Reducing Effects of Big Classes II

So now we go to the external forces that can hurt kids and teachers when classes are big: colleagues, supervisors, parents, and one’s own self-doubts.

The biggest factor as I stated in the first entry is the principal. I cannot say what I would have done had my first principal not been a hands-off guy who trusted his staff to do their job professionally (and creamed them if they didn’t or tried to). As Frank Smith says, we have ’programs’ when we don’t trust kids to learn and we have ’programs’ when we don’t trust teachers to teach.

My wife worked in the district for many years and told me people were afraid of me. Those of you who’ve met me will find that as ludicrous as I do but apparently it is the fact that I have a rationale for everything I do. My background in psychology, psychotherapy and community work gave me plenty of first-hand experience with a great variety of pathology plus I read a lot. Now I may not always know exactly why I do something at the moment I do it, but I go back and ask myself why I did it. Usually I can uncover a reason or someone else can tell me why they think I did it. The danger there is rationalizing but if you fool yourself, you’ll soon be caught. I think my experience doing so much therapy, and the training I received as a psychotherpist, allows me to examine why I’m doing/saying what I’m doing/saying pretty clearly.

So the upshot is that when anyone challenges me in even the most casual way, I tell them what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Plus I talk to a lot of colleagues and superiors and always keep them in the loop. My dept chair (and I was one for quite a while, too) always knew, my principal esp, the curriculum director of our large district knew. That’s real important in heading off problems.

I also produced. Fortunately, test scores were not the issue they are now b/c I doubt my students would score well on tests I found stupid. I refused to prepare them for that and no one really asked me to. In fact, the last district test my kids took, I believe they did quite well. But a lot of good feedback came from some of the high-performing kids, from parents esp of low-performing kids who ditched all their classes except mine, from professors at ASU (for Russian, not for Sp which is too diffuse to get much feedback from instructors at the college level) – I just got written up in a book on the teaching of Russian in Arizona where I am portrayed as a “force” for Russian in the state – and from my colleagues. I also got involved in professional organizations and that did not go unnoticed, representing the district in a way.

Another factor I must bring up – the LDS community is extremely large and influential in my district and at my school and, for those of you who don’t know, many LDS kids go on a mission to a foreign country. My classes in Russian and Spanish were very popular with them. They felt they learned to actually use the language which was important since that’s exactly what they were going to do.

Very few of my colleagues were hostile; in fact, I can only think of one and he was hostile to everyone. And, again, those receiving my Sp students never had complaints.

That leaves me. If I doubted what I was doing, the rationale for it, which I often did, I would go to a number of sources: first the kids and their reactions and learning; then my immediate colleagues – e.g. a kid transfers from my class to another; third my books, the research in SLA, the fl teacher listservs I’m on, etc. And I talk to myself a lot and sometimes have epiphanies (is that the plural or is it epiphimata?). I also take care of myself, resting, working out, and so on, leaving myself time for myself.

One last thing and maybe the biggest is my buddy and colleague, Brian. I met Brian when I was doing my student teaching at my school and before anyone ever suggested I teach fl we became friends. As I joined into the fl dept, we would drink coffee together at least 3 times a day and talk about students and language and society and culture and grading and student behavior and parents and admin…… and we’d go to conferences together and he would bring his artisan friends from Mexico and he took me to Mexico and on and on and we still have coffee at the Mexican market which is easy to do since we’re both retired now.


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