Rigor – 2

Here is the complete original thread, with comments, around the traditional attack on John Bracey. These are the comments that started the discussion on rigor, which we should revisit here as much as we can lest we forget that rigor is one of the most outstanding descriptors of our work with CI and that rigor as we use it in our CI classrooms is in no way “onerous”, to use Alfie Kohn’s term.
I would add that I don’t think that ACTFL is aware of this kind of attack by teachers on teachers attempting to do CI, even though such attacks have been common and John Bracey’s story is the norm rather than the exception. We must note that just this week Paul Sandrock and Bill VanPatten have both made public statements validating Teaching using Comprehensible Input. I will locate those statements and put them into this thread as subsequent posts.
(Stephen Krashen’s made a significant statement in favor of – at that time he used the term “TPRS” – is on video – I was in the room – and I will try to locate that from Diana Noonan to share here. Basically, he said that TPRS “comes by far the closest” to putting into classrooms his ideas.)
The kind of belittling (when people try to make other people feel smaller) that John endured describes actual decades of verbal attacks on teachers trying to use comprehensible input in their classrooms. Such attacks have ranged from being mildly abusive or dismissive by teachers who should know better to being scathing public unfounded indictments on teachers’ characters which in many cases have completely destroyed careers.
Such attacks should have been kept in line by the (up until now silent) national parent organization who, one would assume, would be interested in policing and guiding the national discussion on best practice in language acquisition so that the needs of all teachers in the profession are defended and illustrated and that vigorous discussion is assured, in the American way.
The fact is that serious pedagogical differences between the traditional approach and the CI approach exist in spite of Sandrock’s second attempt to whitewash the discussion started by Eric Herman on the ACTFL list approximately two weeks ago.
So here are the comments that prompted Robert Harrell’s response about what rigor really is – such a key part of the overall argument – in the first article in this thread about John’s situation in his school. If you don’t want to read the entire comment thread, at least read this first one:
Submitted on 2014/09/23 at 8:18 PM
John Bracey
I stopped giving homework last year and my students and parents were both thrilled. A number of my kids’ parents are hugely involved in all of the parent groups that support the school, and they are completely embraced my no-homework policy. My colleagues on the other hand…
A traditional French teacher practically screamed at me, in the middle of a crowded grade office in our middle school, for not giving homework. That teacher then complained to my department head who then told me I had to give homework. He then blamed me for kids choosing to drop the Latin classes at the high school because they were ill-prepared by “non-rigorous” classes. Then I was publicly accused of bribing kids to take Latin during department meetings with ALL of my other traditional colleagues. Then when the enrollment numbers come out, and huge number of students had signed up for my CI Latin class, they all blamed their lack of students on my lack of homework. They then wrote letters to parents and told them that the their programs were in trouble because I wasn’t giving homework. The school committee held TWO special public meetings about the dwindling enrollment in some of our languages where my lack of homework was a major topic of discussion. fortunately, the school committee defended me. After all of that, my department head went into the classes of the 6th graders who had signed up for my Latin classes and accused them of signing up for Latin exclusively for the lack of homework. The 6th graders of course had no idea that I didn’t give homework. He then told them that I was forced to assign an hour and half of a homework a night! He then encouraged them all to switch to another language. All of this was done without my knowledge. In the end, I was given a “needs improvement” in the area of professionalism because all of fellow teachers had complained to my principal/evaluator about me bribing students with no-homework.
We had a parents’ night last night in our middle school. I told every single parent that I didn’t give homework, and every time I was met with a round of applause. I heard the phrase, “Can you please talk to all of the other teachers!?”, from at least one parent in every group.
These polar-opposite responses from parents and students vs. traditional teachers and administrators says it all. If we know that mandatory traditional homework does more harm to kids and their families than good, then we have no business assigning it.
Submitted on 2014/09/24 at 5:00 PM
John Bracey
Thanks for the kind words of support, everyone. I had no idea that my story was that insane until I wrote the whole thing out. I think that you have the right idea about how to stay off the radar. My mistake was not realizing that people who had previously been some of my most trusted co-workers, were the very people whose radars I needed to avoid the most.
My technique for this coming year is also likely to get me into trouble. I told all of my students that I was required to give them homework…but no one told me I had to collect it, grade it, count it towards anything or check off that they had done it. I told them that there are plenty of resources on my class website for them to use at home if they’d like. I never take those resources down so technically there is homework available 24/7. I couldn’t help myself 🙂
I’m definitely looking forward being free of the “jealous ones flinging garbage”.
Submitted on 2014/09/24 at 5:12 PM | In reply to Michael Lovett.
John Bracey
I appreciate the kind words, Michael. The respect is completely mutual. I am still blown away by what happened last year. I was just about ready to throw in the towel before attending iFLT. You are all incredible teachers who also have to put up with various levels of this garbage, hence the number of categories devoted to dealing with angry colleagues and brainless administrators. To me, this is the beauty of this PLC. We are all here to support each other throughout this often very challenging journey. You’re the man, Michael.
