Report from the Field – John Bracey

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56 thoughts on “Report from the Field – John Bracey”

  1. Congrats John! Man, you sound like you’ve been thru hell! I can’t imagine having to defend myself against admins and colleagues like you’ve been, and because kids want to be in your class!
    So I assume you took the job? Congrats!!

      1. Thanks, James! The school district where I applied is very significant in the world of Latin teaching. It is in the same town as and works closely with one of top Latin teacher training programs in the country. If this school was willing to go this gaga over a CI Latin teacher, then a significant change must be on the horizon. Your hard work is making a real difference, my friend 🙂

  2. Dude. Love it. Hey, how about that principal sending out messages that Latin is popular only because of the homework load. I can just hear Napolean Bonaparte’s voice on this one: “What an idiot!”

  3. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    There is a ‘just desserts’ aspect to your story…not that I’m into retribution, but instead of celebrating your successes, your admin skewered you for them…As Ben said, P.U. for them and congrats to you!

  4. Robert Harrell

    This is genuinely great news, John. Congratulations!
    On the plus side, you are out of a toxic situation. All of the other teachers in that school should realize how egregiously unprofessional the principal and department chair are; no one is safe there, and excellence will not be tolerated. (I am reminded of a passage from the “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” by CS Lewis in which Screwtape lauds the Lowerarchy’s success in perverting the ideas of “democracy” and”equality” into becoming a “vast, overall movement towards the discrediting, and eventually the elimination, of every kind of human excellence – moral, cultural, social, or intellectual.”)
    In addition, you are walking into a situation where you are being welcomed for who you are and how you teach. Excellent!
    On the negative side, your (former) students will not so easily leave the mire of their slough of despond, and that is unfortunate for them. Unfortunately, the principal and department chair will probably have little or no idea of what they have lost but will be happy to see life “return to normal” – by which I mean that students will once again be numbed into compliance with the system because they see no options and have no hope of something different. My hope is that, having once seen the Pure Land, both students and parents will become vocal about the weak gruel that is being offered them instead of meat that they can sink their teeth into.
    (Okay, enough metaphors for now)

  5. Jeffery Brickler

    As a fellow warrior in the Latin battle, I commend you! What a great story! I too have had my share of ill treatment and disrespect. For many of the reason that you have outlined, it at times makes me think that this profession is not meant for thinkers . It’s invigorating to hear of a story in which good work prevails.

    1. “at times makes me think that this profession is not meant for thinkers”
      My experiences have led me to feel the same way. It’s the most HYPOCRITICAL part of the education system, i.e. dedicated to developing critical thinking, but the teachers won’t engage in any with colleagues, let alone on their own. It’s all tied to fear and ignorance.
      I just went to a meeting in which teachers were invited to give feedback on the PARCC testing and after 20+ minutes of only hearing complaints about details of the content and format of the PARCC, I had to be the one to point out that we need to look at the bigger picture: high-stakes testing in general. What is the rationale for its existence? Is it valid and reliable? How does it affect learning outcomes? etc. The state has pulled a “bait and switch” on us – we got a year to experiment with the dreaded PARCC test and now everyone yearns for the standardized tests we had before, when the problem is the entire high-stakes system.

  6. This raises an interesting question. (Obviously, your old principal and defartment head are morons.) Did they not bother to look at the skills your kids had coming out? I mean, OK, kids enrolled in Latin, possibly even because there was less homework. How were the results? Did the Latin kids speak write etc better than the Chinese etc kids? Do they promote morons down there or what? Jeez.
    You made a good move. Any principal who undermines his teachers isn’t worth working for.

  7. One more thing and this is awesome:
    A woman who went to one of my workshops just interviewed for Spanish at a local school. Their defartment head, teaches only French, whom I have personally invited to three or four workshops, remains a staunch communicative grammarian, likely because in her rich white school the parents are super committed to making sure Johnny and Melinda (as opposed to Maninder and Azhar) grind all the way through French 12 (level 5). The defartment head has never come to a workshop and when on Twitter is all about the legacy practices.
    Because the defartment head can sit in on interviews, I told the candidate to “play the game”– mentional communicative experiential, ipads, assessment for learning, CEFR etc– because I didn’t want the candidate to run afoul of the defartment head. Get the job, THEN do TPRS.
    So she called me yesterday and… When I asked how the interview went, she said that the department head was there, and that at one point the principal said “so, you’ve mentioned a few aspects of work that are traditional. Can you give me any examples of nontraditional innovation you’ve pursued?”
    At this point knowing the defartment head was a traditionalist, she hesistated, and then basically said, “fuck it,” and launched into an explanation of why she wanted to implement TPRS. The principal was not only curious, but totally supportive, and hired her, and told her he’d pay for her to see Blaine Ray AND said he’d buy her a couple of sets of class novels.
    When she later talked to another teacher from her new school, that teacher said that their Spanish enrolment was dropping, and the principal was concerned, and it was at least partly because the defartment head has what is basically a fairly snooty attitude– French matters most; other languages like Spanish and Mandarin are for…the others– and had little interest in making Spanish run well. As a matter of fact, low Spanish enrolment *benefited* her because it “forced” more kids into French.
    So not all admins are idiots and this woman– who also has a drama background– is gonna be a major force. The grammarians are going to get a run for their money.

