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Is it discrimination to evaluate teachers on pronunciation?

By John Vettese, Student Voices staff writer

Everybody has an accent. It’s a product of where you grow up. It’s part of who you are. It identifies you as someone with roots in a certain part of the country – or the world.

Somebody from Boston might pronounce words differently from someone from Atlanta, who probably speaks nothing like someone from Sioux Falls, S.D.

But beyond regional dialects, fundamental rules exist for the English language - think about the pronunciation and grammar guides you see in dictionaries. The country might pride itself on being a melting pot, but some believe those rules are how the language is supposed to be spoken, and taught. When Arizona passed its sweeping immigration reform law last year, it tried to enforce this, cracking down on public school teachers with heavy accents. This prompted a backlash from the education community and threats of a civil rights lawsuit. The Arizona Department of Education recently agreed to halt its scrutiny of teacher accents at the state level, passing the task of monitoring teacher fluency on to the school districts.

Out of the 60 school districts per year monitored by the state, between five and 10 had issues with fluency of pronunciation, according to a report in the Arizona Republic. These issues included teachers:
  • Asking English as a Second Language (ESL) students, “How do we call it in English?”
  • Pronouncing “levels” as “lebels.”
  • Pronouncing “much” as “mush.”
  • Swallowing the ending sounds of words.
  • Pronouncing “the” as “da.”
  • Pronouncing “lives here” as “leeves here.”
The state says it never suggested that a teacher be fired for mispronouncing words. Most were simply referred to classes to improve their own English skills. In a few cases, teachers were transferred out of ESL classes and into regular classes. Because of this, an anonymous civil rights complaint was filed in May 2010 with the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education. Last November, the federal office told Arizona officials that the teacher fluency law ran the risk of discriminating against Hispanic teachers and other non-native speakers, thus violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The state agreed to remove the pronunciation fluency requirement, but Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal told the Republic that his office “will continue to instruct state monitors to talk to districts about individual teachers whose English pronunciation or grammar is flawed.”

In other words, the state will still monitor teachers for pronunciation. It will take note if state monitors believe teachers’ pronunciation is flawed and inform school district officials. But the responsibility of correcting it no longer falls on the state, but the districts.

Huppenthal told the Republic, “We still are going to be conscious of these articulation issues. Students should be in a class where teachers can articulate.”

When the Wall Street Journal reported on the law in 2010, it found mixed reactions among parents and educators. One parent said, “It doesn’t matter to me what the accent is; what matters is if my children are learning.” Kent Scribner, superintendent of the Phoenix Union High School District, said, “Student achievement and growth should inform teacher evaluations, not their accents.”

But Adela Santa Cruz, director of the Arizona Department of Education, said, “It becomes an issue when pronunciation affects comprehensibility.” And Johanna Haver, an adviser to Arizona schools, said, “Teachers should speak good grammar because kids pick up what they hear.”

What do you think?

Is it discrimination to grade teachers on pronunciation? Did Arizona’s law violate the civil rights of teachers? If so, did the state’s change in policy correct the situation? Can a teacher with an accent effectively instruct students? Does an accent affect students’ ability to comprehend material? Do teachers in your school have accents? What if your state passed a law similar to Arizona’s? Join the discussion!
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Comments
5/11/2012
Porterville, Ca
John
Smith/Monache
Teachers shouldn't have to change their pronunciation if they want to get a job teaching English. Making teachers do so is completely in violation of their first amendment right to say what they want to say. This also includes how they say it. If it may seem to you that improper pronunciation is detrimental to a learning environment, consider this: why have no students ever complained about mispronunciation?

