When Alone

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46 thoughts on “When Alone”

  1. First, I would be a nervous wreck in your position, just because I dislike confrontation.
    Is the principal “friends with” the teachers with teach with the textbook?
    Is there a “curriculum” that you all are supposed to follow, with common assessments? If there is not, then I would put the textbooks on every desk or stack them very obviously in arms reach of the kids, as if they are always in use. Then, I would mostly continue on as normal.
    If you are suppose to use common assessments, then that’s another ball game…
    I would also look for a better job, and burn the contract if you find one 🙂
    Which levels do you two teach, that the low numbers in higher levels are being blamed upon you two?
    P.S. Most of these principals are clueless.

    1. Great points, Leah. I concur that a new job for Jen is in order, for the obvious reason that the principal, besides being a clueless nebbish who supports teachers who are not working in ways that reflect how children actually learn languages, is off the wall in his requirement that when he walks by “they better have a book in front of them”.
      That is an amazing thing to say in 2015. The average age of those who have this principal’s ear must be 67 or so. It’s funny, because right there in NJ are Carol Hill (our chill), Scott Grapin, Inga Zuniga, Catherina Greenberg and other CI power hitters. I suspect Jen is trapped in a pocket of stupidity, and like I said before it hurts my heart because, as these kinds of stories go, this may be the worst one I ever heard, because Jen has already quit and returned once. The emotional toll has got to be immeasurable. We all need to send Jen some good vibrations through the invisible world.

    2. Jennifer Sparano

      Yes, common assessment each quarter….and our “curriculum” is the scope & sequence of the brand new textbook my colleagues asked for, which I must use next year.

      1. Sorry, Jen. Welcome to Denmark. Something smells rotten in our little hamlet, too.
        How much scope do you have to do for a quarter? Will that allow you to cross-pollinate chapters within the quarterly scope? (Pull words from all quarterly scope chapters and make something more bearable, interesting, and life-like: stuctures like “can,” interesting verbs, interesting nouns, hi-frequency adjs and advs, “of” for possession /description/ relationship, “that” complexity. Maybe do that 3-4 times over the quarter and you about covered it.)
        Usually there is a description lesson or two. Can you do it with OWI, favorite actors, Diane’s drawing activity, vPQA, etc.?
        Can you go through the test ahead of time and see which words are actually used in the assessment and focus on those?
        Divide the semantically grouped list words and have students each choose a word to illustrate. PQA the words and build off of them like CWB.
        Don’t read below. It might just get you depressed.
        My principal and a few colleagues chose Avancemos to be used at all levels. Welcome the class of yesteryear, which is characterized by:
        1. Coverage of a textbook
        2.Using the textbook as the curriculum
        3. Students learned about the language (grammar)
        as published by ACTFL at: http://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/21stCenturySkillsMap/p21_worldlanguagesmap.pdf
        Our Scope & Sequence?
        1. Scope:
        a. Advanced students scope = full book
        b. Regular students scope = 3/4 book
        c. Less regular students scope = 1/2 book
        2. Sequence:
        a. Advanced: start with preliminary lesson, proceed to Unit 1, followed by 2,…stop at 8.*
        b. Regular: start with preliminary lesson, proceed to Unit 1, followed by 2,…stop at 6.
        c. Less regular: start with preliminary lesson, proceed to Unit 1, followed by 2…stop at 4.
        *If someone finishes early, they will have the liberty to do some more pages. For those who complete Unit 8, there is still the Expanded Vocab, the Grammar summary, the Glossary, the Index, and the Credits, although these will not necessarily be part of the final exam much to the disappointment of a few of the advanced students.

        1. I am also thinking in terms of more TPR for next year. I need to get better at it. I think of Jason Fritze as Mister TPRS and Berty Segal recommends him for TPR. And Sabrina is giving us TPR this year at TCI Maine.
          Also, the Verb Slam might be something to consider. What traditional teacher in their “right” mind can slam us for doing verbs? The paradigm can be written on the board (with translation to establish meaning) and verb slam as we pause and point. Will the grammar slammers object if the students actually identify a meaning with a verb form?

  2. Oh Jen…I’m so sorry!!! Keep in mind that it is a job. Then keep your eyes, ears, head and heart open for a change…within that district or outside of it.
    In the past 10 years I have seen incredibly talented teachers accosted as you have been. Those that have left for healthier pastures, so to speak, are often so much happier. There are other people and place out there!!!
    It’s always complicated….there are circles of hell involved in these things: admins, “colleagues”, students, parents…..and always difficult to know which circle is causing the most pain.
    WE ARE WITH YOU!!!!!!
    Stay in as much contact as you can with teachers who understand who you are and what you do. It will save your sanity.
    with love,

    1. Jennifer Sparano

      When we met at the FLENJ conference after your embedded reading presentation, didn’t you say you knew of some schools in NJ that might need people? I guess I have to make an effort and see how things go for the first half of the year but if it’s bad…..