    1. Hey Chris I’m glad she landed the job and all but man can you imagine the department meetings? I had that going on at East High School and it was emotionally very trying, although nowhere near what Bracey has been through, I’m sure. Not to say that she shouldn’t take the job, the way jobs are these days, but you may need to tell her what to expect, if the experiences of many of us in the group here are anything to judge by.

      1. Ya we talked about it. She will lay low– i.e. do awesome teaching–then talk later. Btw in Canada the principals and dept heads have very little power. They can’t boot you like in the US. What happened to Bracey would have resulted in Canada in the principal’s dismissal for unprofessionalism.

  8. Congratulations, John! I can’t see you doing an interview any other way. You’re too honest and real for anything else. What a lucky new school and lucky new kids. Hope they appreciate every bit of you.

  9. This is wonderful news. The most destructive thing about being in the kind of environment that you tolerated for the past few years, is that you are in danger of starting to think that YOU are the crazy one, because crazy is “normal” there.
    Certainly this other job will have its challenges, but if they understand and appreciate the amazing work you do for kids as a Latin teacher, you at least know that your sense of what’s important and what’s real won’t be challenged on a daily basis.
    As for your former students, it is a shame that they will lose you, but it is not something for you to take on. Your colleagues have done this to them, by using them literally as pawns, trying to move them from one language to another in order to cover up their own incompetence. Perhaps you can invite them to stay in touch with you. Let them and their families know that you are there for them, as a human being just as you have always been, even if you won’t be their teacher.

  10. Way to go for broke, John. I look forward to reading a new kind of comment from Eastern Mass now.
    Do not take anything for granted, though. Keep up the hard work of educating your clientele so that they understand what a wonderful thing they will have going and why. But don’t sweat it, either. I am just so happy for you. I will have to say something to Jill.

  11. Oh John that is wonderful news!!! And, Belice me, I know exactly how You must be feeling right now… I am SÚPER SÚPER happy for You!

  12. Years ago I went to a workshop where Blaine described the hardships he suffered with competitive colleagues. I decided then and there to always say how I was going to teach. Unfortunately I live in a district that is anti-TPRS. The only CI accepting schools are charter schools that expect you to teach 9 levels and 432 students. Even they are insisting on using Realidades in 7th and 8th grade. It is frustrating as a parent and teacher. In a couple of years when my kids are up and out, I will be willing to commute but for now I just find part-time or long-term sub work as I can. John’s story is encouraging to me.

    1. I’d loooooove to have competitive colleagues. I’ll stack my results up against a grammarian’s ANYTIME.
      Yesterday I told my dept head about the twitter challenge (post results) and I said course goals (for end of course) are write 100 good words in 5 min and an 800-word story in 3 verb tenses in 40 min. She then told me other teachers felt intimidated by that…

      1. So Chris let me say this back to you so that I understand. Your department chair, whose job it is to coordinate efforts to lead to best gains by the WL students in your school, responds to your reasonable expectation that after one year a student can write an 800-word story in 3 verb tenses in 40 minutes, something you have achieved in your own students, with a statement about others in the department being “intimidated”. Is that right? Do I have that correct? Have they not tried to investigate what you are doing to lead to those results? I would be, if someone in my department were doing that. Is my reaction here off base? Perhaps you can clarify the culture of non-sharing that seems to exist in your department. How do you deal with it?