11/9/2011
Benson/AZ
Mikala L.
Sorensen/Benson High School
It is most definitely discrimination to crack down on pronunciation problems based on accents. This does violate the civil rights of teachers in Arizona. However, schools are created in order to properly teach students material and how to present themselves in the business world. Accents, can inhibit this if the correct pronunciation is neglected. Most teachers can make the distinction while keeping their accent, but such as those with southern accents, it is customary to pronounce words incorrectly. This is a problem because Arizona is trying to already get past language barriers between English and Spanish. A lot of its citizens speak Spanish primarily and English second. If these teachers are trying to make sure the English language is being taught appropriately and correctly, they have to be able to understand it. That is all based on enunciation. Most teachers are able to enunciate properly. I do have teachers in my school with accents. I have friends with accents. I live in Arizona and I know how tricky this can be. Our former Spanish teacher had such a thick accent that us English-speaking students couldn't understand her in English or Spanish. The law is only trying to help students learn English properly, and as our primary language, all Americans should be able to pronounce and enunciate English words properly.

11/1/2011
watertown/ ma
hugo
mr.rimas/watertown high school
no. teachers pronounce words the way they think is correct in order to teach students.

10/19/2011
Sidney, Montana
Tori
Mr. Faulhaber/ Sidney High School
Firing a teacher because they speak with an accent is not right. Teachers with accents benefit students, because they cause the student to listen carefully. Not everyone is going to talk the same, so it shouldn't be a big deal if they talk with an accent or not.

10/19/2011
Sidney, Montana
Jaycee
Mr. Faulhaber
I believe that it is discrimination to evaluate teachers on pronunciation. It shouldn't matter if they say a word differently. We grow up with a diverse group of people anyways. If they school board has a problem with they way the speak then they shouldn't have hired them in the first place. Having a teacher with an accent will only make the students they are teaching have to listen better. It may even get the students to pay attention more to what is being said. Teachers shouldn't get discriminated on how they talk. If they are teaching the students and the students are comprehending the subject, then there probably isn't a problem with they way the talk.

10/19/2011
mt
kodi
fontana
I think firing a teacher for mispronouncing words or having poor pronunciation is completely mental. If anything, having teacher with these "problems" would benefit students in their abilities to communicate. It would make students have to actually listen carefully to understand the points the teacher was trying to get across instead of being lulled to sleep by the same mumbo jumbo every day. In our everyday lives, we communicate to different people 24/7 and not all of them are going to speak the same we do have learned to, so we might as well get used to it and learn to deal with it.

10/7/2011
Sidney, Montana
Sami
Fontana
The world has diversity, people wanted to grow into one. If you discriminate for being different then why do people let families from outside of US come? They want to change their lifes right, they want the freedom we do? Why do we have to question them? Even people from the North going to the South and vis versa, sure if you get to know someone close enough, you can joke around about your accent, but you dont have to discriminate.

10/7/2011
Sidney, MT
Ashley
Mr. Faulhaber
I belive that firing a teacher because of their pronunciation or accent is discimination. Everyone talks different. If you were in the same place that you grew up and were teaching there they would not think that you had a pronunciation problem or an accent. The only time this becomes a problem is when you go to another part of the country.

9/29/2011
Irving
Juan
Ms. Bradley/Nimitz
I think it is discriminating to hire or fire people based on their pronunciation. Many of those people have been through alot just to get to where they are today.And if they just get fired only because of their accent, it would be wrong. Is like someone being fired because of their race or beliefs. Everyone should have equal rights regardless of race.

9/26/2011
Irving, TX
Ali
Bradley/Nimitz
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against anyone in the workplace in regard to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It is not discrimination to ask a teacher to improve his/her pronunciation skills or grammar; the motivation to speak English well should come with the job. Teachers are expected to teach and sometimes heavy accents or a deficiency in grammar can get in the way. Also, teachers are role models children and teenagers are exposed to every day. The correct use of the English language is already bad enough in today's society (I hear it every day from students and teachers)— if a teacher often makes grammar mistakes in front of a full class, it is likely that some bad habits will wear off. This law says nothing about firing teachers for this problem, but only to “monitor” it, and there is nothing wrong or unlawful about that.

