Teacher of the Month – October 2014 – Michele Whaley

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11 thoughts on “Teacher of the Month – October 2014 – Michele Whaley”

  1. I did ask Michele for an update on that situation because it meant a possible loss of employment for Michele. Here is her update:

    Just to be clear, the webinar in question was not by Paul Sandrock. He is just a good friend of our World Language Director, who created the webinar all by himself and sent it out to our teachers to hear on in-service morning. Sandrock would never do that to himself. He’s very well-spoken and politically savvy.

    Also, I was not so high-minded as to protect the Director by taking the link down. I was protecting myself!! I’m hoping that our Director comes to see the light, though at the rate our school district is being dismantled, it is possible not only I but he could be gone next year through department budget cuts. In any case, I have to work with him even after today’s big meeting, when all the department chairs and I (and a couple of select CI types) are meeting to discuss how I disrupted the meeting and how TPRS is divisive.

    Right before that meeting, however, my Director’s boss has requested him for a private meeting with one of our CI folks. That boss is good friends with my colleague, having been her principal, a parent in her classroom, and her evaluator. He liked what he saw when he observed her. He didn’t like the tone of the webinar.

    We have discussed privately (Allison, Martina Bex, Betsy Paskvan and I) the idea that the elephant in the room is not this divide between TPRS and non-TPRS, as our Director says. Instead, it is Immersion, which has all sorts of money in our district and four different programs. The Elephant is that a certain number of kids drown in immersion, because immersion is not necessarily comprehensible. At Betsy’s school, kids are allowed to switch into the regular program and get caught up again, then go back into Immersion if they want. She gets a number of them in her Japanese 1 class…after nine years of immersion! What they usually need, she says, is the basics. She (as one of the department heads, lucky me) is going to paint that elephant for all to see, if not today, then soon. For me, that would be a huge bonus, since there are all sorts of kids wanting to drop Russian immersion, but being forced to stay in the classroom next door. I would love to have them in my room!

    Anyway, though I’m going to be in the dock today, I will not only have friends, but might even have a slightly abashed Director.

    Thank you so much for your kind support and continued work on the blog.


  2. Reading your posts here and on your blog, your contribution to embedded reading, and the quality of your CI on the video you did, I was surprised to find out that you had not been teacher of the year. You have earned it and we are enriched by your contributions. Thank you so much, Michele.

  3. Many, if not most of us, would be teaching very differently without Michele. We just don’t realize it. Not only has Michele brought TPRS/CI to Alaska…she has brought Alaska to us. Have you ever learned anything from Betsy Paskvan? How about Martina Bex? If so, thank Michele. She and the others who have tirelessly supported AFLA, Alaska’s Language AQUISTION organization, have created a strong community of caring, bright and giving teachers who bless us daily.

    The Alaska “model” for coaching was created to support those teachers and that model has spilled over into encouraging a number of coaching groups here in the lower 48 and elsewhere. It was Michele and her group of Friday-nighters who showed us the gift that peer-coaching can be.

    Many of you read Michele’s blog at http://mjtprs.wordpress.com/ She tries to post several times a week. It’s a teacher’s blog. She simply shares with us what she is doing in class with her students and what she observes and learns as a result. Such a gift. It is also where I go to click on any number of other teachers’ incredible online contributions. I know that she has encouraged many teachers to blog and to share….if not as bloggers then as posters, presenters etc.

    You might have eventually heard of Movie Talk, but in truth, it was Michele who directed our community’s attention to Ashley Hastings and his program. It was Michele who saw the incredible potential for CI teachers with Movie Talk and Michele first shared, and continues to share, her thoughts, ideas and skills in this area.

    Who knows if I would have ever really explored Embedded Reading if it weren’t for Michele? I put out an idea to thousands (literally) of teachers. She was the only one who responded. She encouraged me and agreed to try it with her students. Her ideas and energy, her willingness….no her drive to share it with others is the reason that other teachers are able to utilize it and why the blog exists. There was a time when we could not get anyone with “clout” to listen to us. Michele became our skillful and determined advocate. Next thing I knew (it happened within a few hours!) these folks were listening so that now, many teachers and STUDENTS can benefit. I could have never done that.

