Friday, December 11, 2009

"English Language Learner Training", a fantastic method of making political correctness a part of your classroom atmosphere.

We have teachers and district employees that insist that the reason the scores for English Language Learners aren't at "proficient" is because the teachers don't know how to teach using a variety of techniques that address a variety of modalities.  While this might be somewhat true, it is clearly (unless you are one of the ELL nuts) not because of issues surrounding cultural sensitivity.  It's simply bad teaching. 

Now the rumor has come out that some at our district want teachers to attend yet another culturally sensitive English Language Learner session.  For me, it would be the fourth time that I would have to learn this crap in a nine year span.  I mean "crap" not because it is bad, I mean "crap" because it isn't about good teaching to ELL students, but it is cleverly hidden to make it out to be.

The first time I dealt with ELL instruction was in the credential program, where every professor seemed to make it a mission to enforce the doctrine of SDAIE Instruction.  SDAIE stands for "Specially designed academic instruction in English".  On the surface it is specifically geared towards teaching Second Language Learners the material in a variety of styles at a more deliberate pace.  Underneath all the politically correct crap, it's simply good teaching.  You use different techniques to address different styles of learning, you use different assessments, you slow down and focus on positive reinforcement, you model good practice, blah, blah.  The problem is that SDAIE, or CLAD, or any other stupid ass acronym that is associated with Second Language Learning isn't just about instruction, it's about teaching Spanish speakers, and therefore being more sensitive to the needs to Spanish speaking students.  A full quarter of my CLAD (which allows me to teach ELL students) class work wasn't about teaching, it was about multi-cultural issues that have little to no relevance to practices within the classroom.  Add to that another ELL training about five years ago, and an ELL training that was advertised as a Content Area Literacy course a year before that and all this ELL instruction talk makes me want to kick my cat.

A good teacher told me yesterday that even the best teachers will only get so far with certain ELL students.  "I know a great way to raise test scores for ELL students; teach them in English or teach them in Spanish, and stop fucking around with it".  We both shared the same frustration of being told that our teaching was problem when dealing with a student that can hardly speak the language.  Guess what?  We don't know Spanish.  Another training that attempts to address asinine cultural concerns will not make the situation any better.  In fact, it makes me resent the hell out of people that have basically decided that all kids aren't worth the trouble of making good teachers, just the Spanish speaking ones.  Why is it that I had to learn about teaching modalities constantly associated with English Language Learners, not simply used in the context of good teaching?  And finally, when did the kiss ass approach to cultural sensitivity suddenly become a component of good teaching?

I think part of the reason that students enjoy my class is that I'm culturally insensitive to everyone.  I could care about race or culture or sexual orientation or height or weight or gender or religion.  When students walk into the classroom they pocket some that culture of the outside world and replace it with a bit of creativity, passion, work ethic, and humor.  In my class (Seniors in high school), culture comes out as a benefit to problem solving, not as an excuse not to complete an assignment or work hard.  From what I've seen, English Language Learners are still kids that want to see relevant information in their class work, be given high expectations, and the opportunity to function in a legitimate classroom environment.  In the eyes of cultural hounds, cultural sensitivity needs to be offered up to every student that enters the classroom.  In my eyes, the students need to be exposed to a successful and opportunistic atmosphere instead, eventually making some of my classroom habits a permanent part of their personal culture.

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