Thursday, April 11, 2019

No English for You!

The cynical, morally bankrupt thugs in NYSED face issues far differently than you or I might. For example, there's been a perennial shortage of ESL teachers as far back as I can recall. In fact, one of the reasons I'm an ESL teacher is that I could never get a job as an English teacher. Someone told me, "Go teach ESL," and though I didn't know what it was at the time, I grew to love it.

There are few things more satisfying than observing the rapid progress of beginners, or noticing that your students are suddenly fluent in the language. I remember one girl who struggled for two years and then caught it. I said, "You see? I told you you could do it." She said, "Yeah. I was surprised." Another milestone is the first time a student reads a book in English. "You forced me to do that, and I hated you for it. But now I'm glad you did it."

There's another thing you'll see if you teach beginners. You'll have kids thank you for teaching the one class that they can understand. Imagine what torture it is to go through five or six that they don't understand.

Of course that's changed now. How do you deal with a teacher shortage? In some states, you just lower the standards and hire anybody. Sure, that's a terrible approach, but it keeps bodies in the teacher chairs. In NY State, they've got a different approach. They take a regulation called CR Part 154, and rig it so you barely require direct English instruction at all. Then, they take the test that ostensibly measures English ability and make the standard so low that my dog could pass. Finally, when everyone advances, they say, "You see that? Our plan worked."

I'm fortunate enough to be in a building in which the principal thinks learning English is important for newcomers. Our principal, in fact, thinks it's so important that he holds classes of multiple levels in which students are explicitly taught English. This, of course, is old school. Official NY State policy is that direct English instruction exists only to support advancement in core courses. Who cares if you can introduce yourself, ask where the bathroom is, order a pizza, or make friends? As long as you can pass a bunch of rigged tests, that's good enough for the geniuses up in Albany.

So all over the state, only rank beginners are required to have only one period of direct English instruction per day. Once they advance, via that NYSESLAT exam that my dog can pass (and granted, he's a smart dog), you plant an ESL teacher in a classroom twice a week and you meet the standard. According to NY State, the kids are being served. What exactly is that teacher supposed to do? Who knows?

One thing the teacher is likely not supposed to do is plan. I know that because co-planning is a serious endeavor. If you're with more than one co-teacher, it becomes nigh impossible. I know teachers with eight co-teachers. The only time they can possibly see them is in the classroom.

I had a hole in my program this semester, so I'm co-teaching in a special education English class. There are two former ELLs in the room, and that's who I'm there for. In my judgment, the issues these kids have (or don't) are not related to their knowledge of English. But hey, the regulations say I'm supposed to be there, and my boss says so too, so I'm there.

The teacher with whom I work has another section of the same class directly after this one. I would not presume to tell him how to plan. Also, if I'm walking around I will help any kid, not just the two to whom I'm assigned. For me, this is not a bad assignment. My co-teacher, like me, was assigned to teach the English Regents exam. He's given it some serious consideration, so I steal and use almost all his handouts. My class complains that another teacher's name is on the paper, but I don't care.

I'm okay with this, even though I'm absolutely certain my presence in that room is far from necessary. If I had to do this five times a day, though, and had no classes of my own, I'd be pretty upset. I know teachers who do this five times a day. One of the groovy things about Part 154 is that you don't need to even be there all week. Instead of one teacher pushing in each day, you could push in two days here, two there, and one somewhere else. Now here's the beauty part--In that third class, you're there once a week, and then some other teacher is there once a week. Even though there's no continuity, Part 154 says this is good enough. And for principals, teachers who used to teach one class are now teaching 2.5 classes.

Now imagine you do this five times a day. ESL teachers who used to plan and cover five classes are now covering 12.5 classes. They have no input whatsoever in these classes and cannot possibly plan anything. A big bonus is that you can now fire over half of your ESL staff and save big time. It's a WIN-WIN!!!

Unless, of course, you actually care whether your students get support. NYSED and the NY State Regents don't give a crap one way or the other. They sit in fancy offices and go to gala luncheons while ELLs sit through incomprehensible classes. And hey, because the English Regents exam doesn't entail real writing or real reading, they can pass that and graduate.

God help them when they get into college, because no one else will. Our total failure to teach them English means they'll be bounced to some community college, where they'll pay thousands of dollars to take zero credit remedial English courses, and lose a year or more of their young lives. I know what these courses are, because I've taught them at Queens College and Nassau Community College. I taught these classes for twenty years.

And guess what? I can teach these same skills in high school. I would, too, except NY State says I can't. Instead, I'm test-prepping for the NY State Regents exam, without which my kids will not graduate.
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