More of Pat’s worldview – striving to do the job

This may not really be part of a worldview but since some of the posts in this category match what I want to write, I’ll put it under Pat’s Worldview.

In looking over the biographical material I’ve put on this blog, I note that I left out something in my work history. When I entered the field of psychotherapy, it was in a major mental health center. We had the responsibility of caring for the mental health needs of a large catchment area which included the most poverty-stricken part of the city of Phoenix and included both the State Hospital (the “asylum” for AZ) and the County Hospital. Mental patients released from these facilities were referred to us for follow-up care.

When I first started that work, I discussed with many colleagues the state of affairs, which encompassed many so-called “chronically mentally ill” or CMIs (the term has since changed). My determination was that anyone entering our clinic (I was a clinic director for a while, until the job became primarily adminsitrative) would see a change for the better in their lives. I even had a clinician removed for characterizing a patient as one who would never change. That was not the attitude I wanted to prevail in our clinic.

I went on to make a bit of a name for myself as a therapist and even there, as in the public schools, I refused to put people into rigid categories and then apply the approved treatment. I was by no means successful in the sense Hollywood would approve of. In fact, I saw the movie, The Soloist, and thought it did a very good job of depicting the world of the severe schizophrenic. But understanding the limitations such a disease imposes is quite different from deciding to simply medicate the patients so they stay out of trouble (there were, in fact, some patients for whom that was the best things; any attempt to interrupt their routine brought on terrible consequences and The Soloist depicts this well).

When I moved to Child Protective Services for two years, I applied the same approach there and got results, returning children to their families who had been wards of the state in foster care for far too long. The obstacles to their return were most often issues of the natural parents simply not knowing how to negotiate the system. Helping them through that system, e.g. just getting to the appointment with a psychologist for an exam, was in many cases all that was needed to resolve the situation. Never get on your high-horse with these case workers – it doesn’t matter whether they are incompetent or competent b/c the states do not give enough money to the agency to function as it should. It’s your legislators who hold the purse strings. In our state, after several deaths of children in state care, they reduced the caseload to 12, a manageable number. I had 36.

So when I started teaching foreign languges, first Russian, then adding Spanish and Latin, I determined students would not leave my classroom incapable of using L2 the way so many college majors in various languages I had known were. Even if you took only two years, you should be proficient at the two year level if you’ve worked in the class. My job as a teacher was to get them to work.

At first, I had success with the latter. Kids liked my classes and did the work. Even in my Spanish classes where a much broader swatch of the student body was represented, I had about 90% compliance on homework. Nevertheless, my students were unable to use the language. That’s when the ESL head in our district gave me two video tapes of talks by Krashen. I practically memorized those and began serious reading in SLA. Before ever becoming a teacher, I had been interested in reading in SLA but now I really buckled down and began attending conferences and workshops. My desire was to have students use L2. To my delight, over the years, that began to happen.

Now I am teaching only Latin and in a private school, and that allows me to focus my energies on teaching methods. Small classes allows for something besides crowd control. In the next two years I will refine everything I’ve learned and apply to these students in an effort to build the program back up. My success so far further vindicates these methods.

All depends on your goals. Latin teachers in particular can have some goals that argue for a more cognitive approach, but more and more Latin teachers are seeing the value in a communicative approach and the major textbooks, CLC and Ecce lend themselves to that. I will continue blogging under the Daily Lessons Plans & Activities category on my progress or lack thereof.

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