been teaching ESL for most of my career as a teacher. Though I'm
primarily a high school teacher, I've also taught college, including
almost 20 years at the English Language Institute at Queens College. One
thing I've noticed is that grammar is not something you can study once
and simply remember. You not only have to review it multiple times, but
you also have to use it regularly. For example, my second language is
Spanish, but since I almost never write in Spanish, I'd have to brush up
on accent marks and such for a few minutes before I'd even attempt it.
English, a whole lot of language learners decide the "s" we add to
third person is simply an annoyance, so they drop it altogether. Hence,
at every level, you read sentences like, "She go to school every day."
Writing like this, among other things, can mark you as a non-native
speaker of English. But a lot of learners figure there's so little
conjugation done in our language that they dispense with it altogether.
the last few years I've tended to teach beginners, as I'm the only
person in my department who actually requests this position. But odd
things are happening in how they're tested. For example, they're no
longer called beginners. They're called "emerging" or some other inane
and overly complicated thing. Also, I'm told the grammar and usage they
need, which unlike native speakers is not intrinsic for them, is no
longer tested when they show up.
This became very clear
to me in January, when our intermediate classes were full and someone
who tested intermediate (whatever they call that now) got dumped into my class. This boy was more
verbal than a lot of my kids. But when I gave a test that most of my
students passed easily, he scored 44%. This was a very eager kid, always
shouting, "I'm finished," before most others did. Yet his work was full
of fundamental errors. I can't say how important English convention is
to close reading and whatever other crap Common Core has in store for
us. I can say, though, that anyone who can't handle basic usage is unlikely to write
anything anyone will be jumping up and down to read. (Of course, there is that fundamental David Coleman Common Core theory, that no one gives a crap what you think anyway.)
innovative approach to ESL comes from NYSED. From now on, we will spend
less time actually teaching English. A good portion of what could have
been devoted to immersion will now be devoted to subject knowledge.
Because what's more important than passing tests and improving the
four-year graduation rate?
Sadly, the answer to that,
for my kids, is fairly simple. More important than test scores, than
passing classes, than just about anything, is getting a handle on the
language. If the folks running the state had even the most rudimentary
notion of what language acquisition meant, they'd know that it takes time
to learn a new language, to acclimate one's self to a new culture. What
would be so awful if we devoted an extra year or two to giving them
English? Why on earth should we penalize schools and teachers for
meeting the needs of our children?
The answer, of
course, is that NY State, embodied by Andrew Cuomo, doesn't give a damn
what kids need. They care only what Eva Moskowitz needs, because she and
her BFFs have bought Andrew Cuomo lock, stock and barrel. Too bad,
because my job, like that of all my brother and sister teachers, is
actually helping children.
Any responsible administration would devote itself to helping us do that.
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