          1. I’ve never given notice just to begin a job search. I don’t think it’s required to tell your current employer. Is there a stipulation in your contract to that effect?

          2. Eric Spindler

            I would further agree that you do not have to give notice to look. Only when you have decided to take another position.

    2. “There are other people and places out there!!!”
      On the flip side, there will always be people to take our jobs once we leave them, and do exactly what we refused. This is the cycle that causes education to move at a snail’s pace.
      After I gave my resignation letter a couple months ago, the admin completely dropped their crusade to get me to do stupid things that are only justified by teacher-made tests. They didn’t even bother to do my final observation, or go over our Student Learning Objectives (40% of teacher evaluation). There was actually 1/5 of school still left. I wonder about how important it was that I actually did what they wanted. How badly did I actually NEED to change my teaching if they could forget about it all overnight. Why can’t WE have that luxury?
      My colleagues don’t even do what was demanded of me. Had I stayed, I would have gone full-union on the admin. Would you believe they mentioned not a single listing of expectations in the job description? I predict that the teacher they’ve hired will pretty much fly under the radar, doing nothing out of the ordinary.

  3. The last such report was from Nathaniel….(Not sure we have gotten an update since his last one?)
    This is so very sad. I truly makes me grateful that my administrator was able to learn and understand.
    As I read Jen’s post, I wondered if there might be a role for the PLC or a member or members of the PLC ? Might the administrator listen to the research if it came from a third party?
    I am so sorry Jen. I, like Ben, wish there were something I could do.

  4. Just wanted to mention that teaching to the textbook was actually much less effort for me. What I mean is that I didn’t have to expend the energy of enforcing jGR and engaging real persons in a conversations. Lots of giving papers and students doing “activities” on their own.
    So, for what it’s worth, you don’t have to “show up” as much teaching from a textbook.
    I would also argue that you can offer CI glimmers of hope sprinkled throughout, and you’ll probably figure out how that fits in organically along the way.
    What is the other CI teacher going to do? Or how did they respond?
    I also agree about pulling exactly what they need to know that’s on the test, to free up more time to use CI.

  5. Michael Coxon

    I am so glad that you shared your story. The principal obviously has a misinterpretation of what TPRS is and the results of CI. I think the situation could be a motivating factor for you next year.
    If you have a scope and sequence document and common assessments you should be able to teach in the way that best suits you as long as you meet those standards. Would it be possible for you to share with us your scope and sequence document so that we can see what you are dealing with?
    I know that a situation like this is stressful but I also think it could be an opportunity.
    When I spent time with Joe Neilson a few years ago I learned that he welcomed this type of challenge. He wanted people to question his methods, it motivated him to rise to the occasion and show people what his students could do. I’m not big on confrontation but I did learn that from him that if somebody doubted what my students can do I could prove them wrong and help them understand what is happening.
    I would ask for the administrator to put what they have said in writing so you have documentation. What I have learned that these types do is once you reach their objective they move on to another objective.
    Plus this is a record for union stuff. Hang in there…you have a entire group of excellent educators in your corner!

    1. Robert Harrell

      I would ask for the administrator to put what they have said in writing so you have documentation. What I have learned that these types do is once you reach their objective they move on to another objective.
      Alternatively, as soon as you have had a meeting with the administrator, type up a record of the meeting and what the administrator has said the expectations are. (You might even want to take notes during the meeting.) Then send the administrator a copy with a cover letter. In the cover letter state that this is your record of the meeting, and unless the administrator presents you with changes and corrections in writing within five business days, your document will stand as the authoritative record of the meeting.
      If you do this, the administrator will know that you mean to be professional and have truly listened. With a written record, there is no “he said/she said” game played with faulty memories later. With a written record, any changes to the requirements will show up as not being part of the original understanding or agreement. You and the union have an authoritative document from which to work. The administrator has a written record provided; the ball is now in his/her court to prove that something else was agreed to or said – and most administrators won’t take the time to make changes if your document is reasonably accurate. Longer than five days from the meeting time, and the memories are totally unreliable, so the sooner you get the document written (preferably using notes taken during the meeting) and sent, the better.
      Don’t take the position that it is the administrator’s duty to record the meeting. We’re talking about your survival, so be proactive on this. In fact, many administrators will actually be glad that someone else did the documentation for them. (Not all, but probably most – they have to appease higher-ups.) Keep the tone professional but not combative.

