I got this from Anne Matava. The hog referred to is one of a group of Maine kids who were lucky enough to have spent all four years of their high school careers acquiring – and I mean acquiring – German from Anne, where they heard nothing but comprehensible input with this great teacher:
I wanted to post this on your blog but couldn’t figure out how. I could really use some support.
I ran into one of the Hogs today. He just finished his first year at a well-regarded state university. He speaks fluent German after 4 years of CI and a 3-week exchange his sophomore year. At college they tested him and placed him in an upper-level course. He did not do well in his German course because of his lack of grammar background, and as a result lost one of his scholarships.
I was in crisis before this, a quiet kind of crisis, the kind that intrudes into your thoughts as you are zipping down the road on a motorcycle or cruising the bay in an 19′ Seaway. The kind that you can get rid of by shaking your head and vowing to think about it later, late August maybe. This, though, is big time. It is heartbreaking. Bone-crushing. I feel like going to bed and not getting up for a long, long time.
The kid was so sweet about it. I said I was sorry and he hugged me and told me not to be sorry, he wouldn’t have had it any other way. He is a waiter now for the summer and waited on a German couple, they spoke no English the entire time, and he chatted them up for quite a while. He said that he realized that this was why he wanted to learn a language, to converse with people, and not because he wanted to learn the grammar. He has switched his major from German to linguistics, saying that hopefully now he will learn grammar, since he didn’t learn it in school in English class or in my class.
Maybe under the bed would be a better place. Yes, under it. With a blanket over my head.
That year there were 16 students in my German 4 class. 4 of them went on to take German in college. All were placed in classes where they were the only first-year students. All had trouble with the grammar. One of them had had Spanish in a more traditional setting, and was able to manage. She must have gotten a grammar book and taught it to herself. Two of them ended up coming to me during their vacations, we worked together after school. I filled the board with charts and sentence diagrams, it was just like old times. The fourth student is the one I saw today.
I think about the other 75% of the class, the 12 students who did not choose to take German in college. They all spoke really well and loved the class. I think of them, when I picture myself taking the last semester or quarter of their senior year to drill grammar. Anyone who teaches seniors knows what shape they are in at that point. I see their faces, as I start the lecture about direct and indirect objects, weak and strong endings, nominative, accusative, and dative cases. I see myself trying to convince them that it matters if there is an e or an er or an es at the end of that adjective.
Then I see the faces of the other four, wanting to learn, needing to learn all of that stuff. I actually tried, you know. I ordered up a handful of Schaum’s German Grammar workbooks and distributed them in September to anyone interested. Our plan was to meet after school and do the grammar, they thought they might like to try the AP exam. We never did end up meeting, there was never a time when everyone could make it, and after a while we all forgot about it.
Students shouldn’t have to stay after school to learn.
Any feedback would be very much appreciated. This is a real turning point for me, and I don’t know which way to turn.
Anne, you can come out from underneath the blanket now. You did the right thing with the Hogs. My own session two years ago with them, teaching them French in that workshop that Skip arranged and feeling them rock and roll and feeling all that mojo because you had trained them so well, was a highlight of my career.
Do you really believe that after all these years and all that we have worked through together and all the pioneering work that you have done in this area of comprehensible input – not to mention your writing those kick ass story scripts – that I would respond in any way in favor of some kind of support of the position taken at that university? Those professors are soon-to-be relics of a bygone era. That they are not so yet should not affect your thoughts and feelings about your work in any way.
I am going to release a set of blog posts next week, ten of them, that directly responds to what you raise here, which is a huge question not just for you but for all of us, right? Those blog entries will be labeled “Brick House 1 -1o” so please look for them here. They are very Mary Poppins and you’ll have to read them to find out why I say such an odd thing, other than for the pleasure that exists in just saying odd things.
My last principal still makes me feel that same wave, that nausea, of unwanted negative school thoughts about myself brought on by people who think that comprehensible input is just another buzz word, by people who just don’t get it. I have spent too much of my summer thinking about how this principal made me feel small, how dismally he handled the issue of comprehensible input in his school, how he botched it and how that department may never heal, but I am in another school now. I have to learn to let those people, who don’t actually understand (bless their brontosaurial hearts), what we do, go.
That is healing for me, to say that. So I’ll say it again. I have to learn to let those people who don’t get what we do go. That is one of Susie’s greatest attributes – she lets that stuff slide. She waves it away with a toss of her hand. I also want to be so stong in my conviction that nothing, no oppositional force, can make a dent in the purity of my beliefs and my conviction to do only what I believe is best for kids.
Kids have suffered enough in foreign language classrooms. Your Hogs never suffered, from what I could see in those seniors. They wanted to laugh, that’s all. They wanted to be seen as cute, and you allowed them that. You allowed them to be seen as cute and funny and at times hilarious.
You helped them develop bodacious personalities in class over time, letting each one emerge organically, some lasting a month or two and some lasting much longer, over summers. You didn’t hurt your precious children with grammar by keeping them in their heads all the time – they don’t want that!
You brought those Hogs into their hearts. Each day in coming into your classroom, they had something to hope for other than boredom and memorizing stuff (no longer necessary with computers). Anne, that was one of the best group of kids I have ever seen together in one classroom, and you got them for four years and you did right by them, and you made it happen. You didn’t waste their time.
By letting the failure of the college teachers with this boy be turned around on you to the poignant degree you describe above, and, in my case, by letting my principal, who thinks that he understands language acquisition even though he has never taught a high school class even once, ruin our summers, we admit that we have a bit of a way futher to go on this deal of caring about what others think of us as teachers (related link: https://benslavic.com/blog/2011/03/02/why-i-shut-the-blog-down-1/).
But guess what, Anne, I know who you are as a teacher. Knowing that you are up there in Maine doing the daily grind of the work is of great help to me in my own work. Knowing that I have colleagues who can teach language like you is so important to me. Now get this monkey off your back and enjoy the rest of your Maine summer!
I can’t really be the one talk you out of your funk, however, nor can anyone, right? I guess you can cling to all this if you want. We all have to deal in our own ways with the tremendous – and yet largely unspoken in our community – emotional pain of working with people who see us as enemies. We all feel that way at times. The question is, by speaking German to that hog for four straight years without as much as a few flashes of English, did you fail? I think you succeeded. But you have to decide that for yourself.
These are dark times characterized by dark actions by dark souls. It seems to all be getting darker. The people meant to lead us in education – the wringwraith university people – have abdicated their position and refuse, in their hubris, to see and implement what is best for kids. That is their problem. Don’t make it yours.
Admins don’t actually read the research. They don’t have time. If or when they do read it, they do not really grasp it. How could