Report from the Field – John Bracey

Hi Ben,
Thanks so much for the support.  I have been getting my butt kicked this year.  I had finally subdued my other enemies at the end of last year, but then I was betrayed by the other Latin teachers.
I sent them a huge number of freshman this year, but not the ones they thought they deserved.  There were students who were on IEP’s or 504’s, athletes, ELL, “average” in addition to 4%ers.
They complained to my department chair that my kids were totally unprepared for their classes.  This gave my department chair, who despises me, all the reason he needed to launch a witch hunt against me.
He interviewed all of the high school freshman Latin students, examined my grade book from last year and accused me of everything under the sun.  Fortunately that monster is going to removed from his position at the end of this year.
Unfortunately I am now being forced to do all of this extra crap and to sleep with one eye open.
These sorts of attacks are happening all over the country on a daily basis.  Our biggest enemies have become our own colleagues.  Every day, CI teachers are being attacked by the Grammarian Inquisition which has become increasingly brutal.
I think we need a go-to blueprint for how to completely separate ourselves and our classes from these marauding inquisitors wherever possible.
Thanks again for the support, Ben.  These attacks would be unbearable without the support of you and the PLC.
All the best,
John

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30 thoughts on “Report from the Field – John Bracey”

  1. How can this be the same school that wooed you back after you were ready to leave? I really admire your dedication to your students and your clearsightedness through this nightmare. You shine with positivity, humor, intelligence and kindness. I could feel all of that when we were talking together in Maine. If I were a principal I would have your back. Since I’m not your principal, I’ll just let you know that it’s clear you are a huge benefit to your students and the school. Hold on if you can, or jump ship if you have to / are able to.

  2. So sorry John for what you have been through. The sick culture of education in America breeds this kind of ugliness. Thank God for the kids.

  3. That is so frustrating John. I’ve had to tell parents – when they ask about high school – that I have no intention of preparing them for high school Latin. I can get away with this because we re-wrote our curriculum 5 years ago or so because of the general problems in education. So my excuse is that it is similar in language programs so what I do is similar to what the school at large does. We aren’t preparing them for high school but to read, write and speak well (and so the same holds for Latin).
    This is a serious question/issue because in many places CI wont survive unless we can separate from the grammar grind. I suppose the discussion about rebranding might be part of figuring how to do it.
    Besides the content of how to teach as we mentioned a few days ago why this blog is helpful, this is the other reason: we have each other’s back when we get put into impossible situations. Alone very few if any of us would survive such situations but with community (and the help provided by it) we can survive.
    Keep fighting the good fight John!

  4. If I were in your shoes I would try to identify some influential parent(s) or at least an articulate one who supports what you are doing. You need an ally, or better yet, several. Can a respected Latin teacher in this PLC write a letter to John’s administration on his behalf? I hate to see you going this alone, John.
    I don’t know your story, how badly you need the job or what your other options may be. But if you must work at this particular job in order to support yourself and/or your family, you might consider making some concessions, at least ostensibly, to get the heat off your back.
    We all must fight, to some degree, unless we work in DPS or in Ben’s school in India. Each of us must choose our battles carefully. Only you can decide where to draw that line. I wish you much courage and luck. Are you the John who introduced yourself to me at the start of the Maine conference? I agree with Angie–your positive, radiant energy will eventually win the day for you.

    1. Hi, Anne. I am that same John who was at the Maine conference. I have been yelling at my cat in German ever since 🙂
      Thanks for the kind words. I actually have huge amounts of support from the parents in my district. A number of these parents are also very influential and active. I have wanted to call on them for help, but I have never been sure exactly how to go about doing that. But you are right, I need to find a way to harness that positivity.

      1. John, just encourage them to start saying positive things about your class every time they interact with an administrator at any level (counselor, assistant principal, principal, superintendent, board member, etc.). They need to tell every administrator they talk to that their sons and daughters love your class and are coming home and actually speaking Latin, that they appreciate all of the positive things that are happening in your class, and that they hope their children – and any who may be coming up from elementary school in the future – will be able to continue learning Latin in this way that makes sense.
        Believe me, the word will get around among administrators when they start hearing from parents.