9/23/2011
Phoenixville/Pennsylvania
William
Ms. Lynch/Renaissance Academy
I believe that judging a teacher for how they speak is just plain rude since they can't help it. It seems even more cruel to me at some teachers will judge their coworkers just on how they speak and refer them to the school government for how they speak with their accents possibly confusing other people. In my opinion, they shouldn't judge this because that just shows them how unique they are and they can still be understood for the most part by their peers and students.

9/23/2011
Phoenixville/Pennsylvania
William
Ms. Lynch/Renaissance Academy
I believe that judging a teacher for how they speak is just plain rude since they can't help it. It seems even more cruel to me at some teachers will judge their coworkers just on how they speak and refer them to the school government for how they speak with their accents possibly confusing other people. In my opinion, they shouldn't judge this because that just shows them how unique they are and they can still be understood for the most part by their peers and students.

9/21/2011
Irving/TX
Nam
Ms.Bradley/Nimitz
I believe that accents teachers use have no effect on the instructing of students. I myself, growing up in a very diverse community, had many teachers of different ethnicity and culture. Some of my most beloved teachers had very heavy accents, but never once had it affected my accent. I do however, believe that the passing of Arizona's law does violate civil laws. Quoted from philosopher John Locke “Individuals are born with natural rights such as Life, Liberty, and Estate.” Life meaning that a person has the right to conduct their own lives which include speaking the way they what to speak.

9/20/2011
Irving/TX
Sara
Bradley/Nimitz
I don't believe the teachers should be fired or get demoted from a job, because of there accent. It's not their fault it was just something that they were born with, and grew up that way. I partially blame the people that hire them for that position. If you want an English teacher get someone who knows how to speak proper English, and the right way. Don't get somebody with a heavy accent who can't pronounce all the words. That would defeat the purpose. So I do blame the employers for not being smart about giving the right people the job positions.

9/20/2011
Irving/ TX
Jesse
Bradley/ Nimitz
I think its wrong for Arizona to keep trying to discriminate against Hispanics. Because, native Spanish speaking teachers is who they are trying to target with this new law. Like the intro of this topic said people from different places have different accents so, the law should pertain to them also. But, the main people in Arizona are targeting Hispanics, I personally think that it is wrong. Anybody has the right to teach if they have the ability to do so.

9/20/2011
Irving / Texas
Jacob H
Bradley / Nimitz
This Issue could go both ways. If a teacher is educating 12th grade students on how to do Calculus, then fluency is not as important as the teacher of a 1st grade class, seeing as how they must teach the students proper grammer and speech. If a teacher is not clear and understandable then it is very hard for young minds to comprehend what is being taught. Subjects such as Math and Science are more hands-on and easily taken in than english or social studies. Maybe there should be a higher expectation of fluency in the English language in such subjects. I think this should be handled by the school districts on a case-by-case basis.

9/20/2011
Irving, TX
Cynthia Gonzalez
Bradley/Nimitz
I believe that you could look at this situation from different point of views. I do not think that elementary schools should have teacher with accents, because students still do not know how to pronounce somethings and they are still in the stage of learning. Once the child is passed the learning stage or in middle school I don't see the big deal. If someone goes through all the hard work to get their teaching degree, I think that it should not matter if they have an accent or not; they went to the same school and teachings that someone without an accent went through. I do understand that sometimes it is difficult to comprehend what someone is saying, but I don't think that it ruins their ability to instruct during class. I have had substitute teacher that have had accents, in which at times I did not understand them, but I still am able to get my work done and know exactly what they are talking about. It is not fair if the state starts firing teachers just because of their accents, the way they talk has nothing to do with their knowledge or their ability to instruct students on a day to day.

9/19/2011
Irving, TX
Jose
Bradley/Nimitz
Every human thinks differently, acts differently, and talks differently. So how is it correct to test people over their pronunciations? Understanding that the United States is know for its variety in ethnicity, people are supposed to have different pronunciations. Its more like a social mater that shouldn't be dealt with by limitations or rules. It can also be understood to be discriminating to all of the foreigners which can provoke a whole different story. To grade teachers is going to far and I don't think it makes a different how they speak if they can teach well. In the students view, their comprehension abilities can still be developed. I have experienced teachers with accents and its not that bad. What Arizona did is just a follow through with their attacks against others and shouldn't be followed. Guidelines should be targeted towards curriculum maters.