        1. Um.
          A) we have 100% professional autonomy in our classes (plus zero standardised tests) so nobody can “force” anyone else to do anything. Which allowed me to throw out Avancemos and do TPRS but which also allows the dinosaurs to dunder about.
          B) the French ppl have 65% attrition from level 1 to level 4 (e.g. next year they have 280 gr 8s (level 1), 110 French 11s (level 4) and 53 Fr 12s. Pretty bad, huh?
          BUT…the French 12 kids do the D.E.L.F. exam and score A2 (advanced beginner– level 2 out of 6) and the Fr 12 teacher is pleased with these results. When I pointed out to her last week that the attrition rate between level 1 and 3 was high (from 280 to 128) she said “that’s good cos a lot of those kids don’t want to be there because they don’t like French.”
          I’ve said this before: trad teaching enables the non-innovators to non-innovate. By teaching grammar, forced output (regurgi– err I mean, rehearsed– dialogues), doing little reading, etc, the kids who can’t learn that way drop out, so the ones that remain “succeed” with bad methods and the teachers don’t have to change.
          The bottom line: there is no pressure on them to change, they think they are doing fine. The shitty work their kids do even in gr12 – and I’ve seen it; their kids cannot speak extemporaneously and they simply cannot write quickly and fluidly – because they have never seen better seems OK to them. Another problem is parents: most are Punjabi and so don’t know much English so they don’t feel good advocating for their kids. The smart parents tell their kids “take Punjabi– we can help you with the reading/writing” so the pressure is off the French people.

          1. Thanks Chris. I love to read everything you write and I recommend that in our group here we explore each other’s blogs more, for those who aren’t already doing so. If you have a blog send me the address and I will try to put a list of each other’s links somewhere on this page, so to start with:
   – Chris Stolz
   – Mike Peto
   – Grant Boulanger
            I also got an especially nice laugh from this:
            …traditional teaching enables the non-innovators to non-innovate….

          2. And here is an oft-neglected insight in our profession that needs much more attention in our discussions about best practices in language teaching:
            …by teaching grammar, forced output (regurgi– err I mean, rehearsed– dialogues), doing little reading, etc, the kids who can’t learn that way drop out, so the ones that remain “succeed” with bad methods and the teachers don’t have to change….

        2. There *is* a culture of sharing in the dept but the trad ppl share trad stuff with each other. 4 of the 5 French teachers have said “I don’t like TPRS and I’m not going to do it” and the 5th, Leanda Monro, is getting amazing results with Atprs with her 2 blocks of 3s (she also teaches social justice 12, weightlifting, humanities so she only gets 2 blocks of French, she is like Eric Herman)

          1. Interesting stuff, Chris. I wonder if that heavyweight, Leanda Monro, chooses to do TPRS because it requires significantly less planning, being that she seems swamped in responsibilities. Less is more in many ways with us!

  13. I am an avid reader of Ask-a-Manager, a workplace blog that has been astonishingly helpful when it comes to dealing with sticky situations at work. Her constant advice is to screen potential employers the same way they are screening you. It sounds like that is exactly what you did here! Congratulations on getting to work somewhere they will appreciate your talents!

  14. Dear John,
    YIPPEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is fantastic news. I am so happy that followed your instincts, that your brilliance is being recognized, and that you felt strong enough to take a chance!
    with love,

  15. John – what an uplifting story. You insist on being in a place where you can be your true self – so crucial.
    What is it about our educational system that sets us up – our department colleagues – as competitors instead of cooperative collaborators? As I’ve said before, I think fear is a big part of it. The Chair who said you were intimidating is afraid of dissent, non-conformity, and my personal favorite, the ‘lack of a consistent experience’ from class to class, school to school. It takes courage and wisdom to embrace diverse opinions, philosophies, styles, personalities….My favorite admins – and I’ve been lucky enough to have had some excellent ones!! – were those that embraced such diversity, understanding that the discussions were healthy, educational, productive, and community building.
    Hopefully you’ve left that old model in the dust!

  16. No one has yet mentioned the poise with which John has responded to this. He has encountered this extreme resistance for a long time now, all within his building and it is always the most intense for us in the building and yet not once have I heard him complain. He seems to have been able to rise about their negativity and do his thing anyway in faith and courage. A model for us all.

