Don’t Give Up – 1

A repost from a few years ago:

I went over to Lincoln High, from which I just retired, on a bike ride two days. A new principal and a new assistant principal were there. I felt the management style. I got the vibe. It was old style. You know what I mean by old style. Where you don’t feel good about yourself. Where you have to pass some kind of test before they accept you. Congeniality vs. Collegiality.

It made me think back on my career as having been not just about my passion for language education, for doing the right thing for children, but also as having been about the fruitless wanting to share that passion with the administrators in the six buildings I worked in during my career, but failing. Anyone who has felt as if they were not heard by someone in life knows what I mean by that.

My job description was not only that I had to do all I could to make sure I reached my students in the real way but also secondly to deal with the power plays and top down “I’m looking at you, you better work hard and do a good job!” vibe I got from every single administrator I ever worked under, with no exception. I get that they also were being looked at in the same way by their own superiors, and that that is how the game is played, but why? When are we going to lose that model in favor of one based in unconditional positive regard and professional respect for each other?

I can’t say I worked for those people – I worked in spite of them. I worked for the kids in spite of all the useless, incredibly frustrating, ego based meetings and skewed views about what teaching languages even means, should look like.

The marked inability of all those nowhere administrators to see what was really happening in my classroom erupted as a kind of daily sadness for me professionally. Whenever I walked into the building to work another day, there was this sadness about not being on the same page with all those people, even my students. Brainwashed is not too strong a word to describe the mindset that those kids brought into my classroom on a daily basis.

The students seemed to have a pre-formed opinion about how they were supposed to be taught, and it didn’t include CI in a lot of cases. And then there was this pockmarked, dull and empty leadership approach by the administrators that, when applied to what I was doing with CI, just didn’t jive with the research.




3 thoughts on “Don’t Give Up – 1”

  1. How timely. We have had a big change at school. Our Principal of 40 years, who took the time to listen to me and to watch me work, retired. He was the one who came to a Tri-State meeting just before he left just to “hang out” with a bunch of dedicated teachers on a Friday afternoon after a long week. I always felt that he appreciated my efforts.

    He has been replaced by a “Dean of Curriculum and Instruction”. He is mid thirties and until this year, he was our band/orchestra leader. He went and got a masters in something and now he is in charge and watching the way we all teach. I have learned over the years from many of you, the pitfalls of working in the public schools – the great, the good, and the ugly. The pitfalls of working in a private school – in some cases lower pay, lack of a solid pension plan, and health benefits in retirement, but what I always could count on was academic freedom.

    Now we have electronic forms for everything – pre-observation forms with boxes to check, lesson plans, post observation forms, standards. All of that is bad enough, but the worst is being observed by someone who lacks any kind of scholarship or gravitas. I have never seen our faculty in worse shape.

    Among the many changes made to date, the administrators are tweaking the Open House procedures. We are tasked with giving on-going 10 minute demo lessons – 3 per hour, and visitors would be able to drop in and see faculty in action. I was actually excited and not at all in doubt about what I would do. I had just spent the summer working with Donna Tatum-Johns and Katya Paukova in Reston, with Judy Dubois and the Europeans in Agen. I had spent two days with C4C, so I was all about the demo. My colleagues were stumped and to make things worse for them, we had to do an “audition” lesson in front of the committee – some people were even told to re-do their lessons!

    Friday was the demo. My Spanish colleague went first. She had mnemonic devices to help her beginners remember the meaning of infinitives – chants of silly sentences in English. One example was “dar” and the sentence was something about Bart giving darts to someone. You get the idea. She had a handout to match the infinitive to the drawing that matched the English sentence. My two structures were wants and goes. I asked the participants to write their names on a folded paper and to draw or write the name of something they want. One observer drew a Coach handbag and my new dean of curriculum drew a Black Ops 3 which I learned was a video game. So I began to circle with the time I had left and gave a quick three question yes/no at the end. Fine.

    His affect during the lesson was that of a 9th grade boy who was not ready to engage – kind of embarrassed about what I was asking him to do – uncomfortable in his own skin – lots of muttering in English. Had he really been a student, I would have been in his face about his 50%!
    The coup de grace was when we were walking out and he mumbled something about language teaching is all the same, we need to cover the same stuff, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. The two demo lessons he saw could not have been more different.

    In that moment, I lost any respect that I had been trying to cultivate for this young man in a new position. I have zero desire to even try to educate him on language acquisition. He exposed himself as someone who thinks he knows everything when in reality, he knows nothing – a real light-weight.

    I have heard stories like this from many of you and now it’s my reality, so thank you, Ben, for re-posting this blog entry. It reminded me that I am not alone.

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