Carla Butler

In her bio, Carla expressed the concern that it was too long. Actually many people have voiced that concern. It’s never too long. If you think about the two ways we are going to make this site work, they revolve around:
1. knowing each other well enough to put up average to shitty video footage of us teaching, and
2. trusting each other – that’s where the bios come in – so that we can not feel that nagging fear and weird self censorship that occurs when we know we are writing stuff in the wide open spaces of the internet.
We can tell things from bios that assure the safety and privacy of the site. I already know and trust and respect Carla, having met her in TX in 2009. She is a great teacher and a super intellect. Here’s Carla:
My name is Carla.  I love learning languages.  I think my passion for languages started when i found some French picture flash cards upstairs at my grandmother’s house when I was about 8.  My favorite words were “la pluie” and “les enfants.”  I studied Spanish, French and Russian in high school/ college, but I never dreamed i was good enough at any of them to actually teach them. When I moved to Texas for graduate study in linguistics, I also got fluent in Spanish.  I started teaching English as a Second language part time, because the money was great for college student.  But I was incredibly shy and grammar trained.  During my MA, I heard about communicative methods and the natural approach from other MA students, but they didn’t make any sense to me.  I had studied three languages the traditional way.  Still, the concept did pique my curiosity.  I also heard about TPR and liked it, but I couldn’t figure out how to get beyond Simon Says with it.
When I graduated with my MA in Linguistics, I took a slow meandering path that finally led me to teaching 8th grade Spanish 1 near Dallas in 2008.  The summer before I started teaching, I heard about TPRS.  A teacher in my department lent me LICT and I( bought the green book where I discovered Ben’s blog.  I immediately started reading everything I could get my hands on.  I have been trying ever since to figure out how to teach Realidades using TPRS.  The department is anti-TPRS.  Fortunately, I’m the only Spanish teacher at my school, and my principal has been very flexible about my reorganizing the textbook for TPRS and has even bought me novels.
My district is currently in the process of aligning instruction in all courses throughout the district.  They want everyone teaching the same thing on the same day.  We had a meeting on Friday to solidify the year for foreign languages. I was really nervous.  But actually, a couple of good things happened.  First, the presenter spent a while getting us to tell her about the proficiency of our foreign language graduates, and she determined that our results are sub-standard– very few students graduate with intermediate proficiency, even after 3 years in the program, and no one passes the AP exam with 3+ except for native speakers.  “Some of the (non-natives) even get 2s, the AP teacher said.” I say that this was encouraging because that realization that we are substandard brought a lot of openness to the group. They were willing to consider ideas that they had not before.  I told them what I had heard through TPRS/CI blogs about Denver, and they agreed to create a high frequency vocabulary list and pare down a lot of the less useful words in our book.  On the other hand, any conversation about TPRS and novels was shut down.  In the end, we pretty much ended up where we started, except with plans to look at HF words some time in the future.
Today I went to the yearly opportunity in our district for teachers to sit down with the assistant superintendent and superintendent about any school concerns.  I told them that I hoped that someone would follow up Friday’s meeting by finding out what a successful language program looks like so that teachers don’t just go back to what they have always done.  And I asked if I could continue to teach novels.  They were generally supportive and they sounded as if they want to see radical changes in our program, but also are aware of who is on the team and may or may not be willing to make radical changes.  So I don’t know exactly what that means.  But knowing that they want something different is encouraging to me.  The assistant superintendent described me as a voice crying out in the wilderness.
This year, some things are finally coming together for me.  Bryce’s insight about TPRS being verb based instead of noun based like textbooks was a biggie.  And TPR and PQA are going better than they have in the past too… my classroom atmosphere is more relaxed and more productive.  I’m juggling the pieces a lot better than before… I keep the balls in the air for longer.
This year, I am trying to move toward proficiency based grading.  At the very least, I want my grades to reflect all the skills instead of being heavy on vocabulary recognition.  So I guess my program is becoming more well rounded.  And I also plan to actually finish a novel this year.  I’m going to read Agentes Secretos in November/December, and if I can carve out enough time, then Piratas in the spring.   I’d like to think about doing more stories but I struggle a lot with developing them–> canned effect.
Since I don’t have a thriving local language teaching community, this blog has been a huge help to me.  The days when I think it would be better to just give up and teach the textbook or just give up and find another career, I come here and find reasons to stay in the fight, along with tools and resources for success.  The contributions of blog members mean a lot to me.  I enjoy being a part of this.  This blog community and the wider TPRS community are a part of important changes.  We need each other.  And I appreciate everyone who is a part of it.  Thank you all.  It’s an honor and a pleasure.



2 thoughts on “Carla Butler”

  1. Carla, It sounds like your tenacity is beginning to pay off. Congratulations! I have recently become aware of how uncomfortable it can be when colleagues are resistant to even considering CI, so getting positive reaction to a high frequency structure list is big.

  2. I love what you said about verb based. That is what I am realizing this year with teaching the College in the Schools kids. I am focusing on verbs in German 1. I am teaching the past and present and first, second and third person, all together. When I started with the College in the Schools kids, they knew “wants” from many many stories, but didn’t recognize the infinitive that went with it, so I am trying to teach all the parts of the verb at once to my German 1 kids to give them a solid foundation.

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