      1. ^ What Harrell said.^
        As a Union rep who has done a fair bit of helping teachers deal with Admin, I can tell you that documentation is what wins the day when admins turn into bullies. I would also suggest that if these guys want to meet, bring a Union rep (or at least another teacher). Often, knowing one is being watched makes a big difference in behaviour.
        The control freak types often end up controling themselves into a corner. If the guy wants you on text 24/7, it will, for example, be impossible to stay in TL 90% of the time as the ACTFL, bless their hearts, wants. If he is after any kind of meaningful proficiency (i.e. kids doing anything other than fill in the blanks with verb forms), you will be unable to do that using the text.

  6. If I were there, I’d bring my nephew Furio in to see dis fockin’ guyyy and we’d tawwk about a couple tings…
    But this being the real world, shit, sorry to hear– document, and GET OUT. Your admin is a control-freak, partisan, uneducated douchebag. Get another job. You have one life– this one– live it the way you would a thiusand times over.

  7. Also, when you are safely gone and in a new job not organised by morons, a job where your skills and creativity will make for happy successful you and students, I’m going to go after this person. I’m going to use my blog and start an award tentatively called The Talking Turkey: The Worst Administrator for Language Students. This will award an “idiot of the month” award to an adminsitrator who gets it wrong, has no idea s/he has it wrong, makes students and teachers suffer, etc.
    If idiots like this want to do their thing, fine. We’ll just have them publicly named, so they can then explain themselves. Sunlight is an excellent detergent.

  8. Jennifer,
    As Ben mentioned above, I teach in Bergen County (near Paramus) in a school district with a strong CI contingent (3 or 4 of us plus a very supportive supervisor…in this area, that’s pretty much the best it gets…). Our administration is VERY supportive of CI/TPRS. Of course, they don’t all GET “it” (SLA), but they are happy with student outcomes, feedback from parents, enrollment numbers, etc. I wish this thread had come up earlier, because they just filled 3 Spanish teaching positions. My supervisor would have loved to bring someone in with CI/TPRS experience. There might still be a maternity leave position open, but I’m sure that is not what you’re looking for. Anyway, please let me know if there is anything I can do. Will you be at NTPRS in DC? I will be there with at least 5 from my department along with my supervisor.

      1. NTPRS is July 20-24 in Washington, DC. (Actually Reston, VA) Look up Blaine Ray workshops – it’s the National TPRS conference. Great way to network and meet more like-minded folks!!! It has truly helped me over the years to have such a network of “friends” that I have met here on the blog, and in-person at the National conferences (iFLT also….which is in Minneapolis this year. ) It helps you realize that you are NOT crazy teaching this way – YOU are the SANE one. You just go through the motions in your building and yes them to death, then “talk” to your friends from around the world after school, vent, get through it, survive, …….until a CI position opens.
        When it does, it’s magical….one of my “hall colleagues” rode the elevator up with me this morning, and she smiled and said, “You look SO MUCH happier!!!! You are smiling ALL the time now! You are just glowing! I am so happy for you!!”
        But, it took four years of doing the above: calling Sabrina and Jen and Skip all the time, reading this blog, reading the moreTPRS listserve, reading TCI teachers’ websites and blogs, reading the research — it was my therapy, BUT, it helped to prepare me when I finally got the interview in a CI district!!!
        Ben has often said on here that sometimes we need to just “deal” with our situation, to not “rock the boat” (my words paraphrasing – not his exactly) and that was really hard for me, the quintessential NYer to lay down and “play dead”, but thanks to Ben I did. I ended up with the tools I needed to land a new job: CI knowledge, and a great recommendation!
        It’s hard, but there WILL be other opportunities. I am hoping and praying for you, Jen, to find peace until you can find happiness! Best of luck – and remember, we are ALL here to support you through this!! Ben has a list of all of our emails posted – feel free to email me off list if you want to vent! 🙂 I’d be happy to “pay it forward.”

        1. IFLT also rocks, esp the “learning labs” where you watch absolute total TPRS masters like Joe Dziedzic (Spanish) or Chinese, French etc teachers, teaching real-live kid classes. The learning labs IMHO are the best pro-D outside of a Blaine Ray intro class one can do.
          Then at night you join Ben’s “war room” and watch Hosler, Piazza etc teach you Latin or whatever and your experience again inproves (big challenge: keeping Ben out of the fray for more than 5 min 😉 )
          Anyway, if I can help in any way, let me know.

