Will Repetition Cure Anti-Bilingualism? I Didn’t Think So

by multilingualmania on April 15, 2010

in Anti-Bilingualism, Bilingual Education, Personal Stories

I usually don’t tend to blog about situations related to my current job. When and if I do blog about something related to my current position, I typically will speak in general terms and not be too specific about the details. My rationale for this is: 1) I really want to draw a fine line between my life and my blog, and don’t want anything that I say to ever be misconstrued as representing the school district; 2) I feel that as an administrator, it is my job to work with school administrators and teachers in order to implement quality bilingual programs, and this sometimes requires much patience when working with people who are not knowledgeable about bilingual education; and, 3) I feel that when working with administrators and teachers that I owe them the professional courtesy of confidentiality with our discussions.

Today something happened that just pushed me over the edge and just decided that I just had to blog about it. All day long I have been debating whether I should blog about it, but then I have come to the conclusion that I have had enough patience with a certain situation over the past couple of months and I have finally expended all patience that I might have left.

It all started a couple of months ago when a vice principal at a school called me in order to discuss his bilingual program. I listened patiently as he bashed the program for fifteen minutes on the telephone. I was trying to have patience with him, because during my first year teaching he was actually my mentor and I felt that I owed him the professional courtesy to hear him out.

“These teachers are so stubborn in sticking to their bilingual schedule and their fifty percent of Spanish during the day in third grade. How can I get them to understand that they need to add more English if the kids are going to learn English?” he asked.

I patiently went through a thorough explanation about the fact that it is not the amount of English, but the quality of instruction that is most important. I discussed that there are some bilingual programs with more Spanish in our district that outscore programs that have less Spanish. I also pointed out that there are bilingual programs in our district and throughout the nation that outscore English-only classes. I offered to come out to the site and observe some of the bilingual classes, and later meet with bilingual teachers in order to tailor staff development specifically to meet their needs.

I thought that we had such a productive conversation. Yet over the past couple of months we have had three additional conversations about the same exact topic. It’s even been brought to my attention that a couple of times that he has gone behind my back to my boss and has had similar conversations about the bilingual program.

This morning was the day that I went to finally go and visit the site. I walked into his office and met with him as well as the principal and the repetitive questions once again reared their ugly heads.

“If we are going to have them proficient in English, how are they going to do it without adding more English? How can we get them to add more English?” he asked.

I once again explained everything that I have already explained to him on numerous occasions and then I finally just said, “You are NOT going to get them to do only English. It is the district expectation that this program will be implemented in this particular way. If there are components that are not present in your program in order to have a quality program, then we need to address them-and adding more English is not going to address any underlying issue that are causing you to have an ineffective bilingual program”.

We went on to discuss additional information about the program and he said, “Yesterday I called all the teachers into the room and I told them that they are causing the test scores to go down in our school. I will not stand for them pulling everyone else down. I told them that if they can’t step up to the plate that they will be moved out of this school”.

I asked him if he had any data on him that I could look at, because it has been my experience that some administrators make blanket statements about their bilingual programs without even having any data to back up their claims. He of course didn’t have any data on hand. You can bet your bottom dollar that I will be investigating this claim with a fine toothed comb.

At one point in our conversation, he mentioned that the bilingual fourth grade teacher had the highest test scores in the entire school. “So, the bilingual program must not be that ineffective,” I stated. “This is often what we see in the research-that students in bilingual programs begin to outperform students in English programs in the upper elementary years”.

He of course was not accepting that explanation. He just simply explained to me that the teacher was a great teacher.

I patiently walked through the classrooms and observed the teachers, jotting down notes as to what I would like to discuss with them when I meet with them at a later date. And then I set my dates and exited the building.

Yet there has been a nagging feeling all day long in the back of my head, a nagging sensation that it is not fair to the bilingual teachers to be placed in a situation where an administrator is telling them that they are pulling down all the test scores in the entire school. It’s not fair that bilingual teachers need help, and they are given no help, assistance, or guidance from the administrator who is supposed to be leading them. I’m tired of many bilingual educators being scapegoats for leaders who aren’t fulfilling their responsibility to implement a high quality, effective bilingual program.

Something tells me that no matter how much I will try with this man that he will do nothing but turn around and try to sabotage my efforts. But I still owe it to the students and the teachers to do everything in my power to try to support them in any way that I can to try to enhance the quality of their program. Wish me luck!

