computer. My professors are always willing to communicate with me, and they set the classes up in a way that makes learning enjoyable."
Whitbread teaches students from 9th grade through 12th grade. She said they choose the class for a variety of reasons, "from they took other languages and wanted to try something different to they think this will be easier than other languages." In her experience, the one common misconception is "that ASL is just a signed version of English. Once students start to learn true ASL, they realize that, just like any other language, there are rules and grammar that must be followed. It takes some getting used to when switching from learning a spoken language to a visual language, but when the students take the time to learn about the language and culture, they end up really enjoying their educational opportunity."
FLIP is for teachers who already have a bachelor's degree and wish to become certified in the subject they are teaching. Some colleges offer ASL certification as part of their undergraduate degrees. However, Wilson College is the only institution in Pennsylvania to offer this certification for those who already have a bachelor's degree in another subject. To qualify, a student has to be currently employed by a school (schools can hire teachers without certification if they agree to pursue certification within a given amount of time). Prospective students must also pass the ASL Proficiency Interview run by Gallaudet University and pass the state's general competency tests. School districts often reimburse the costs of certification for their teachers. To learn more about teacher certification at Wilson, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.wilson.edu/teacher-certification.
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