        1. Most of the time, we do not attract the attention of our administrators to our work because our work is good. Good work doesn’t attract much attention in school buildings. Teachers’ personalities tend to override everything.
          So most administrators see the work of linguistics teachers as good, and they see our work as good. Knowing little to nothing about SLA theory, they just assume that we are both good.
          But now what has happened in John’s building, though I am sure he would rather have replaced those events with a few root canals instead over the past two years, is that slowly people have begun to in fact PERCEIVE a difference in the kinds of instruction going on. I find the news that the Latin teachers in his building have gone quiet is that they know on some level that John has been vindicated, his struggle is over, and they are the ones now who are being looked at.

  5. John, does anything specifically say your Latin program MUST prepare them for high school? I’m thinking of what your program description says compared to theirs.
    Does the HS offer Latin 1? If so, what is the course description? Does that description match what students are expected to learn from your 7th and 8th grade curricula?
    If the HS expects students to enter Latin 2, does THAT description suggest an unrealistic jump from 8th grade? It sounds like we could easily rationalize how you shouldn’t even be expected to prepare those kids for HS…they are different programs.
    How many students are in their highest level, and how many do they start (i.e. retention). You might be able to shift the focus on how their program negatively affects YOUR students. It’s also convenient that the HS folks don’t have University faculty accusing them for inadequately preparing students for college.
    Let’s get some details and spin this back onto them.

  6. John, your steady presence is the grounding that will serve you best. You know this and like everyone agrees, you will need to determine where the line is, in terms of your mental health, physical health, toll on family life, etc. It is so hard to imagine anyone attacking you. Unconscionable. But that is exactly the issue. Nobody attacking is acting from conscience.
    We are so lucky to have you in this tribe and you know that all of us will go to the front line with you.

  7. I agree with Jen that it’s impossible for me to imagine anyone attacking you. Are they blind and completely cold or what?

  8. Latin programs with multiple teachers and/or a ms-hs feeder system really are the front lines for the CI vs Grammar Translation war. And it is a war, since the old-school teachers see their dwindling numbers, lack of diversity, and alienation from school cultures. So they take refuge in tradition and “Rigor.” and attack anyone who is suggesting that Latin can be taught differently. It is a short-term solution, but one which may get those teachers to retirement without having to change. Unfortunately, programs usually get shut down once those teachers do retire. Admin support is really the only solution to these standoffs, and if you are a CI teacher, and don’t have that, you are up a creek. John, it sounds like once your admin leaves, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. But you definitely need an exit strategy–and any school would be lucky to have you. Stay strong. We have your back!

  9. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    What we have here is a ‘lack of alignment.’ So much depends on your admin’s stance on preparedness for the next level. In our small K-8 district, the admin encouraged/allows us to turn our backs on the 5 C’s as well as the traditional 4-yr grammar driven sequence that awaits in high school. Our admin appears utterly unconcerned. I realize, every time I read a missive like John’s, how fortunate we are right now. If you are asked to intercede in any way, attribute this mess to a lack of alignment. This often has the (unintended/intended) consequence of a complete department identity crisis:
    Who are we? What are our goals? What do we want our students to be able to do as a result of our instruction?
    An honest reflection on those questions, coupled with SLA research and benchmarking, can lead to a paradigm shift…
    Stay the course. We have your back.

