By God I Will

It’s just so very sad. We attend conferences, take vacation time to work on our craft, work late into the night, and here we are on the eve of our biggest week, the week we all finally get to meet together and talk about our what we are doing in our classrooms under the flag of our national parent organization. ACTFL week.
But we don’t look forward to it. It is largely driven by:
– people in the form of corporations who come looking not to discuss what is best for the millions and millions of innocent kids under our care, but to chase dollars;
– people who come to buy omputer shit so that they don’t have to work too hard, as if that largely ineffective medium of teaching languages would help them or the kids;
– people who, if they saw someone daring to raise a  TPRS flag in support of Krashen’s misunderstood, largely unrecognized, but seminal, work, would respond with a strikingly ignorant kind of negativity;
– people who go to present to get it on their resume, so their bosses will like them and approve of them and so they can like themselves better and be admired by their colleagues, but whose actual presentations don’t really amount to jack shit.
Everybody at the Penn State/Nebraska game, tens of thousands, wore blue in support of the child victims of the dark predator soul at the heart of their crisis. But many of those fans, teachers themselves, will go back into their classrooms on Monday convinced that they are doing right by those kids, and that their work is totally pro-kid, when it is not.
Everbody can learn a language. But not the way 99.9% of teachers present them. And these are the professionals, the supposed experts in their fields, who are saying no it is not true, many kids aren’t cut out for languages.
The varied forms of child abuse in our country, from being no longer needed by MacDonald’s at the age of 18, because there is a 16 year old with a bigger smile,  to the victims of physical abuse*, to the kind of abuse heaped on kids because they can’t conjugate a verb, make me pray from my heart that more teachers will stop making kids feel stupid in language classrooms. (*no intent is made here to equate physical abuse with the other things I mention in this paragraph – I’m just trying to make a point.)
In this are of language education I can have an effect and by God I will.



10 thoughts on “By God I Will”

  1. Ben,
    Thank you for your post about ACTFL. Nearly all of the fulltimers at the community college where I teach go to ACTFL every year. They get paid for everything, have the week off and get to party and socialize with their other colleagues. Most of them do some sort of presentation about culture that I always say is so tangential to what should be the main job of foreign language teachers, which is to bring students to language proficiency. I have been to the national ACTFL conference twice. I always tell everybody at the community college that I learned more about teaching a foreign language in my 2 day TPRS workshop with Jason Fritze in 2007 than in all the ACTFL, regional and state conferences that I ever attended put together. Nobody every refutes that statement but they will of course continue going to their conferences. Sometimes I think that we should get political and stand outside the ACTFL conference with signs and leaflets.
    There are other reasons to attend ACTFL that are legitimate. It is, of course, the main gathering of foreign language teachers in the U.S. It is often the only place where teachers of lesser taught languages get to talk with each other. I teach Brazilian Portuguese and I rarely get a chance to talk with another person who teaches that language.
    And this also brings up the problem of how we get foreign language teachers to embrace comprehensible input. It seems to be so difficult to convince people based on explanations and intellectualizing about CI. After 4 1/2 years of talking about this with everybody I know (and no converts until now), a student in my Spanish class at the community college, who has been fed a steady diet of CI during half of each class, has decided to attend NTPRS next year in Las Vegas. She is the director of ESL of one of the school districts in my area. This also brings up the fundamental challenge of adapting TPRS to ESL.

    1. …sometimes I think that we should get political and stand outside the ACTFL conference with signs and leaflets….
      David, this echoes a dream I just had last night which shows without a doubt how mentally imbalanced I am. I was walking round ACTFL this coming Friday with a bright pink t-shirt that said, on the front, some letters that I can’t remember but the basic message was to call out the trads, as Jody called them. I was walking around ACTFL getting in people’s faces. It’s the opposite of letting our teaching do the talking. I don’t agree with that. I’m with you David. If you want to come up this week and if we can get a few more people, I say we go with the banners and just occupy the streets in front of the conference. Been there done that once, a long time ago, something about a war, it all seems very blurry now – but hell, why not do it again? I like that idea, David.