9/19/2011
Irving/Texas
Carmen
Bradley/Nimitz
Discrimination is when you judge someone. In this case, people who talk differently than the people doing the judgment are “weird”, are unable to teach? Well, the saying “ You say TOE-MATE-O I say TUH-MOT-O” apply here. A part of the American experience is when people come to our country and see and hear all the mixed culture. Language is apart of that. As long as people are teaching in English, to where people can understand it shouldn't matter what kind of accent they have. I take offense when people look at me odd when they hear my Texan accent. If I decide to go teach up north, are they going to say that since I'm from the south, I can not teach there, even if I have all the right accomplishments? To me that is discrimination. As long as the teacher is teaching the right things and they are doing it well, it shouldn't matter.

9/19/2011
Irving, TX
Joel S
Bradley/Nimitz
It is important for teachers to pronounce words correctly, as their jobs are to instruct students properly. As the current default language in the United States is English, citizens employed by the government to instruct the next generation of citizens must have an accurate level of skill in the language. Any teacher with an accent or mispronunciation that hinders the proper instruction should not be fired however, but remedial classes and help is imperative. It isn’t discrimination to define certain requirements for teaching. The State of Arizona, as well as any other state, has the right to set guidelines for teachers to follow, and I feel that speaking English properly needs to be one of them.

9/18/2011
Irving/Tx
Vanessa B.
Bradley/Nimitz
Teachers should pronounce words correctly. However, everybody makes mistakes. Nobody is perfect. Some words are extremely hard to pronounce so when a teacher doesn't say it right you feel okay. If a teacher can not pronounce a lot of words that include their class they are teaching then it does become a problem. So this could be looked at in multiple views.

9/18/2011
Irving/Texas
Jennifer N.
Bradley/Nimitz
America is called a melting pot for a reason. We are such a diverse group of people and that's what makes America so unique. We have so many cultures and traditions right here in one country. To somewhat distinguish the different cultures are our accents, it makes everyone who he or she is. It's like a badge of honor and it should not be something that's looked down upon. It is discriminating to grade teachers based on pronunciation. Some of the college professors have heavy accents and are very well known for being good at what they do—teaching. Although there might be a problem where elementary school kids are concerned. They are at a young age and their minds are like sponges, readily soaking up information from their surroundings. Teachers having heavy, hard to understand, accents could have an effect on the children in the future with spelling and pronunciation. As children grow older and more used to the way people speak it should be okay for teachers with accents to teach. Teenagers can adapt more easily and could probably understand the teachers. If need be, have teachers take classes to improve on better pronunciation.

9/18/2011
Irving/Texas
Angelica R.
Bradley/Nimitz
Teachers being fired for not pronouncing words correctly is absurd. How could you deprive a teacher from teaching just because of his or her accent. It is not their fault that they do not pronounce certain words as those in Arizona. We should be appreciative of our teachers because they actually want to educate students. I would hate to be told that I could not persue my dream job any longer just because of my mispronouncing of words. I don't think laws like that should be made, it is unfair and unlawful.

