Before I begin with my bio, I would like to thank you with my heart and soul for the incredible contribution you and this blog have made to my professional life. I know many feel the same, but I need to tell you myself how truly amazing it is to be part of this experience. And it is out of gratitude that I take my obligation to contribute a decent bio very seriously.
This blog is a remarkable place for me – not only because of the quality of the wirting and the amazing commitment of the many contributors, but particularly because of what and how you personally communicate your passion for teaching, for kids, for public education and for life in general. My morning, and often evening, ritual is to read all of the most recent updates – many of them repeatedly – because they are a source not only of professional enlightenment, but also in a way a kind of spiritual enlightenment.
I guess for those of us who have so much of our life invested in our passion for languages and for sharing this passion with young people, the professional and the spiritual become pretty deeply connected and intertwined. So reading and keeping up becomes almost like going to morning and evening mass, and each day I find a new source of energy and renewal in the comments that are posted. I really don’t want to go overboard with the sentiment, but I do want you to know how I feel, and since you want this place to be a place of trust, I am sharing the true appreciation I feel for the honesty, intelligence, elegance and power that I find within your blog. I think I commented to you once before in a private email that your blog for me is a Zen-like expereience.
Anyway, I have been teaching Spanish for 25 years in West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The community is one of the most affluent communities in the country. We have a very strong and succesfsful IB Program, an ethnically diverse school community and have very strong support for innovation and change from our District and School Administors. When I read about what other teachers are facing in terms of class sizes, administrative harassment, skepticism and suspicion from colleagues, I feel totally blessed to be teaching where I do.
Canada is a very different place from the U.S. in terms of public education, and while we certainly share some of the same issues, the public system is kind of like our health care system: we believe in quality universal access, it’s a national value. An example is class size – I have never heard of classes of over 35 anywhere in Canada. They probably exist in some outlying rural or northern communities, but they are the exception and not the rule. In the province of BC where I live, our Teacher’s Federation is strong and classes of over 30 are simply not allowed unless there are very unusual circumstances. So I feel lucky…
I became a teacher after studying Spanish and Latin American History at university in Vancouver. I traveled extensively throughout Latin America and Spain, and lived in Mexico for a couple of years. I had a chance to work as a historical research assistant on several occasions in both Mexico and Sevilla, and Mexico is like my second home now. My life is very very closely connected with Mexico and I am “mexicana de corazon”! I went into teaching because of my very strong sense of social justice – I grew up in a family of journalists, writers, artists and political activists – in fact my father was the founding chairperson of the original Greenpeace movement.
He was on the first ship that sailed into Alaskan waters to protest against nuclear testing in Amchitka in the 70’s. So with that background, and my many travels through the poorest areas of Latin America, I felt the need to share what I had seen. My passion for Spanish and especially for Mexico, was something I wanted to bring to others, to inspire them to see the world in new ways. And language teaching can do that like nothing else!
After many years of running a very successful program – we tried to be more “communicative” than traditional, my Spanish teaching colleague and I were looking for a way to help our struggling students – mostly 14 year old boys who had been unsuccessful in French classes, and were kind of dumped nto Spanish, considered to be the far less prestigious language of study – see themselves as capable second language learners. We wanted them to experience success and build their confidence in our classes. We wanted them to consider themselves competent and not just marginalized in the ghetto of “Spanish” because they “couldn’t do French”. (French is our other official langugae of course!) We wanted to help them change a very negative mindset in relation to second language learning in general. And three years ago, after a lot of research and experimentation, we discovered TPRS – and the rest is history.
We are in our third year of using full-on TPRS/CI with all of our levels in Spanish, although things are a little different with our IB classes. I should say however, that the recent comments posted here in regards to AP are very congruent with our IB program as well. We do not assess grammatical rules, verb- endings etc. The assessment within IB is very much wholisitic and communicative – and the curriculum is organized around thematic big ideas, like AP. But IB is the last frontier for us right now and we are working to bring it into line with our other TPRS classes.
TPRS/CI resonates with us 100%, and although the other language teachers in our department or district have not adopted it, they are curious and cannot ignore the magic! I am the Languages Department Head and we do not want to force TPRS/CI down their throats, we respect their professional judgement and professional autonomy is a huge issue here – we have also been criticized for being too evangelical about TPRS so we’re takng a low key approach right now. But while we are aiming for the ACTFL standard of 90 – 95 % use of the trarget language in our class – which we have informally adopted for our TPRS classes in the absence of anything similar yet in Canada, we hear our French colleagues conducting their classes in English while students sit and take notes from the overhead. It’s tragic….
In Canada TPRS is relatively unheard of. We TPRS/CI teachers are very few and far between. My colleague and I are trying to build the movement. We have conducted a few very introductory basic workshops at our Provincial Language Teacher’s Conference and I am helping to mentor another French teacher in a district close by – she is very very keen and is gaining quite a bit of support in her school . We are committed to building support for TPRS in Canada. For us there is no other way. The magic of the classroom speaks for itself. Some days I feel I am in your Pure Land, Ben, and it is truly marvelous!
I am humbled by the writers on this blog and feel sometimes that I don’t have much to offer. We are struggling with the same things that others write in about and I am always inspired by the thoughtful responses that others contribute. I always look forward to the guidance that you offer.
Hopefully I will get the courage up to contribute and join the conversation more actively soon. I have some ideas that my friend and I have developed aruond the listening asessment piece that may be valuable to others and worth sharing – but that will be for another day.
Thank you for your patience with my bio – hope it wasn’t too much of a ramble.
Huge thanks, Ben!
Michelle in Vancouver, Canada (who is really upset about the hockey lockout!!!)