      1. It would be a big effort to go to Denver and back to KC during a weekend. It is fortuitous that the ACTFL Conference this year is in the main city with a large number of TPRS teachers. I don’t think that this happens very often. This is a big opportunity. Hint to those who live in the Denver area.

  2. I too am so frustrated by the lack of respect for real language education at these conferences that I am basically boycotting them all in favor of NTPRS. However, in two summers, once I’ve had two years of teaching CI under my belt, I will be ready to “occupy” those other conferences and try to spread the word. Rather than wasting our time and money trying to get anything out of these events, let’s all take a year or two to focus on our own skills and confidence at teaching CI, all the time supporting each other through this blog and amassing data (studies, scholarship, anecdotes, classroom experiences, etc). Then, we can go to these events and “be the change,” so to speak. I’m sorry for all of the political references, but this work we’re doing is very political, in that we are advocating for the kids who are the disenfranchised majority in traditional classrooms.

  3. I agree with John, it may be time to get political and start handing out pamphlets and advocating for this better way of teaching.
    I will probably never go to the ACTFL conference, or even Central States. In my state, the Ohio Foreign Language Association’s annual conference is usually pretty good. There are a lot of sessions that focus on better ways to force output and teach grammar but I’ve been noticing more and more CI and TPRS workshops and sessions every year. I think the tide is changing. This past conference, we had Barb Cartford doing some TPRS workshops, the year before we had Eileen Glisan as our keynote speaker and she spoke of the “The New Paradigm” and gave a list of questions to ask ourselves about our teaching. A lot of what she said could be aligned with TPRS. This coming conference, March 2012, Susan Gross will be coming to do some TPRS workshops, I’m pumped about this! Not to mention that a lot of teachers from around Ohio present different sessions about TPRS and CI teaching and this past summer there were three OFLA sponsored CI-storytelling workshops. So things are pretty good here in Ohio.
    But back to ACTFL… I find it funny how the mission statement of ACTFL basically refers to what we are doing in our TPRS classrooms everyday but if you go to an ACTFL conference or open up the ACTFL journal “Foreign Language Annals” all you see are different ways to present culture, “fun” ways to teach grammar, new ways to help students remember the difference between preterit and imperfect, new “fun” ways to force output from students. It’s all garbage. Why such stark differences in the organization? The mission statement completely differs from the actual practices.

  4. …why such stark differences in the organization?…
    Such a great question. Think of a pick up game of sandlot football. The ball is the book. The kids who have been playing on that lot for years own the ball, the field, and they all know each other. Their style of play, as happened in pro football in the 1940’s, was to run the ball. A new kid moves in and wants to play. He’s really good. He advocates a strong running attack (grammar) but also brings a new element into the game, a passing attack (flying via CI, which teaches real grammar and scores lots of fast touchdowns). But he is still only 8 years old, this new kid, and years away from realizing his new brand of football. The other, older, kids see his youth, his potential, don’t even like the idea of the passing game, and they do what anybody who wants to maintain the status quo would do, they bully him. Many of us, in this situation, would walk away when being bullied, and many have. But some of us want the fight.

  5. Susan VanBronkhorst

    “She is the director of ESL of one of the school districts in my area. This also brings up the fundamental challenge of adapting TPRS to ESL.”
    I’m wondering where I can read more about this challenge. I teach grade school Spanish now, but I really hope to do ESL again one of these years. I feel that with TPRS I could teach so much better than I used to when I did ESL. Do teachers you know do this?

  6. There is a chasm between ELA and TPRS. The chair of the ELA department in my school, for example, happened to be standing next to me as we waited for three hours for Obama to speak in the parking lot of our school. Some guys came by with cameras and asking questions about Obama, his push for new schools, jobs, etc. and I started talking about Krashen. They were with Comcast, they said. There was a camera and a mike and I saw my opening to say Krashen’s name, etc. This ELA chair turned pale and tried to walk away from me. We have 2000 ELA teachers in DPS and only 100 WL teachers. But those 2000 teachers don’t want to talk about Krashen even though most of his research is ELA based. I don’t know if that answered your question, Susan.

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