Tuesday, January 29, 2019

At PD, I Learn ESL Teachers Are Obsolete

On the left, you see an ESL teacher. On the right, of course, is the State of New York, which knows everything. How do I know that? Because they say so, and that ought to be good enough for anyone.

I'm one of those old-fashioned ESL teachers who studied Dr. Stephen Krashen's theories. They are obsolete, of course. I know this because someone who worked for a NY State Regent told me. The person didn't actually provide any citations, but she said so, and since she makes more money than I do, she must be right.

One of the "obsolete" Krashen notions is that language learners need comprehensible input. If they don't get it, they tune out. I actually do a workshop where I illustrate that very phenomenon to English speakers. I give them a piece that borders on incomprehensible, so complex that few can understand it at all. I then break it up, do a Keynote presentation, and by doing that, pull my audience back into a place where they know what's going on. Actually, the geniuses in Albany say there is no such thing as complex text. I guess they never read Beowulf, or Moby Dick, or Shakespeare, But hey, they're the experts, and I'm just an obsolete ESL teacher.

The main reason I'm obsolete is I have this archaic notion that it's different teaching English to people who don't speak the language, as opposed to people who do.  You probably can't see the text in the photo to the right, so I'll type it out.  An "outdated guiding assumption and principle" is this:

The strengths and needs of English learners and their classmates are distinct and necessarily demand different approaches. 

Here is the "21st century reality and guiding principle:"

In many classrooms, the literacy strengths and needs of English Language Learners, Multilingual Learners, Monolingual Learners, and their English-only peers are more similar than they are different. Learning academic English, oral and written, should be an instructional priority for all.

(Let's ignore the profligate use of capital letters, since anyone who works in Albany and makes all that money is necessarily a genius.) This asserts that there is no difference in what people who speak English need to learn in an English class, and what people who don't speak English need to learn in an English class. And they've pretty much gotten their wish, too. Newcomers can now come to NY schools and be told it's time to read To Kill a Mockingbird. Don't like it? Tough crap. Sink or swim. This is how you learn academic English, and that's our only goal. We don't care if you can talk to your friends. We don't care if we make you hate reading, writing, English, your teacher, or yourself. We are the sole arbiters of what "21st century reality" is and what we say goes.

My colleagues and were asked to post questions about the reading, and indeed we did.  

Where is parent involvement in this plan? 

 Like all things reformy, everything is the fault of the teachers. The teacher is the only variable.

What is the role of school leaders?

I can only suppose it entails telling teachers they suffer from "outdated guiding assumptions and principles," and that the state would now dictate what "realities" are. Screw everything you studied in school. We, who come up with new crap every year to replace the old crap from last year, have come up with new crap, and it's infallible, unlike the crap from last year (which we also said was infallible).

What research supports the contention that ELLs don't have distinct needs?

I can't imagine there is any, since ELLs are acquiring a language, while native English speakers are not. I acquired a second language when I became an ESL teacher, because I thought it behooved me to do what I was asking my students to. Let me tell you something--it's a whole lot harder than reading a novel in your native lanaguage. I had a Spanish teacher who thought it was a good idea that a bunch of near beginners read La Muerte de Artemio Cruz. I can assure you it was not. One of my fellow students and I read it in English, and it was still hard. The teacher thought we were geniuses because we, unlike anyone else, were able to discuss it. Actually the teacher had picked a task that was way too difficult, and we just found a workaround.

However, since the geniuses in Albany are now simply redefining what "realities" are, they have no need for research to support their positions.

If ELLs do not have distinct needs, why is ESL instruction needed?

If ELLs do not have distinct needs, why not dump them into classes with everyone else? Why bother giving them time to learn English? Why should anyone bother studying language acquisition? Why bother learning that language acquisition ability begins a steep decline around puberty, or that the older people are, the more difficult it is for them?

To me, it's entirely conceivable that NYSED looked at how young children acquired language, and
did not bother examining high school students. If it works for a five-year-old, why shouldn't it work for a 17-year-old? They're not different. They're all kids, right? We'll just tell the teachers to differentiate instruction and take no responsibility whatsoever for the disasters that ensue.

Here's the toughest question, referring to what the state calls "outdated guiding assumption and principles."

Why are these outdated?

Well, because MaryEllen Elia, or Betty Rosa, or someone else in Albany says so. We don't need to give no stinking reasons. We have declared that this is the way and everything else stinks, and that will be true until next year, when we have a new way and everything else stinks.

How will they implement the idea that all classrooms will use similar instructions and strategies?

That's a tough question, but as for all things educational, Bill Gates has an answer. Actually all we need to do is record the lessons of teachers and show them to everyone. This is just an extension of the incredible efficiency we get from Albany. When it turned out there was a shortage of ESL instructors, they simply eliminated the need for ESL instruction, substituting nonsensical assertions like we didn't need to teach English to people who don't speak it.

Here's a reality--New York State is indifferent to the needs of newcomers. This is a arguably a violation of Lau vs. Nichols, and therefore a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I plan to do some arguing that it is. (I wonder if anyone in Albany has studied American History, or whether they also consider that obsolete.)

The people who created these programs belong somewhere that has nothing whatsoever to do with education. They don't give a golly gosh darn about our students or their families, let alone us. I'm sick to death of hearing about how newcomers will not only magically learn basic English, but also acquire academic English. Lots of us have taughts ELLs to pass the English Regents. The only thing that proves is that they can pass the English Regents, spitting out formulaic crap to fool readers.

It would be far better if we were allowed to teach them English. And if any of the geniuses in Albany wish to learn English, I'll make myself available to them too.
blog comments powered by Disqus