Miriam Met, a trainer like Helena Curtain in the old days, a PhD in language whatever from Philadelphia and a very big deal in language teacher training over many years, came to Denver in 2006 to do a day long training for almost two hundred foreign language teachers in Jefferson County.
She was accompanied by a representative from Realides, since her presentation that day on foreign language methodology was about how to use that book.
What the fuck?
Does anyone see a problem with this? It was a training in best practices in language teaching. But since everyone was using the book back then, and due to “trainings” like this most probably still are, I guess it made sense to our district coordinator to invite Mimi. I didn’t appreciate it much, because I was in my fifth year of trying to learn how to do TPRS after 24 years of using the book, but I had to go because it was a required training.
Something happened. A teacher asked her, “What about TPRS?” and she said, “It’s just another tool in the toolbox.” The teacher asked a follow-up question: “Can you tell us about it?” And then Dale Crum and I, sitting in the first row, both of us saw her eyes flutter shut in confusion. We both saw it – that is how I know it happened. (Dale, along with Diana Noonan and Meredith Richmond and Blaine Ray and Susan Gross brought TPRS to Colorado.)
Mimi was stumped. She was a Realidades person. But she was in front of 200 teachers. Being a liar, she recovered with lightning speed. She asked if there were any teachers in the workshop doing TPRS. Dale and I and three others – out of 200 people – raised our hands. Mimi asked us to line up in front of the group and I was very nervous because I was still learning it – it actually took me 8 years to get TPRS, with the rules and all.
She asked us, “How do you define TPRS?” We all gave our definitions. I can’t remember what I said, but she then kind of dismissed us and moved on with her description of how to use Realidades.
As we left the training, I walked Miriam and the Realidades cartel representative, who all day was selling Realidades paraphernalia in the back of the hall at a big table looking very officially a part of Miriam’s presentation. I asked Miriam what she thought of TPRS. Again, she told me that she considered it “just another tool in a teacher’s toolbox”. And off she was chauffeured by the Realidades rep to the airport. I guess she was late for her plane, because I was brushed off her shoulder like a fly.
Those were the days when people thought that a textbook was needed to teach a foreign language. Indeed, in the current version of Realidades, every ten pages or so, there was a little box on a page that instructed teachers how to use the TPRS approach to teach the words presented in that chapter. No matter that the teachers weren’t trained in TPRS, as long as the new book contained the new buzz word TPRS, all seemed to be in order with the Realidades people.
What I consider to be really messed up was how the agenda for our Denver workshop (Jefferson County Public Schools) was labeled at the top “Cincinnati, Ohio”. It was a canned sales pitch for Realidades, essentially. Mimi just got on a plane, flew to the city, told people how to use the product, the rep was there to close the deal, and back home they flew. That’s what business men do. I remember sitting in there corner like a caged animal all day, bored out of my mind but unable to leave, and wasting a day of my life to that stuff, just sitting in that meeting all day.
Over the years I have referred many times to this incident. Mimi’s flip statement about TPRS as just another tool among many seemed very wrong to me. How can comprehensible input be a tool in a teacher’s toolbox? It is the support pillar of everything in language education and has been proven so. It felt intuitively wrong, what Mimi was saying. I revered Krahen’s research and to just blow it off like that was weird to me.
What she said stung me. It still does. All the searchable articles here mentioning Mimi and Helena Curtain, who has her own category here, are attempts to debunk their 1950’s era position on what is best for kids in language acquisition. I defend the right of all teachers to do what they think is best, but not at the expense of children.