  9. and…as I *JUST* experienced 5 minutes ago…..some people do not know the difference between “CI” and “immersion” — they think there is no difference, they only see “CI” as being “TPRS”, because “those teachers” use TPRS.
    Stick with just talking about ACTFL’s Standards for World Languages — and the three modes, and the “can-do” statements.

    1. Mary Beth said above:
      …some people do not know the difference between “CI” and “immersion”….
      The history of the terms TPRS and CI is one of vast misapplication and misunderstanding. Most people conceive of those terms wrongly, and as MB said they think that they mean the same as the term immersion, resulting in great intellectual harm to tens if not hundreds of thousands of kids who in those “immersion” setting naturally think that they are stupid when it comes to learning languages.
      I am not at all surprised that the terms are met with mistrust by the vast majority of teachers. It is our job to keep the discussion on the straight and narrow and define and redefine patiently what CI really is, since the term TPRS is now, has become, lost in confusion. I would be a naysayer myself if I wasn’t fortunate enough to have been trained by Susan Gross, whose accuracy and clarity of Blaine’s vision may be more accurate than even Blaine’s.
      We need to keep training each other, keep the dialogue going. Eventually each school community will express what Scott said about his building, that they may not understand SLA but they like the product being delivered in his school. Once we get there, it’s all over for the two dimensional teachers and a new era of happy language teaching will be in place. I long for that day. When we hurt and are blasted by those still ignorant about how languages are actually acquired, especially if we are alone like Jennifer, it’s bad. But it is getting better all the time.

  10. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    In my long experience, this is about your administrator’s attempt to alleviate his own headaches in house, not about conscious or good choices for children’s learning.
    So others must have complained to him – receiving teachers who want insurance that the incoming kids know how to label indirect object pronounce and conjugations in the imperfect using haber…and/or even uninformed parents/students.
    Is there a placement test for honors that your kids performed worse on (like Eric’s situation a few weeks ago?) That freaks em out.
    You owe the district/school NOTHING in terms of loyalty. They are doing you no favors; it’s a business contract reflecting your intent to work there, and can be broken no prob.
    If you secure a better job, that’s when you resign. You say nothing until you’ve made up your mind. They didn’t consult with you before they brought the axe down, did they?
    To their minds we are a dime a dozen, dispensable and replaceable at a moment’s notice.
    You will find a place that values your unique attributes, or you will keep the book open to the right page, doing what you must, sending grammar home as homework and making it work.

  11. Wow, lots of good advice here. I am so sorry for this misguidedness pressure and downright hostility, Jen. That sucks. It’s like he is totally disregarding your ability to teach. “Your kids must be on the textbook at all times” would make me feel quite small if that was said to me. I really don’t know if I could go through with teaching from the textbook or trying to sneak in CI without getting caught.
    I bet you’ll find a CI friendly job. Just keep at it. There are a lot of admin that don’t know anything about CI or TPRS but are very open to hearing about it because they know their students aren’t learning much of anything in those foreign language classrooms. You may even not find a job until the end of August, but it could be a golden one.

    1. Jennifer Sparano

      How do I search for a job where it is CI without going to a million interviews? Forgive my ignorance all but I got my job fresh out of college and barely went through the search process. My first interview was my last and I’m a little unsure.

      1. I’m thinking that the chances are really good that any other job would be friendlier towards CI than one that insists you use the textbook during 100% of class time.
        I also think you’re right that the more you interview, the higher your chances of finding a school that is the best fit for you.
        It’s of course up to you to decide the right balance of what’s better for you–staying put and finding a level of compliance that works or looking elsewhere, and how much effort to put into looking elsewhere if you go that route.
        I’ve also been at the same school since I graduated college and would feel intimidated about looking for another job and then adjusting to such a big change.

        1. p.s. As much as I hate change, and value the seniority I have in my district and all the sick days I’ve saved up and the rapport I have with my current students and colleagues… what you’re going through would definitely motivate me to look elsewhere.

      2. You don’t need to quit or give notice to look for new work. You do up your resumé and CV and apply. This happens a lot– the HR of where you are applying (if you get past the first screening process) will call the HR of where you are working.
        Screening schools for C.I.-friendly depts is good. I have no idea how…you might name some places you’re considering on the Yahoo moretprs list and ask there, maybe ppl here also have ideas, and every school is online so you can always email the dept chair or whatever and…ask about dept curriculum/methods policies, etc etc.
        This would actually be a GREAT category for the blog: screening new employers.

          1. Curriculum Vitae: a short account of one’s career and qualifications prepared typically by an applicant for a position; usually longer and more complete than a resumé.

