Michael Nagelkerke

Thank you Michael for this bio:
I haven’t yet gotten around to writing my bio, but I could cut and paste the majority of Jen’s bio into my own. Everything she said about not feeling like a “real teacher,” trying to do things “the way we’re supposed to,” having lesson plans and sticking to them, commanding respect and giving a bunch of challenging homework and projects, all this struck a chord when I read it because it’s exactly how I felt too.
While trying to conform to the mold of the “ideal teacher,” I’m absolutely positive that I crushed the hopes of all but the 4%ers of ever learning Spanish. My department chair and mentor teacher was against TPRS and when I asked why, he said that one of the schools in our district did TPRS instead of following the district pacing guides and curriculum, and whenever we’d have one of their students transfer over to our school, they wouldn’t know anything. This was confirmed when I actually had a student from said school transfer into one of my classes and despite having had Spanish for the same amount of time as my students, she did very poorly. She even came to me and talked about how much she loved Spanish class when she was at her former school and now she was failing and very concerned about her grade. I kind of chuckled to myself and thought, “Yup, the dept. chair was right. It might be fun, but kids don’t learn anything using TPRS.” She ended up dropping the class at the end of the semester and I just hardened by heart and felt relieved I didn’t have to fail another student.
I started teaching in August of 2007, but after two years of teaching Spanish, my contract didn’t get renewed. I pretty much burned myself out in the first year. I started teaching with an emergency license and got my teaching license through a 1 year alternative licensure program. I never worked so hard in my life. I was a full time student and full time teacher, and I would get to school at 6am and wouldn’t leave until 6pm or latter sometimes, and then go home and do my online class work. I spent so much time trying to come up with authentic, interesting and innovative ideas on how to teach, but no matter what kind of dog and pony show I tried to put on I just couldn’t please those darn kids. “They just don’t want to learn!” I’d say to myself, but deep down, I knew that there had to be a better way. I really wanted to teach students to really speak Spanish, not just do grammar and conjugate verbs.
That year I didn’t get my contract renewed, was a really tough year for me. Due to district policy the administration wouldn’t tell me why I was getting canned. I really didn’t see this coming. I would have figured that if I was doing that bad, I would have been told something like, “Hey, if you don’t change this or that, you’re going to have to find a new place to teach.” Can you imagine what calamity we’d incur if we teachers failed a student without giving them feedback or a reason why? Apparently administrators aren’t held to the same standard, at least in that district.
I pretty much pleaded with them to tell me why, citing the fact that I needed to know what I was doing wrong so I could make changes and perhaps keep a teaching job in the future. I got told my contract wasn’t being renewed shortly after my 2nd formal evaluation of the year and they told me that in my post formal evaluation meeting, my evaluator could go over some of those things. The AP that was my evaluator pretty much avoided me and didn’t respond to my emails after that. Anyways, I spent the next year effectively unemployed. I was completely crushed as a teacher and was considering other career opportunities.
In October of 2009, I got engaged to the love of my life and with the prospects of marriage and not finding many alternative employment opportunities in the current economy, I decided to give teaching another try. I ended up landing a part-time elementary Spanish teaching position, (hardly enough to support a wife, but it was the only job that was offered to me).
Being the only Spanish teacher in the building gave me an incredible amount of freedom to do whatever I wanted. I didn’t have to worry about sending students on to another teacher that would complain if my student knew this or that, so I started experimenting with more communicative methods. I was teaching 1st-5th grade, and I saw each class every four days for 40 minutes. I started the year mainly doing TPR activities, teaching songs, and playing games. I never once gave a work sheet. The response I got from my students, fellow teachers, parents and administrators was tremendous. I was so surprised because I felt like I was slacking off- no grading worksheets or tests? Come on! What kind of teacher does that?
Despite the limited time that I saw them, they were learning, engaged, enjoying Spanish and having fun. But, I knew the techniques and activities I was using were not enough. I wanted my students to be able to communicate, and not just know how to follow commands and know vocabulary. I decided to experiment with TPRS. Towards the end of that first semester, I started using TPRS and comprehensive input. I bought the “cuéntame” TPRS curriculum, but found that the stories just didn’t work for me and then I started to make up my own. I stumbled across Ben’s website and watched one of his videos on Youtube and was absolutely impressed hearing his students responding so effortlessly and willingly to the French he’d rattle off. When I saw that video, I knew that’s exactly how I wanted to teach, so I started reading all his free materials, and bought some of his books.
Despite that year being an overwhelming success (Both my formal evaluations were perfect), state budget cuts forced my administrators to cut the Spanish program. (No hard feelings. I probably would have done the same in their position.) But that same day my administrator broke me the news, she also told me that she recommended me to the middle school and that if I wanted it, I’d have a full time job as the new middle school Spanish teacher.
So now I’m a middle school teacher, and I’m having nearly the same overwhelming success as at the middle school. I’ve been using Ben’s methods and techniques almost exclusively it’s working brilliantly. It’s so weird and surprising to me to have students I don’t know come up to me in the hallways and say, “I can’t wait till next quarter when I get to have Spanish class!” or students that I have had or have currently approach me and want to try talking to me in Spanish. That never happened to me when I was a Spanish grammar teacher at the high school.
So now I’m a happy teacher and my students are happy too. I’m really thankful to Ben and all those who went before him to pioneer TPRS and Comprehensive Input.
Michael Nagelkerke
Falcon Middle School, Falcon, CO



10 thoughts on “Michael Nagelkerke”

  1. “but kids don’t learn anything using TPRS.”
    I’ve heard this so many times from people in other districts and my students are now starting to compare themselves to the students in the other Spanish I classes in my building and they’re starting to think they’re not learning anything either because they can’t tell time and they can’t have fake, scripted conversations with each other.
    This misconception needs to be at the forefront of TPRS if we want to win over hearts and minds. Too many people think that students aren’t learning anything with this method.