    1. Just another thought on alignment, Alisa. My school now has “alignment.”
      Advanced students cover the entirety of Avancemos 1, 2, or 3 during the first three years.
      Average students cover 75% of Avancemos 1 in the first year, 75% of Avancemos 2 in the second year, 50% of Avancemos 3 in the third year and the rest of Avancemos 3 in the fourth year.
      Lower students cover 50% of Avancemos 1 in year one, the rest of Avancemos 1 in year 2. In year 3 they cover 50% of Avancemos 2.
      This “alignment” covers over the lack of true alignment, the lack of agreement on purpose, and the lack of discussion about the state framework, ACTFL, or SLA research. A colleague said to me today that, with our “alignment,” we have been set back about 15 years. But the quick-fix, top-down, facade alignment proponents think we have moved forward. It will be a matter of time before the the surface erodes and we see what happens.
      I agree, John, given that true alignment (alignment at the core, alignment in purpose, alignment in understanding of how language is learned) is a long way off, that you stay away form aligning with the high school and build support from within the middle school community, staying true to the middle school philosophy.

      1. Very related to the recent rebranding discussion. We really are running different programs. Only because we are not the department heads are we being told our kids are not prepared, when if we reversed the tables, we’d be telling the traditional instruction teachers that their kids are not prepared for our classes.
        On alignment. . . I shared this on the rebranding discussion and it’s relevant here:
        Traditional Instruction Program:
        Goals: Communicate accurately*
        Assessments: grammar, vocabulary, 4 skills
        Approach: Traditional = Grammar + output, Balanced 4 skills
        Tools: grammar-translation, group output activities, drills, worksheets, memorization
        Content: Topics . . . Textbook grammar and vocabulary
        * Not developmentally possible if intended to mean accurate communication of the textbook content.
        Comprehensible Input Program:
        Goals: Communicate fluently*
        Assessments: Receptive fluency first, productive fluency emerges after
        Approach: comprehensible immersion, comprehension first, comprehension-based
        Tools: TPR, Natural Approach, ER/FVR, MT, TPRS
        Content: Students & Stories . . . High-frequency + interest/need
        * Fluency = speed + comprehension/comprehensibility + non-rehearsed
        Every single teacher benefits from trying to answer and align goals, assessments, approach, tools, and content. That’s what “backwards design” is all about. And it should be informed by research the whole way.
        btw, I make my adult classes indulge me in 10 minutes of SLA talk to start class. So far I’ve explained mental representation, orders, stages, and theories of language (UG & Emergentism). After 3 classes and 30 minutes, my adults know more than 99.9% of FL teachers. Yikes.

        1. Thank you Eric for making such a succinct comparison between the two approaches. The old way if not complete traditionalist, is what BVP mentioned about FL teaching stacking theory upon theory. The tragedy is reverting back to the old grammar/table crap when students are failing at assessments.

  10. John, you know those truly awesome giant trees down by the Charles River near Watertown Square? I walked there this summer and felt their magic. You and those trees remind me of each other – strong, grounded, reaching, solid, friendly, gentle…right there in the middle of it all.
    We need to take good care of our trees like that . . .

  11. I’ve been reading “The Book Whisperer” by Donalyn Miller. Very good book on extensive reading and FVR reading (by a 6th grade language arts teacher). I’m sure I’m going to use some ideas to adapt the kinds of reading I do with classes, both independently and as a group. Here’s a chunk from ch. 7 relevant here:
    “Why should I subject students to negative experiences now in order to prepare them for negative experiences later? I just don’t think mindless work is what I should be grooming them for. I grow weary of hearing teachers say, ‘We have to get them ready for seventh grade, or high school, or college.’ They are in sixth grade! What about having an enriching, powerful, glorious year in sixth grade? The purpose of school should not be to prepare student for more school. We should be seeking to have fully engaged students now.”

    1. Amen! Yes!
      Love love love:
      “Why should I subject students to negative experiences now in order to prepare them for negative experiences later? I just don’t think mindless work is what I should be grooming them for. I grow weary of hearing teachers say, ‘We have to get them ready for seventh grade, or high school, or college.’ They are in sixth grade! What about having an enriching, powerful, glorious year in sixth grade? The purpose of school should not be to prepare student for more school. We should be seeking to have fully engaged students now.”

