Need to Vent

Dear Ben,

Gotta vent outside my school.

I used to have a huge Russian program at our high school due to the fact that I taught Russian to the attached junior high through Storytelling. All the HG kids signed up for my class, and entered my program at either second or third-year. Their enthusiasm leaked to other kids. I had 30 kids starting each year, and that gave me some kids who had a six-year stretch of Russian in high school.

Then two things happened: they hired another teacher there for Russian (she taught the beginning regular program Russian and the seventh-grade immersion Russian kids), and I was successful in introducing the junior high French teacher to TPRS. Shortly thereafter the regular Russian classes started dying and the French program exploded (as a result, there are now two French teachers at our school to be able to cover all the higher level kids). Now I have only three kids who started Russian at junior high because the teacher there killed it. This year there’s a new teacher for “regular Russian program” in the junior high.

I suggested to the head Russian immersion teacher that she let me introduce TPRS to the new Russian A/B (regular program) teacher at the junior high. I cited the results of the French program growth.

She turned on me and told me that the French teacher (whose kids have placed into third-year French at the high school level each year) doesn’t succeed with the kids. “They can’t write at all! He isn’t teaching the basics!” And on and on, about how you have to set the foundation and it has to be grammar and writing. OMG. Next, she explained to me how TPRS is not the whole program; it is just a method. I stopped talking at that point, because she is one of the ignorant. But the point is that Russian would grow!

My former students, who have been placed at 4th/5th-year level into her 11th-grade immersion class, tell me that her immersion kids don’t speak Russian in class. They understand perfectly but answer her in English (something I don’t allow, but have the whole class figure out how to say things). My former kids say that they speak more than anyone but the native speakers. They can’t figure out why.

Everything we know about input is that it takes time to be able to do output. Two years of junior high French will not make kids fluent writers. And somehow, eleven years of immersion Russian (kids she has personally taught the last three years) have not given her fluent speakers. She won’t even let her kids participate in the National Russian Essay contest because she says they don’t know how to format well enough. I think she’s just scared to find out the results.

Sometimes ignorance makes me sad. Right now it’s making me mad.




8 thoughts on “Need to Vent”

  1. I guess, do you need her permission to talk to the new teacher? I would try to meet with this new teacher, explain yourself and come from the angle of, hey, my numbers matter for you to keep your job and your numbers affect me. So, let’s try to keep our jobs together. I would imagine this person would want to meet you anyways, right?

  2. Michele,
    I am sorry you are facing this! I feel your pain!! We just got (after 5 weeks of school) an excessed teacher who has a Spanish credential but taught a bilingual science course for the past 9 years, thus no experience teaching language, into our school to teach first and second year Spanish. She admits she has no idea how to teach the language but is more comfortable with a book and worksheets so will use them. I have offered to help…let her observe, etc but she is feeling overwhelmed and doesn’t have time. I left school at 3:30 and she said she had 3 hours of grading “binder work” to do. I just said, “I guess you have to do what you have to do”.
    It is soooooooo frustrating.

    Hang in there!


    1. Thank you both, thank you Ben! Frau (Turner), I think it’s a great idea to go meet the teacher. There’s a strange history here of my colleague’s having total control over the regular Russian program at the middle school (despite the fact that she’s only in charge of immersion and there is another department head). So I think I’ll do just that…go share my first-week videos with her, and give her any ideas I can.

      Louisa, I am so sorry that you have that person in your department. I can understand someone not feeling she has time, but since she has no experience, you’d think she’d want to see what’s going on elsewhere. I would be jumping at the chance!

  3. It is hard to believe that this is happening to you. I believe that is your video, the one teaching Russian to the volunteers from the cross country and tennis teams. That was a great demonstration.

    Hopefully things will start turning back around.

    1. Nathaniel, that was a video of me! And Chill, I am going to make that invitation, but we have a Bryce meeting the Thursday before our state conference, and I’m not sure we’re having the regular (now Second Friday) meeting this month, because of the conference. Maybe we should do it anyway!

      PS Anyone who can drop some money and come to Alaska on a cheap ticket, come to our conference! I promise I will pick you up and take you to Seward (or I will find someone who can). It starts on September 19 and goes through Sunday.

  4. Michele, I was re-reading Dune with week and remembered something important: Fear is the mind-killer. Sounds like your Russian colleague has allowed fear to kill her mind. I agree that going to the new Russian teacher without her blessing might be the best move before she kills the program dead! All that matters is that kids are learning, and you have amply shown that.

    1. Hi all,

      Just found this post, and thought I’d share the update. I did get in touch with the teacher, shared with her some videos of my classes, and she had several questions about what year the kids were in; I had to tell her it was day 4 and 5 she was watching. She said she really wished she could do that, but had to get through some Praxis testing before she could do anything but follow the book. She did need some help to use the on-line grading system. I walked her through it.

      I invited her to First Fridays, to our conference, to everything, and she couldn’t come to any of it until we were doing academic plans, when she followed the lead of her mentor teacher and helped us put together a predictably bad first-year plan.

      Most kids have dropped her class. She will not be coming back next year, because she didn’t pass anything. I have been beating down the doors at that school, begging to teach those classes. We’ve got huge budget fights going on, but I’m still fighting for those kids! It would probably take a year or two to build up the program again (the French teacher with the TPRS skills retired, so next year his kids will all be at our school and there won’t be any more).

      Sad, sad, sad. TPRS saves teachers and kids. I don’t go out and preach to the crowds any more, but I’m thinking we need to have another intro to TPRS course in our district.

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