  17. Wow! Thanks for all of the kind words and positive responses. Here is an update on the situation…
    After I received the job offer, a miniature bidding war started between the new school and my current one. My principal, department head and assistant superintendant practically begged me to stay. I was also given advanced notice of some “changes” that will be occurring. The new school offered to increase my starting salary and a few other things.
    My department head, who has been surprisingly supportive of my CI practices, said that I was one the best teachers in the district and that he now wants me to start teaching CI techniques to my colleagues during meetings.
    Also despite the crazed efforts of a group of parents to blame the lack of enrollment in their language of choice on me, my enrollment numbers are still through the roof. It turns out that this group was essentially told to “back off” by my assistant superintendant.
    This information, plus the “changes”, job security and this new dynamic have convinced me to stay put for the time being.
    Lessons Learned:
    1. One year of poorly executed CI has made my teaching standout in an insanely competitive field of applicants.
    2. CI teachers are in demand! The only people who don’t want CI teachers are insecure grammar grinders, 4%ers and sometimes their parents. Everyone else is rightfully impressed by what we do.
    3. The term “Comprehensible Input” does not seem to raise the filters like “TPRS” does. “Comprehensible Input” sounds like “I go to the gym”, whereas “TPRS” sounds like “I do Cross Fit”.
    4. When I pretend to be Laurie Clarcq in my conversations with administrators, the meetings go ONE MILLIONS TIMES BETTER!
    5. I can’t believe that this blog only costs $5 a month!

    1. Michael Coxon

      Wow! Great story. I hope that they continue to support you and don’t turn on you when you take risks in the classroom.
      I hope your story encourages other to shop around for new positions. We seem to be valued and appreciated when our advosaries are put in the position to lose us.

    2. That is really outstanding news, John. I think that now that your school knows you looked and got an offer elsewhere, they may act better towards you.
      If your Chinese colleague becomes open/curious, please consider putting her in touch with me. I have a few things I could point Chinese teachers to as a first step towards CI.

  18. Yeah I agree that the term TPRS has had its day. It’s a lightning rod, primarily because most of the people who claim to do it don’t know the first thing about it. The fact is, however, that Blaine’s design of the Three Steps of TPRS is in fact the template on which everything we do is modeled. CI works only when we, in order, establish meaning and get reps on something (PQA), create something like a story and then read it. That’s the winning formula and we absolutely must embrace Blaine and honor his vision on that point, even if the term TPRS fades out now in favor of CI. CI may sound like going to the gym compared to CrossFit, it is true, but let us be aware that it is no easier. We can’t fake it. It requires hard work and proper training lest it turn into the next TPRS. That’s why we all should go to a conference this summer.

  19. Michael Coxon

    I use both terms…for some reason I find it part of a noble cause to better the reputation of what it means to teach with TPRS. Some times I feel like TCI feels like I am abandoning a set of principles that are the foundation of using CI.
    I completely agree that many don’t have a good grasp on what TPRS is all about…even ones that claim to be TPRS teachers.
    I agree that TPRS in some circles is an inflammatory term where TCI is not..

      1. No typo, Michael. Inflammatory is that which inflames. The “in-” happens to coincide with the “in-” for negation, as in anti-TPRS types are intractable.
        I wonder. Is TPRS inflammatory are some people just prone to spontaneous combustion?

  20. I haven’t used the term TPRS in my school in a few years — I only use “comprehensible input” because that is what ACTFL recommends we use 90% of the time 😉
    BUT… new colleague just said today (not in a derogatory manner, just matter of factly) that I use TPR. I simply said, “oh gosh! I don’t!!! that’s my problem! I keep forgetting to use “TPR”, I need to start incorporating that into my lessons – at least in the beginning of the year, or when I introduce new verbs!” and he’s only been in our school for 2 years.
    So, once you start using TPRS, the term sticks with you!!! 🙁

    1. Have you noticed, MB, how we use it less and less here, however? Diana Noonan is the Original Crusader on that point. The politics are forgotten, but the term is done. It has hurt too many teachers, and through no one’s fault. Blaine and Krashen have taken so much unnecessary heat over the years, way too much. I do wonder what price Julie has had to pay for using the term in her building. It’s like we brand ourselves. We don’t need to do that.

  21. Yes, Ben….I haven’t used it since I went to my first TPRS workshop in June 2011 and came back and said that I learned (acquired) so much French!!!! I branded myself right then and there!
    But, that’s OK….it’s all over now. I will not say anymore here on the list about WHY it’s all over until you post my “Report from the Field” hahaha 😉

  22. The three steps of TPRS:
    1. Establish meaning (comprehensibility)
    2. Do something spoken with the language (Input)
    3. Do something written with the language (More input)
    Stay in bounds (more comprehensibility)
    First, start in bounds by establishing meaning and then, stay in bounds with additional input.
    Comprehensible (establish meaning and stay in bounds)
    Input (Speak and Read)

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