    Most of you are also not aware of how much Michele contributes to the teaching of Russian…on an international scale, because she does not discuss the many ways in which she is involved. I know for certain that she has changed the lives of thousands of students and their teachers.

    She has been an incredible friend and role model for me. Her family is so important to her and she continues to follow and be involved in a variety of interests. She does not know it, but she makes me a better, happier teacher and person every day.

    But friends, this letter is going to bother her. She doesn’t do ANY of this so that others will notice it. She does what she does because she believes in it. Because she believes that good shared is good multiplied.

    I think that Michele represents each one of us. You all have so many things that you do that others may not acknowledge as crucial and vital to their lives. You don’t ask to be recognized for those things. You do what you do because it is right, because it is who you are. But that is why we are so happy that Michele has been honored by her state and by the blog. Because she is who she is….and beautiful because of it.

    Thank you Michele,
    with love,

  4. How a person can do that much and influence that many people while flying under the radar, to echo one of the points you made in that lovely post, Laurie, is just beyond me. When I sent Michele the above article prior to posting it so that I could make sure I had my facts straight with that ACTFL fiasco, she said that what I wrote was over the top. Thanks Laurie for making us know that it was under the top, and that no amount of words could put into focus the Alaska blast of fresh air that has literally gone across continents, as this work continues to spread, with not a lot of pomp and circumstance, just the daily grind of doing and trying and testing and working hard. That’s our Michele, and if anyone deserves a celebration for all she has done and all the opposition she has shouldered, especially recently, it is she and her team of intergalactic stars up there in Alaska.

  5. Congratulations, Michele. The award is richly deserved, though I think Ben needs to create a Teacher of the Year award for you, not just Teacher of the Month.

    I’ll look for you in San Antonio.

  6. I always try to not miss a Michele Whaley presentation. Michele, well-deserved, and I so hope that you get through this thing without too many scrapes and burns. And congrats on your big state award!!

  7. Laurie, it was probably obvious I had no idea you had written this when I called to ask advice on Academic Plans tonight! I sometimes can’t believe the miracle that brought us together or the grace that lets me have a friend in you.

    Laurie and I were just talking about how almost everyone who uses CI methods had a key person unlocking the door to TPRS. For me, it was Ben Slavic, whose books I took to the Russian Far East when students and I traveled to Anadyr to work on climate change. There I found a compatriot who watched my first experiments in TPRS. We would each read a chapter at night, trading books in the morning, then teach at the college. As we accompanied students on afternoon tours of factories and museums, child-care centers and hospitals, we would lag behind, discussing every line of Ben’s books and every moment in class. Ben let me send more electronic copies of his books to Russia, and I began to meet others who also wanted to learn how to teach language effectively. It was a selfish desire to have a way to continue to grow that led me to start our language meetings. Because of TPRS, I have true friends all around our state and beyond. I have been surrounded from the first by incredibly talented mentors and inspiring colleagues. As you know if you read my blog, I regularly make simple mistakes that could be avoided if I would just read my own postings. Meanwhile, my colleagues take ideas that I walk home on and they go run marathons. I am blessed by their vision.

    In other news…this evening, thanks to a tip from Mira Canion, I was able to open the new ACTFL Language Educator on line. (Copies have not yet made it to Alaska.) Bill VanPatten’s article is free for the downloading. He writes just a little bit about the explicit/implicit theories I mentioned that Betsy’s daughter was sharing with us. Carol Gaab, Martina Bex, and Karen Lichtmann all have articles on how they use CI methods including TPRS. James Hosler’s blog has a paragraph too! Maybe this edition is part of why the discussion got so heated over there on ACTFL.

    Hugs to you all. After our excruciating, three-hour meeting the other day with all the district’s department heads and a few additional supporters for me, I had to spend all day yesterday working on academic plans with my Director. He took me into the hall at one point to ask whether we needed to continue to address the problem. (That might have been about as much of an apology as he’s going to offer.) I looked him in the eye and said firmly that it didn’t seem as though more conversation would do any good. Maybe he was shocked, maybe he thought that was my apology, but he stared at me for a moment and we both walked back into the room.

    Back to work, with a grateful heart. Thank you.

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