Monday, July 10, 2017

I Go to a Seven-day PD so You Don't Have To

 I don't know how many times I've heard complaints about PD. For most of my career, at least, PD has consisted of some supervisor or other lecturing us, precisely what they tell us not to do when we teach. The kids shouldn't be late, because lateness is bad. If they're late, fail them and tell them you failed them because they were late. Now let's move on to the next topic of business--how can we pass absolutely everyone no matter what?

Another one of my favorite PD topics is The New Thing. This is the Thing. It is the only Thing. You must do this Thing and no other Thing. Yes I know we told you to do some different Thing last year, and at the time it was the only Thing, but forget about that Thing because it's garbage. This Thing is the Thing, and it's the only way to teach, so promise me you will do this Thing forever. Until next year when there is some new Thing.

This notwithstanding, I'm going on day five of being trained by AFT to give PD. You probably think I'm crazy (and I'm not maintaining otherwise). But a new state Thing is that teachers have to have CTLE hours in order to keep their licenses. After this training I will be able to offer people CTLE hours courtesy of the UF of T.  I actually signed up so I'd be able to offer hours to members in my school, but it appears they may be sending us to other schools as well. There are around 40 of us taking this course, so hopefully one of us will show up at a school near you.

I'm a breathing antiquity, walking around with three permanent certifications, so I don't personally need the hours. If you have a newer license, however, you will need to rack up 100 CTLE hours within the next four years. If you teach ESL, you need 50 ESL-related hours. If you don't, you still need 15 ESL-related hours, and those are the hours we will offer. This is the brainchild of UFT VP Evelyn de Jesus, and here in Right to Work Trumpmerica, it's a good idea. While I may have an issue or two with leadership here and there, actively helping people keep their licenses may underline the value of union. Every little bit helps.

I hate to admit it, but this PD is a little better than what I'm used to. I'm actually very focused on ESL (which someone decided is now ENL), what with it being my job and all. A whole lot of our students are with a whole lot of teachers who may or may not know who they are or what they need. I'm happy to help clear that up, I'm happy to help teachers get credit, and I'm happy to maybe get ELLs better services one way or another.

One thing I notice, continually, as we examine research about English Language Learners, is NY State's Part 154 goes completely contrary to everything we know. Research, as well as common sense, suggests that giving direct English instruction is better than not giving it. It suggests we should continue it until they attain advanced English language ability, rather than offering it year one and then saying, "The hell with it." It also suggests that when schools make English learning a priority, rather than treating it as a mandated nuisance, programs will be more effective.

The most fundamental thing I know about acquiring a language is that it takes time. Part 154 not only takes time away from English instruction, but also has the expectation that newcomers will magically acquire English while studying other subjects. So in the same time an American-born student studies the Magna Carta, the ELL is supposed to absorb not only that, but also basic English.

So I hope the all-knowing, all-seeing NY State Regents are reading this. Dumping kids into classes for which they are unprepared is counter-productive. It's not just that we're setting them up for failure--it's also that we're setting them up to hate our country and language as well. Unbeknownst to the geniuses in Albany, affect is a huge factor in how well humans learn language. We can either set them up to grasp it enthusiastically, or dump them in places they don't belong. NY State seems to favor the latter.

My job, as I see it, is to seduce children into loving English. No, really, I want them to look forward to my class as a place they can use our language and have fun with it. I don't always succeed, but that's always my goal. I'm fortunate enough to be certified in English as well as ESL, so I don't need to negotiate my lesson plan with a subject teacher who may be more focused on American-born students. The notion that learning English is somehow secondary to the goal of studying ELA, social studies, or indeed any academic subject, is preposterous beyond belief. 

We can do a whole lot better in NY State. I don't sit through 7-day PD 8 hours a day strictly for laughs. Maybe we can send this workshop to Albany and get the Regents to start doing things that are, you know, not insane.
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