9/18/2011
Irving/TX
Tahira A.
Bradley/Nimitz
I personally believe that is morally wrong to discriminate a teacher based on their pronunciation. A school would not discriminate against a student that has an accent, why should it be any different for a teacher? They should have the same respect and privileges as the students. Just because a person has an accent does not mean that they are incapable of teaching. As a student, I am well aware of what a word is even if the pronunciation is different from mine. People from different parts of the US have different accents. For example, a person from New York will have a different accent from someone that's from Texas, even though they're from the same country. Therefore, it is definitely a discriminatory behavior to say that an immigrant from another country can not be an educator at certain schools based on there accent. Would the schools of Arizona discriminate towards someone with a New York accent? No! So why is it allowed to discriminate against someone with an accent from somewhere else? It shouldn't! An accent is a part of a persons identity. You can identify where a person originated from with their accent. It's a part of who they are, their roots. Why ask them to change that? Why take that from them? America is a country of freedom, a country where people come for a better life; we are not a country where you are looked down upon because you do not speak a certain way. Schools conduct interviews with teachers prior to hiring them, if the accent was too strong then I'm sure it would have been impossible for the teacher to have gotten through the interview and get the job. If the people that hire teachers didn't believe the students would not understand what their teacher is saying, they wouldn't have hired those people in the first place. It's like someone telling you that you should change your whole entire life just because they don't like it. I strongly believe that teachers should not be fired for having an accent, it's something that makes you, “you".

9/18/2011
Irving/TX
Derek
Bradley/NImitz
Just like firefighters must be physically able to perform their duty, teachers must also be capable of teaching their students. If a teacher of ESL students does not have a firm grasp on English pronunciation and grammar, then the students are the ones who are hurt, not the Arizona teachers who may be sent to pronunciation courses or transferred to different non-ESL classes. Call it discrimination if you want, but if a teacher's accent prevents them from effectively teaching students, then it is the school district's responsibility to remedy the situation. I do not mean to say that every teacher with pronunciation problems should be dealt with; if the students can understand the teacher(as in non-ESL classes), then there is no problem. I do not believe the teacher's civil rights are being violated; teaching ability is being scrutinized, not race.

9/16/2011
Irving/TX
Luz V.
Bradley/Nimitz
The United States prides itself on having citizens from all over the globe, we are all taught since elementary school to accept and celebrate the difference of others: their appearance, country of origin, culture, religion, and language. The discrimination against teachers with certain accents is not only a blow to their individual characters, it is an act against what this country stands for. Correct grammar should be a priority in schools, but the accent of the teacher teaching shouldn't matter unless it's so strong that the students genuinely can't understand what is being said. Unless the accent of the teacher prevents learning from occurring it really shouldn't be anyone's concern, if having an accent prevented a person from teaching it would lead to the termination of a vast amount of teaching careers and ultimately a fall in the quality of affected schools.

9/16/2011
Irving/Texas
Michael P.
Bradley/Nimitz
Teachers pronouncing words correctly is important in a class setting. Miss pronouncing a word can confuse a student in his or her early learning career. But in my opinion, from a student perspective, spelling and meaning of a word is more important than the pronunciation. On the other hand, correctly pronouncing words becomes important as you become older and become apart of the adult society. So my views on firing teachers for miss pronouncing words is this; teachers should not be fired for mispronouncing words, but should be tested before getting a job as an elementary school teacher and middle school teacher. As you get into high school I believe it would be much easier to recognize how words are supposed to be pronounced if they are spoken correctly in elementary and middle school. Thus, the skills are more applied than taught in a high school setting. However on the flip side to this, I believe in certain classes in high school such as speech, debate, or even an SAT class, teachers should be tested to ensure proper speech and understand of words unknown.

9/16/2011
Irving/Texas
Joan
Bradley/Nimitz
It is definitely a discrimination to grade teachers based on their pronunciation skills. America is a place with diverse cultures and backgrounds. People migrate to America to live better lives, not to be discriminated against because of their accents. I applaud the Arizona state's decision in changing the policy, but at the same time I think it is wrong to have the policy continued in districts. The requirement for teachers to speak grammatically correct should be erased completely. Teachers should be privately instructed to speak with better pronunciations whenever there are complaints against them from their students. Professors with strong accents can teach effectively as long as the students' learning opportunities are not prevented. If the opportunities are prevented, then, again, these teachers should be advocated to work on bettering their speaking skills. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed in order to protect people of different races and sexes from being discriminated against. Those states who are considering about passing this strict pronunciation policy should carefully read and fully understand the Civil Rights Act before putting it into effect. If America is said to be a free country with many different races with different people from different places all over the world, it will be not true any longer once the policy of having teachers be monitored on whether or not their pronunciation is fluent or not. I came to this conclusion because once everyone sounds the same, no one will know who they really are, and where and which background they came from. Accents make America beautiful.