        1. Yeah, I am planning to write to Donalyn Miller & let her know how great her thinking is and how much I enjoyed her book, and where I might apply some ideas. (Kind of already did today & tomorrow with level 1…)

  12. John, you are simply amazing. Yes, do what you must to protect yourself, but don’t let the negative feedback get you down.
    Your high school “colleagues” have revealed their own inadequacies. If they cannot teach Latin to students with IEPs and 504s, to athletes, to ELLs, and to “average” students, then they cannot teach Latin because the 4 per centers basically teach themselves. The Emperor has no clothes.
    The attacks are vain attempts to hide these inadequacies, but unfortunately they have gained the support of a bully. BTW, my union recently held a workshop on workplace bullying and identified certain key elements. Bullying is abusive behavior – physical, mental or emotional – that adversely affects the target’s health (physical, mental or emotional). Bullying is targeted, purposeful, and ongoing. Examples of workplace bullying include unwarranted or invalid criticism; unjustified blame; being treated differently from others in your work group (i.e. other faculty); being sworn at, shouted at, or humiliated; exclusion or social isolation; excessive monitoring, micro-managing, being given unrealistic deadlines.
    I don’t know how things are where you teach, but in California these are contractual and legal issues. Were I being bullied, my union would get involved.
    You should keep a diary of all instances of bullying: being given requirements that are different from other teachers, unwarranted and invalid criticisms, instances of denigrating speech by your administrator, excessive monitoring, micro-managing, etc. Write them down as close to the incident as possible. Then, if and when you are ready to file a grievance, you have a paper trail; you administrator probably will not keep records.
    Once you have written this information down, put it out of your mind as much as possible. It’s on paper (or in the computer), so you don’t have to dwell on it. Let it affect your teaching and relationship with students as little as possible.
    We are all pulling for you.

    1. Thanks for the sage advice, Robert. Fortunately my union has been very supportive in this situation. We have a strategy, but it is a painful one. In the end, I am optimistic that things will work out for the best.

  13. John you da’ man!
    One thing that I am realizing about teachers and Ci teachers in general is that we are so dedicated to what we do that we let sometimes any and all criticism bother us. You are doing great work and just keep doing it!
    I am seriously considering a suggestion from the Hermanator. I think changing the title of our courses will send a powerful message about the objective of the class.
    If that schmuck knew your class was “Students and Stories in Latin” he would have a fairly balanced expectation about what the students were doing. This goes the same for parents and admin that think about language learning with a 19th or 20th century mentality.
    Hang in there and keep up the GREAT work!

  14. I got 3 questions answered during “Tea with BVP” and one relates to this mess.
    Question: How do you TCI in a traditional dept?
    Answer: Look for a new job (his joke), you may not be able to work in that context, educate colleagues* (this is part of our jobs), give people knowledge: here’s what I do and why.
    *Note: He already knows that educating colleagues is not an option to me, because I already shared with him my personal story of trying to do that and all the backlash it caused. So, I think he was serious that TCI does not work in some contexts and if you want to teach with it, you need a new job.
    I wonder if my traditional HS department listened (highly doubtful) and figured out who “Eric” was. Awkward. haha.

  15. Thanks for the unbelievable kind words and wonderful advice, everybody. Here is an update on the situation…
    I had a really ugly meeting with my department chair, principal, assistant superintendent, and union rep about a month ago. My assistant superintendent is awesome, but she was very quiet during this meeting. My department chair unloaded on me in a really unprofessional way, mainly about being the reason why kids are dropping out of high school Latin. The meeting ended, and I was ordered to give more homework, keep a much more detailed grade book and to do more awful grammar crap.
    The meeting felt awful, but my union rep assured me that it had gone really well. This week, my principal asked if he could replace my department chair as my evaluator. Then my department chair randomly decided to cancel the Latin teacher meeting he had demanded. It looks like someone behind the scenes is finally looking out for me. I also haven’t heard a single word from the high school Latin teachers in over a month.
    In the meantime, I am taking all of your advice and formulating a strategy for how to deal with these fascist high school Latin “teachers” going forward. 🙂

    1. Love that “teachers” is in quotes. At least they have not taken away your sense of humor. I don’t know you, but I am rooting for you!

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