Thursday, June 17, 2021

Mayor Asleep as DOE Shows Wild Insensitivity to Newcomers

Usually, I teach beginning English language learners. I request these classes, and most of my colleagues do not. They prefer to teach more advanced levels. I really like teaching the beginners and watching their rapid, often amazing progress. Some students learn faster than others. Sometimes a kid will struggle through a whole year, repeat the class, wake up one morning, and tell me, "I don't know what happened. Suddenly I could just speak English."

Though I always liked teaching beginners, I used to like teaching advanced classes as well. I'd teach novels, piece by piece, and discuss them in detail with the kids. Sometimes kids would thank me for forcing them to read a book in English. They had never done so before, and were very proud they were able to get through it, despite all the work I'd so cruelly given them.

The last time I taught an advanced class, I once again tried to teach a novel. I selected The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, a great book with simple language about a woman in Botswana who decided to break with norms and use her talent in an unexpected fashion. What was unexpected for me was the fact that, with the crappy NYSESLAT exam we now used to place these kids, at least half of my so-called advanced kids belonged in beginner classes. They couldn't construct coherent sentences, let alone paragraphs, and the book I'd assigned was a near-total flop. Many of them had passed the NY State English Regents exam, a test almost as crappy as the NYSESLAT. As far as how much English they knew, it signified nothing whatsoever.

I say all this as prelude to something I learned yesterday. I am in the process of giving final grades to my students for this semester. While it's true some may change as students desperately make up missing work, I have a pretty good idea how they will end up. Because a large number of students simply did not show up or do anything, I will be failing a larger percentage than ever before.

However, in NYC, failure is not an option, Instead, we give a grade of NX, and some poor (albeit paid) teacher will have to bug them next semester to make up the course, or more likely courses, they missed. This makes sense in some cases. I know some students who have very tough stories to tell, and I'm sure you do too. However, one size simply does not fit all, and my students are a case in point.  

There is usually a grade I can give newcomers indicating that they are not passing through no fault of their own. It's been reflected as L for late arrival, or NL, for I have no idea what, and likely other things in other buildings. It's a grade I personally promised at least two of my students this semester. Yesterday I learned that the DOE, in its infinite wisdom, is not allowing this option. This is shortsighted and cruel,

For my newcomers, in fact, the NX grade is a lose-lose proposition. First, they ought not to fail, It isn't their fault that they arrived so late in the year it was impossible to catch up. They ought not to eventually have a failing grade of any sort on their records. However, they ought not to pass either. They have not mastered the material, and it's wholly inappropriate for them to be asked to make up a bunch of work and get a passing grade.

As usual, the DOE, like its wholly ignorant state counterpart, knows nothing whatsoever about language acquisition. What my students need is not made up assignments, More importantly, they do not need to be promoted to a class that will be even more frustrating than the one they just took. What these kids need in September (not in summer school) is a beginning class that will make them feel comfortable and embrace English. I'll be teaching that class, probably, and I'd welcome them.

Instead, they'll likely be promoted to the next level. This is the kind of thing that could frustrate them and cause them to resent or reject English to one degree or another. To the likely surprise of no one, this shows no vision whatsoever on the part of the DOE. It's nice that Bill de Blasio thinks every student in the city should be promoted to the next level. It's also incredibly ignorant, and absolutely not helpful to many of the kids I serve. 

I told my students to find me in September, and that I'd do everything I could to have them placed properly. It's clear, as usual, that the DOE will be no help at all.

And that, frankly, is nothing less than a disgrace. 

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