Submitted on 2014/09/24 at 6:31 PM
John Bracey
Thanks for starting this thread Ben and thank you Robert for your extremely thoughtful and helpful response. Your genuine care and support really makes a big difference. I’ll keep you updated on how things progress. Hopefully it won’t escalate to that level. So far I have been left alone, but I suspect that things will get crazy again if enrollment continues to trend my way. But the support of PLC is making it much easier for me to keep a positive attitude at work. Knowing that my views on education are shared by this group of insanely wonderful teachers, prevents me from feeling insane.
To clarify, the “needs improvement” label was only given to me in the sub-category of “professionalism” in our evaluation rubric. Overall I scraped by with a “proficient” rating which is what I needed to gain Professional Teacher Status (aka tenure). So fortunately I was able to avoid the most dire consequences.
Unfortunately…two out of my three possible evaluators this year are my department head and my principal. That is a pretty scary prospect. I am going to take your advice and document everything I possibly can and to be sure to respond to these sorts of things when they pop up in my evaluations. I’m also tight with the head of our union so I can talk to him about how to handle this situation.
Thank you again for helping me realize how screwed up this situation is. I didn’t realize it myself until I wrote the whole story out. Getting advice from all you grizzled veterans of such battles is truly a gift.
Submitted on 2014/09/25 at 6:48 PM
John Bracey in reply to John Piazza
Thanks for the great advice, John. I too had a blast getting to know you at iFLT this summer. I do need to continue to bolster my support system within my district. I need to make sure that I have substantial allies in my district who would be willing to stand by me if things get that nuts again.
I was hoping that my approach to homework would at most lead to some lively discussions. I never thought it would lead to pitchforks and torches. The angry mob will likely target my CI practices next, but thanks to you all, I will much better prepared.
I’ll write a post soon about how my first few weeks of CI Latin have gone. *Spoiler Alert* I adore TCI.
Submitted on 2014/09/25 at 7:01 PM
John Bracey in reply to James Hosler
James, I really appreciate your kind wishes. It was great talking to you about these sorts of thing in Denver.
You have the right idea about how I should deal with homework. I should just simply not assign homework and avoid drawing attention to myself. Part of the problem last year was that I didn’t realize that my colleagues had singled me out as the scapegoat for their own decreased enrollment. I strongly believe that no one would have cared if they hadn’t lobbied so hard against me. However, If I had never uttered the phrase “no homework” I probably could have avoided a lot of this mess.
Submitted on 2014/09/25 at 7:06 PM |
John Bracey in reply to Ben Slavic
Totally agree, Ben! “Nullities” is my new go-to word for these kinds of people. Well played, Michael.
Submitted on 2014/11/03 at 5:18 PM
Welcome, John. I teach Spanish in Dudley, MA (Shepherd Hill Reg HS). There is also a John Bracey over your way. He teaches Latin, in Weston, I believe.
Connecting with Skip and Eric is a good thing. It may help to know, when you refer to Skip, that he is the new Teacher of the Year in Maine.
Also, any language which is used to communicate is authentic. According to the official definition, a you-tube of a baby saying “Dadda” is an authentic resource, but a you-tube of our students ordering a pizza in Spanish is not. So let’s redefine authentic to mean using language to communicate a message or to express or to do whatever else we do with languages. The official definition may be fine for summative assessments or as a goal to work toward. We do not prepare for marathons by running Marathons–look at what that do to the first Marathoner.
Submitted on 2014/09/25 at 7:25 PM
John Bracey in reply to Chris Stolz
I actually did try the “show me your evidence that homework works” a couple of times…
I said that to our French teacher last year, who was known for being nice and accommodating to a fault, and he turned red with rage and started screaming at me in front of several colleagues. I actually thought he was going to take a swing at me haha!
I also said that to my department head who claimed to have done an “exhaustive study” on homework which proved that nightly homework was a essential to language learning. I asked if I could see a copy and said that he’d have to “look for it”. I then asked if he had a bibliography or if he could name any sources. He stammered for a minute and then proceeded to blame me for everything under the sun including: 1) Luring kids away from the more “useful” and “practical” language of Spanish. 2) Messing up the scheduling process at the high school because “so many” kids were dropping down a level in Latin because I had so poorly prepared them. The “so many” turned out to be three students out of 40 something.
People like this, to quote Stephen Colbert, “don’t let the facts get in the way of the truth.” That being said, I still want that epic Eric Herman research post.



2 thoughts on “Rigor – 2”

  1. Thanks for compiling this conversation. It lets me commiserate with others. My situation with a clueless admin. is not currently as dire, but it feels equally as demeaning.

  2. Shout out to Jon B. and the fulfilling of the rule of assigning HW (checked that box) but not specifying whether or not you “had to collect it, grade it, count it towards anything or check off that they had done it.” You can play that game too, right?
    Additional possible HW you can assign AND strongly encourage them to do:
    Tell them that the 2-part assignment is:
    a) To go to sleep at a good hour and be well-rested
    b) To be as well-nourished in the 23 hours after they leave your class,
    BOTH, so that they can be in the best framework to FOCUS for doing the REAL work of the acquisition which happens with their learning community in class.

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