Friday, June 09, 2017

A to Z on CR Part 154 and ESL

A few days ago I attended a meeting at UFT central regarding Part 154. This is the relatively newly revised regulation for ESL students that governs their learning conditions. Honestly, other than a little extra instruction for kids who test out of ESL, I see nothing good about it at all. I'm going to share here what I told a committee looking at it, and what most ESL teachers I know would like to see addressed.

Part 154 demands that we teach ELLs academic subjects plus English in the same time it takes native English speakers to master academic subjects alone. This is absurd beyond belief. If someone is teaching about the Battle of Gettysburg, and it takes 40 minutes to address it, how on earth are newcomers supposed to learn not only that, but also the vocabulary and nuances required by a new language?

It also reduces and diminishes direct English instruction, vital to the kids I serve. After puberty, language acquisition ability declines precipitously. My kids, like all high school ELLs in the state, are losing 33-100% of direct English instruction. The notion that this lost time will be blended in with magical academic classes is misguided, and that's being generous.

Part 154 makes changes that may be well-intentioned, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with. Intentions notwithstanding, it place learners in classrooms studying inappropriate materials. Newcomers could easily be expected to read To Kill a Mockingbird, or Hamlet, for example, and this could easily be in lieu of learning how to introduce themselves. Nonsensical situations like these will certainly discourage students. These learners could easily become altogether alienated with both our language and culture.

Were it up to me, I'd place newcomers, particularly older ones, in an intense English immersion program. Ambitious though it is to hand them three-inch thick biology textbooks, such practices deprive children of the instruction they need to more quickly manage not only their everyday lives, but also to aid in those of their parents and other family members. ELLs sometimes miss school because they have to accompany their parents or grandparents to the doctor, or to immigration, or just about anywhere else, to act as translators.

Widely accepted theories of language acquisition and encouraging reading suggest our practices are misguided, and becoming even moreso. The use of high interest materials, at or just a little above student levels, is the sort of thing that might seduce kids into loving reading, or even English. You can frown on comic books, but if kids love them they can learn from them.

The notion of combining our subject with others degrades our discipline, suggesting the English language is somehow secondary to academic subjects. Actually it’s more fundamental, more important, and indispensable to anyone who wishes to master any academic subject. You don't run before you can walk, but the NY State Board of Regents seems not to know this.

Part 154 reduces devoted ESL teachers to secondary figures in classrooms. In many cases it makes them redundant. As principals seek out dual-licensed teachers to save money, dedicated ESL teachers will be out of work. Much as I deplore that situation, it's actually far from the worst part of it. It’s ridiculous and offensive to imagine that someone who takes the magical 12 credits to become dually-certified could do even what we do, let alone teach the Magna Carta and basic English at the same time.

There's an absurd rule that says students in ESL classes may not be more than one grade apart. This makes scheduling impossible even in an extremely large school like mine. If we were to follow the regs that say students may not be more than one grade apart, I’d have one class of 3 and one of 65. Schools with smaller populations have even more difficulty.

In fact, in small schools with one ESL teacher, said teacher is expected to do and teach everything. Go help everyone teach everything. No more frittering your time away teaching these kids English. Go to the science class, the math class, the social studies class, and the English class, and make sure every kid who doesn't understand English gets an A on every test. Also, make sure they get excellent scores on 4-8 math and English. And make sure they get 90 or higher on all the Regents exams.

This is discouraging, to say the least, to potential ESL teachers. A great young teacher in my building, one who first joined my classes as a student observer, is contemplating a career change. I see a lot of discussion as to whether or not young people to be teachers. I love being a teacher, and I particularly love being an ESL teacher. I have often told student teachers it's the very best thing to teach.

But if our role is to stand around with teachers of tested academic subjects and explain what they're trying to do to people who don't understand English, I can't recommend it. It takes a lot to discourage someone like me, but Part 154 does a pretty good job.
blog comments powered by Disqus