      3. I hear you Jen. That is me, 25 years ago. And my very first interview yesterday. You can do it! It feels like you need to take some steps for your own sake. I literally felt sick reading your post.
        Reach out to the peeps in your region for any clues about openings. You never know, someone could bail in mid-July and then you can shift before the school year begins.

      4. I highly recommend you look for another job, Jennifer. Like everyone is saying here, it doesn’t hurt to interview. They will ask you first before they try contacting your current employer. If they don’t ask you first then they are being unprofessional. (It did happen to me once, where prospective employer I applied to contacted my then current principal, but only because they were good friends. I think that is a very rare thing… like I said, unprofessional.)
        Looking for a job while you currently have one secure is much better then when you don’t have a current job. You can apply and interview with confidence and as much honesty as you want regarding CI without feeling desperate.
        I was having an end-of-the-year chat with my instructional coach today (a wonderfully skilled and experienced educator) who said that with all the years he’s spent working with foreign language teachers in the inner-city and in the suburbs, including as an assistant principal at an affluent high school outside Columbus, Ohio, that he has never heard of a FL teacher have such a clear understanding of what the end goal is for our FL students and how to get them there. Granted, he had never heard of TPRS or CI before. This, of course, made me feel good and, I thought, important to share with you all since what I’ve learned comes from you guys.
        But also something to think of as you, Jennifer, prepare to enter the interviewing world. Speaking in terms that are more universal than all the SLA jargon we throw out there: what the end goals are for our FL students and how to get them there. But I think it is so important to know how to interview and be ready to jump ship when the right opportunity arises. When interviewing, we don’t always want to be genuine and sincere like we do when we are teaching. It took me a long time to feel comfortable as an interviewee. So, I encourage you to book multiple interviews, even if you’re unsure about the schools. You’ll get to see what is out there, and with some work, you’ll find the right fit.

          1. A ton of jobs are won in August. Teachers just refuse to resign sometimes until they have had time to think about it over the summer. Not very professional, but it sure sets the table for those willing to scout out the possibilities in the week before school starts.

  12. The key is to teach in a public school in a state where teachers can earn “Professional Teacher Status” aka “Tenure”. If you are able to reach that level, no one can really force you to do anything. If they want to fire you for teaching with CI, insubordination, they will have a mandatory legal battle that is not worth the time, money or energy for the district. It would also be impossible for that termination to stand on grounds of “pursuit of best practices”.

  13. I stayed in my first building for 11 years. Big mistake. I just got tired of it. Sometimes, when people feel that they need to quit teaching, a change is all that’s needed.
    That first school was a private school. At the end of that eleventh year I woke up one day and (this is just my own opinion on this sensitive topic but I don’t care if I offend) that private schools divide communities along racial and economic lines and are therefore un-American and as a patriot I feel that I need to be in a public school or at least in a school which makes strong efforts to include those who can’t afford it. I am Sean’s biggest fan.
    But my point was that after about seven years in each of the five buildings that followed that first one, I was ready to leave. I wonder if any members of the PLC have stayed in one building for a really long period of time.
    We don’t own shops/businesses that we have to be in all the time; we can take our products with us to new classrooms. All we really need is a marker and we can download posters and we can open up shop. Owning a home can of course restrict how far we can wander but we can at least look around.
    I wonder what you will do, Jen. Both Jens. Keep us posted, even if your name is not Jen and you go through the fear and exhilaration of something new. Keep in mind that it is a fact that more and more schools don’t even want grammar teachers anymore.

  14. Maine has made Standards a mandate. No more textbooks and grammar assessments…
    So glad I am already ahead of the game!!! So glad my methods were always questioned. It was stressful but so nice now being validated and having the spark lit under me to look elsewhere. It was a toxic situation that I was unaware of and would have continued to blindly stay on. And look….i got into the district I have been wanting to go to! And it happened by accident! 🙂

    1. I would bet that our skip had a ton to do with that change in Maine.
      This caught my attention MB:
      …it was a toxic situation that I was unaware of….
      I realize that I was in fact oblivious to the fact that my first eleven years in my first school were toxic but I didn’t make a move to get out of it. I wonder why we do that.

  15. Michael Coxon

    As I have shared before, I am switching teaching positions in August. If I were to stay at the same position I could maybe make 5 more years…longer if certain people left or retired. Taking a new job with teachers I helped train makes me feel like I can go 30+ years and I just finished year 12.
    Our professions are too important. Find people and places to happily work, live, and prosper. Move across the country if you have to…I did and I don’t regret it for a second. Sure guys I started with are making $80k a year teaching in Chicago suburbs but I have no regrets moving to a beautiful state and taking a pay cut for a better quality of life.
    Added bonus…if you move somewhere sunny and warm everyone comes to visit. 🙂

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