Still so far to go

For this post, I think my recent communications with a colleague and subsequent posts (and related comments) on social media will speak for themselves.

Let’s begin at the beginning with this email thread….names removed (except my own), of course.

From: Teacher A
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 3:28 PM
To: Nicole Naditz; Teacher B
Subject: Foreign language required for graduation

Hi, Teacher B and Nicole:

Our district is in the process of writing new graduation requirements.  Our school would like to know if you are in favor of making foreign language a requirement for graduation.

Thanks,
Teacher A

From: Nicole Naditz
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 5:55 p.m.
To: Teacher A, Teacher B
Absolutely!!! If we are serious about preparing students for work and citizenship after high school, language and cultural studies must become a part of the curriculum. And if our district is serious about the 21st century skills as adopted in our strategic plan, then graduation requirements should be established that provide students with the curriculum necessary to meet those skills (world languages are listed as second, only behind English, in terms of core subjects in the 21st century skills adopted in our district. Additionally, those skills documents call out cross-cultural awareness as a key skill needed by our business and industry and world language classes are one of the only places this happens).  I have plenty of data and research to back this up.

I sent a follow-up almost immediately…

_______________________________________
From: Nicole Naditz
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 5:57 PM
To: Teacher A, Teacher B
Subject: RE: Foreign language required for graduation

However, if we actually establish a requirement for two years, for example, we need to honor and recognize those  students who are already bilingual. While we should encourage them to start on the road to multilingualism, they should not end up feeling “punished” because they are already fluent in English and another language.
Nicole Naditz, M.Ed
National Board Certified Teacher of French
Google Certified Teacher
Bella Vista High School
http://www.sanjuan.edu/webpages/nnaditz

And now, the “debate” on the issue begins. Except, my colleague doesn’t really debate the issue. Her arguments revolve solely around the fact that she (and she is not the only one, unfortunately) simply does NOT want to have to teach everyone. As long as world languages aren’t required, she and others will keep having a fairly select group of students. Hmmm. I didn’t think that’s what we were talking about, but I’ll let you decide for yourselves. Here is the thread of our “debate.”

_________________________________________________________________________________

From:Teacher B
Sent: Thursday, January 24, 2013 9:47 PM
To: Nicole Naditz; Teacher A
Subject: RE: Foreign language required for graduation

We have discussed this many times in the past. Although it seems to be a good idea for our job security it may be disastrous for our classes. Can you imagine all students having to take a language?  I don’t know about your school but it seems like we are already lowering our standards and rigor to accommodate different levels of students. I think we would have to add lower academic Conversational classes in the mix and possibly Honors level for university bound. Would love to join in on any meetings you may have concerning this.

________________________________________

Hi Teacher B,

I knew we would disagree on this, and we both feel equally strongly.

I’m not thinking about my job security (I probably wouldn’t be a French teacher at all if I was). I’m also not thinking about lowering my standards or anyone else’s. I’m thinking about our students and our role to prepare them for work and citizenship. Business leaders have been quite clear: schools are NOT providing them with employees who have language and cultural skills and they are not equipped to do that; they count on schools to do that, including K-12 because not all jobs/fields require a college degree. We still have a large percentage of students who go from HS to work. Literally 200,000 Americans are denied jobs every year because they lack the language skills the company seeks and those jobs are across sectors and education levels. The companies are then forced to give the jobs to native speakers and pay for them to be relocated to the U.S.

World languages already ARE a requirement in many, many districts, many of which have a much higher “at-risk” population, including the district of our national language teacher of the year 2007 (from Natomas). She and her colleagues in Spanish don’t lower their standards–they teach for proficiency and give students the tools to be successful.

We in SJUSD do the same for our students now. Why are we thinking we can’t teach students? We have all answered a calling to teach students and prepare them for the future–not just teach the cream of the crop or just the ones who select our classes. I think our district language teachers are quite skilled. I encourage anyone to visit my class. Differentiating to meet the needs of learners does NOT mean lowering standards.

Nicole Naditz, M.Ed
National Board Certified Teacher of French
Google Certified Teacher
Bella Vista High School
http://www.sanjuan.edu/webpages/nnaditz
________________________________________

Then, Teacher B decided to provide “data” to prove her point that world languages are not appropriate as a graduation requirement. By the way, Teacher A and B are also both language teachers. In the email thread she sent me as proof, I do have to give her credit for attempting a bit of advocacy for world language education. But only a little bit!

Here goes….

From: Counselor
Date: Friday, January 25, 2013 8:15 AM
ta spot first period

I have a sophomore, (name removed) who injured himself and is unable to remain in P.E. first period. Does anyone have a need for a ta? Please let me know if you could utilize some help.

Thanks,
Counselor

From: Teacher B
Sent: Friday, January 25, 2013 8:57 AM
To: Counselor
Subject: Re: student in need of ta spot first period

How about a real class like Spanish 1, 1st period.