  2. I repeat:
    Two different paradigms at odds here:
    1) input leads to output
    2) output leads to output
    The misconception about “learning” goes much deeper than we think. I don’t believe that “output” teachers believe “acquisition” to be very important. Output is important to them, and memorized output is quite manageable and discretely measurable. Acquisition is not either of those. We can “manage” the input, but we can’t manage the output. It is messy and impossible to corral in the traditional way.

  3. This is an important distinction, Jody. Thanks for all the clarifications you make on this blog. I would add that output-oriented teachers probably believe that memorizing phrases in the TL will lead to acquisition.

  4. John, I’m afraid that there is an entire league of people out there who believe that those memorized phrases ARE acquisition.
    with love,

  5. “Output is important to them, and memorized output is quite manageable and discretely measurable. Acquisition is not either of those. We can “manage” the input, but we can’t manage the output. It is messy and impossible to corral in the traditional way.”
    Nicely said. You put in words the one of the key problems in education today, not just FL class. Teaching students in a way that is conducive to think critically, creatively, and originally is difficult to assess. Traditional meathods are much easier to assess and put into data spreadsheets.

  6. Sometimes I feel like I am an ambassador of TPRS, out to show the rest of the world how great it is. I recently presented to our school board and showed 8 minutes worth of video footage. Granted, I couldn’t have orchestrated a better interaction with my students, but people were impressed. But I think we have to rely on word of mouth, on our students to share their success stories (i.e. Laurie’s former student who helped an injured man), on parents to pass on anecdotes they hear from their children. I teach in a very small community, where everyone knows everything, so that’s not hard. But I just try to do my job every day, teach my kids to the best of my ability and hope that the word gets out.

  7. My two colleagues and I at the private K-12 Christian school where I teach part-time (I have grades 2-6 and share HS Spanish 4) have switched to TPRS this year. We are blessed to have Spanish for at least 3, 30-minute periods per week at every single grade level, and we are using comprehensible input to the best of our growing abilities at every grade level. It’s been rewarding and challenging, and after decades of being traditional language teachers, we’ve had a lot to think and talk about.
    One topic that comes up frequently for us is comparing whether our students are learning to do all that they would have been learning to do with a traditional textbook. When we realize things like — hey, they’ve never learned to tell someone their names, or, they don’t even know how to tell time!!, we’ve confronted the issue head on. Just because something is taught in a sequence in a regular grammar-based book doesn’t mean that it is something that *shouldn’t* be taught via CI/TPRS. We *do* want our kids to be able to introduce themselves to people, and to be able to tell time in Spanish! So we’ve decided that we have to work that kind of stuff into our stories. When character X goes to location A and meets character Z, we use Blaine’s tricks of feeding the kids their lines, and they introduce themselves. And maybe one of our characters will need to know what time it is, so we can go looking for a clock or something … We also deal with the reality that a significant number of our kids may leave our school after 8th grade to move on to the public high school (for different sports or club opportunities, usually), and we know that they will be using a traditional textbook when they leave us. We want them to outshine their future classmates, so we’re trying to plan ahead and prepare them as best we can, using the method that we now know to be so much more effective.
    I think this is a good opportunity to remind ourselves that there *is* content that we need to remember to teach. I make sure my own children learn their numbers and can count and tell time in English; of course my student “kids” need to be able to do the same in Spanish, and I am accountable for teaching them to do so, no matter what methodology I am using. We teachers are quarterbacking the stories/input, after all, so we’d better have an idea what we should be including, don’t you think?
    I’m primarily responding to Chris’s comment above. I believe that no methodology is foolproof — you have to be conscientious, responsible, and able to teach, or whatever method you use is going to fail. So if we hear people say that kids don’t learn anything in TPRS, we need to evaluate that comment. Are they referring to kids who are able to communicate according to ACTFL standards but haven’t learned linguistic terminology or how to conjugate verbs in a chart? Or are they noticing that we are forgetting to include something that we should have made part of our stories so that our kids could acquire it?
    There’s always so much to think about in this new CI world …

  8. Right ON! We do need to know how to introduce ourselves in our target language and making it part of our conversations/stories is a real thing. It fits what I think of as comprehensible input. I often use a song to teach the phrase because we use–“what is it called?” so often that as soon as they click onto this phrase the world can open for them. It is also the first pop-up grammer lesson as me-you-and he/she/it come into play. That 5 minutes the first 5 lessons of the year are gold to me.
    What I keep getting from all the fabulous teachers on this blog is that we have to keep open to what works for us in our class with our students, our admin, our parents. We can generalize, but the specifics are day to day and person to person. That is hard when we’ve been wired to use the uni-sex one size fits all approach of a factory education versus thinking in terms of a classroom family.
    When I wrote my “learning goals” for class, the last one said–
    We will speak when ready. I think that allowed for everyone to speak in their own time.
    Today we are performing at our all school weekly assembly. Most of my children are doing two or three things not just my little story. So, I’ve had to amend individuals saying a line and rather a choral reading in order that everyone can be on stage and the pressure moves to all of us rather than any particular 4% of us. We all learn at different rates.
    I got the idea for doing Brown Bear from reading this blog. Fits perfectly for k-8. We all know the story in English. Today we will hear it in Mvskoke, Russian, and Spanish. It gave all 3 classes a direction and we each went at it in our own way.

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