9/16/2011
Irving,Tx
Rosa L
Bradley/Nimitz
No one should be called out for speaking a little differently it is a part of who they are. It takes a long time to get rid of an accent and by doing that it is like trying to forget your origins. I think that the superintendent should be worried about students learning than the accent of the teacher. Having an accent will not harm the student on the contrary it will help the student understand people with accents in the future. People with a “perfect” English would have trouble understanding someone that may not have the best English. I have an accent and I'm very proud of my accent because it makes me stand out from the rest.

9/16/2011
Irving, TX
Sherin
Bradley/Nimitz
Different people have different accents. Variety of accents tells you about the background of a person. A person from the East may speak with an accent which is different from those in the West. Every person may speak differently, but this does not mean that they should be looked upon by those who think they speak the right accent. It is insulting when you look down on the person who speaks differently. It is also very impolite to judge a teacher based on his or her fluency to speak. In a school, students must be able to understand their teachers. In this case, the pronunciation of the words doesn't matter. But if the teacher is not able to get the right message across to the students, then the officials should look into the matter. But no school is allowed to dismiss teachers on the grounds of pronunciation. No one person, no one community is perfect in any sense. Everyone should realize that no one language or accent is superior than others. We all have to learn to respect everyone despite their pronunciation and heavy accents.

9/15/2011
Irving/TX
Jerin
Nimitz/Bradly
A person who has an accent prides himself in it. A person with an accent was born with it and has used it all his life. Telling someone that his or her accent is not good enough or not right is a pure insult to them. What the state of Arizona has done is completely false and unacceptable. It no doubt has violated the civil rights of the teachers who taught in their schools. No one has the right to judge a person on the basis of his or her accent saying that it is heavy or unsuitable for teaching and that students will often learn the wrong way of speaking. The state of Arizona said that they did not fire any teachers because of their accent but who knows when they will change their minds? No one's accent is perfect. Every accent has its advantages and its disadvantages. This means that everyone should accept the fact that their accent is not superior to anyone's and learn to respect them.

9/15/2011
Irving/Tx
India B.
Bradley/Nimitz
An accent is an expression of who you are, and by telling someone, “No your accent is wrong.”, Arizona is discriminating against nonnative English speakers and people from different parts of the country. I agree that grammar is important; and pronunciation is too, if it prevents the students from understanding. But in both cases it's a private matter that should be treated as such. There is absolutely no reason so fire or humiliate teachers because they didn't grow up in Arizona or learn English first. If someone is in a position to correct a teacher on their grammar or pronunciation and thinks it necessary, it should be in a private meeting with the official and the teacher, not brought to the attention of the entire school, the entire district, and the entire state. Teachers put so much time and much of their own money into helping their students and they deserve respect; they shouldn't have their rights infringed upon just because someone is trying to take an underhanded hit at the Hispanic population and is smacking everyone else around in the process. By telling school districts to persecute teachers with accents, they're teaching the children to be intolerant of other languages and cultures. This kind of single minded behavior is what's given Americans the reputation of being arrogant and self centered and is definitely in violation of the Civil Rights Act.

9/14/2011
Beeville, Texas
Megan
AC JONES
I think it is discriminating towards teachers because people came here for a better life, and if they are good educators they should be able to teach. It might be a little difficult to understand them at times, but they should have every opportunity to be an educator, no matter what kind of accent they have.

9/14/2011
Beeville, Tx
Drizzy "Drake" Rogers
AC Jones
I have a math teacher from the middle east, sometimes its hard to understand what he is saying but when he shows us how to do the work its the exact same way a teacher from the US would show us.

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