[Thank you, teacher B for suggesting a valuable option that will provide him with more learning experiences than being a TA]

From: counselor
Date: Friday, January 25, 2013 9:33 AM
To:Teacher B
Subject: RE: student in need of ta spot first period

Sure. But, not sure that this student is up for that. I can suggest it to him though!

[It should be noted that this is a block school, so although the date is January, the Spanish one class to which the teacher refers just started three weeks ago.]

And then, her coup de grace, the whole reason she feels she has proven her case. This message to me about why she forwarded this thread.

From: Teacher B
Sent: Friday, January 25, 2013 10:32 AM
To: Nicole Naditz; Teacher A
Subject: FW: student in need of ta spot first period

Hi Nicole,
Interesting that I just received this e-mail from the counselor.  Please read from bottom to
top. [Note to reader: I have already fixed the order.] I always promote Spanish, but even the counselors would not put just everyone in
a language.
Teacher B

And, finally. My reply to Teacher B:

Hi Teacher B.

Thank you for giving this serious consideration. The dialog is good for all of us.

I still believe students should be given the opportunity to meet the gamut of standards we have in place for success after high school. That doesn’t mean I’ve never had a student fail at semester. I had two students drop F at semester, but that was after substantial effort on my part to work with them and their counselors and parents to meet their needs–the students themselves did not reciprocate. That said, this is the first year I’ve had drop Fs.

On the other hand, I can give several counter examples for every year that I have taught of students whom the counselors actually fought to keep out of language (but parents and myself prevailed and got them enrolled in language classes). They were being denied access because of their grades in other classes and now, they are A or B students in French. No one should be making generalizations about a students’ aptitude. I prefer to their work in the actual course speak for itself.

I still feel we are doing the a disservice if we refuse to even try. And, we have many, many examples of districts and schools who have for years required language for graduation. We can look at their practices and their results. I don’t believe “disastrous” is used by their teachers to describe their situation or they would have abandoned the practice. I would encourage you to talk to Christine Lanphere about how it works in Natomas–almost 95% free-reduced lunch, majority non-white, and yet the expectation to receive a high school diploma is (and has been) two years of language. [I must insert a correction here: I later found out that Natomas requires one year of language, not two; however it is a graduation requirement]. In fact, I share your concern about rigor and standards; we have the lowest standards for graduation now (compared to Natomas, Sac City, Elk Grove and others) because WE don’t have language requirement. Who’s watering down?

Nicole Naditz, M.Ed
National Board Certified Teacher of French
Google Certified Teacher
Bella Vista High School
http://www.sanjuan.edu/webpages/nnaditz

This email conversation made me so sad…are we still so naive and self-centered in our thinking when it comes to discussing educational issues. Well…rather than compose my thoughts again, I’ll let my social media feed save me a bit of time…

Post 1:

So in response to whether or world languages should be required for graduation in our district (as is already the case in most districts near us, including the two comparably-sized/population status districts), this is what one teacher wrote: ” Although it seems to be a good idea for our job security it may be disastrous for our classes. Can you imagine all students having to take a language? I don’t know about your school but it seems like we are already lowering our standards and rigor to accommodate different levels of students.” Really??? We shouldn’t consider it because you don’t want to teach everyone? Or because you don’t want to learn how to truly differentiate (the definition of which is in fact to NOT lower standards, but to design instruction that allows all students to meet and even exceed the standards)? Really? So you want to base our curriculum and our requirements on what’s easy for you and not what’s best for students? *sigh

Follow up:  In other words you want the conversation to be about your needs and not the students’. And not at all a reasoned dialog about the pros and cons of language and cultural study and the relationship between that and students’ (and employers’/communities’) needs post high school.

And another follow up:

And I see the need for debate and there a lot of factors to consider. For example, students already fluent in English and another shouldn’t feel “punished” by a language policy. But the discussion should center around data helping us make an informed decision on the issue and its impact on and/or benefit to students.
One of the great comments to this came from a former student who just arrived for a year in Paris:
 I agree. I think that is important for students to be bilingual and prepared for the professional work. Although it may seem intimidating to high schoolers, it will pay off in the long run and teachers must understand and sacrifice some time to better the future for the student. (like you Madame)! If it werent for you and Sr. Teacher [name removed], I wouldn’t have been accepted into my school abroad where everyone is bilingual and 80% trilingual. I also think some of the teachers have to consider that most countries require students to learn a foreign language at younger ages which is an even more rigorous task. A lot of selfish souls. 😦
My reply back to my lovely student:
Actually, it’s easier for young children to learn language. So, ideally, we should start younger, and have well-articulated language program that provide students really long sequences of language instruction so they achieve really high levels of achievement. And we need to consider scheduling issues: currently, with our inflexible, traditional high school schedules, students don’t have room for one more requirement. But I’m on the blended learning task force. We may one day fairly soon have options to take some classes online. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend world languages for that, but if classes that are more suited to it are offered online, students will have more flexibility in their traditional school day for others. Or …. Wait for it…. We could schedule for learning rather than convenience and really make a difference in what students can do during their education.
And so it goes. #stillsofartogo
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