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

wenjonggal April 15, 2010 at 10:10 pm

This sounds like a very sad case of a closed mind. Your teachers and students are so lucky to have you as an ally.

multilingualmania April 15, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Thanks, I needed that. I have had a migraine all day, literally, because of this happening this morning.

Sarah April 16, 2010 at 8:35 am

I just want to say that you are doing the right thing! And I hope that posting a blog about it and letting some of your stress out helped in some way. Good Luck!

multilingualmania April 16, 2010 at 8:51 am

Thanks Sarah!!

Xochitl April 16, 2010 at 4:06 pm

If a teacher in a mainstream class is struggling with preparing their students for exams, then, are all the teachers in that level also included in the meetings on how to remedy that situation? How is this handled with non-English learning classrooms? Is the focus on the teacher with low performing students targeted as an underqualified teacher or does the focus switch directly to benefit and help the student by searching and trying other strategies, techniques, resources, etc. that may be available to improve obvious learning gaps? Is the teacher competent in Spanish to be able to develop the academic vocabulary needed for the students?

Over the years, I have learned that educators and administrators are in either one of two camps – they agree, accept and understand that bilingual students face challenges not only in learning the English language, but also additional cognitive development and social/emotional ones also. Or they continue to believe that faster English language skills is a guarantee for improved test scores. Not all English native speaking students pass every test, including English, and they are proficient in the language all the tests are given in. Yet, educators and administrators forget that students are present 187 days of the year not only to learn English grammar or social English. They learn math, social studies, literature, art, science, etc. The tight rope that bilingual teachers walk in districts all over the nation is one where on their shoulders rests the balance between preparing lessons that focus on English instruction and allowing the time for this process to develop and when/how/which language to teach academics?

I applaud you for having the courage to seek a solution on behalf of the students and share your situation.

Sandrine April 16, 2010 at 11:32 pm

That vice-principal sounds like a real nightmare. I feel sorry for those teachers working under him, and for you! On the other hand these teachers are lucky that you take the time to give them individual advice, and hopefully, things will get better in that school soon. It’s amazing that people like him end up working in education though.

Karen Vargo April 20, 2010 at 5:44 am

I have been an English teacher in Spain for 18 years in a bilngual school and I have come to find out that the system will fail because of the administration. The kids are always great and love every minute of it, as are the parents. But it’s almost like the teachers who are succesful are pushed out of the way because we tend to have the most outlandish teaching strategies and we get in the way of their hidden agenda to make bilngual education a failure. They are suspicious because students think that our classes are the “most fun.” Isn’t anyone else suspicious about the fact that, if bilngual education is shown to be successful, what are all of these mono-lingual school administrators going to have to offer? Are they just afraid for their jobs? So our great test results are somehow buried, and we are only reminded that we have noisy classrooms. I have even decided to take my children out of the bilngual school and put them in a Spanish school because the only English teachers who teach at their level (junior high) are the old-fashioned ones who teach grammar all day and my children, who are bilingual at home, are bored. I will never give up on raising them bilingually, but I have to say that I don’t trust the system, and it’s all in the hands of administrators. Like a teacher-friend once commented to me, “Los niños aprenden otro idioma a pesar de la profesora.” which translates to “Children will learn another language despite the teachers.” In this area they are so much smarter than us, we should not be tying them down.

Isabeline April 22, 2010 at 3:29 am

Suerte con esa dificil tarea!.

It’s a huge challenge and I don’t think you’ll run out of patience!

I’m starting to work as a consultant for bilingual schools programs in Colombia and would love to exchange some experiences (since its Spanish – English mostly).

ps. I wanted to ask you Melanie : what about international meetings or colloquiums on Bil.Ed. in your city/area, are there any / are the teachers encouraged to participate? By the way, there is one coming up soon in Madrid. For more info : http://www.cieb.es

Que tengan buen dia!

multilingualmania April 22, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Gracias Isabeline! Es TAN difícil a veces!

I would love to chat with you! I work primarily with Spanish-English programs. I would love to get to know what is going on internationally!

I am going to check out that conference in Madrid. Honestly, most of our local bilingual teachers are lucky if they are even able to go to one of the state bilingual ed conferences that is not really international in scope. I am trying to currently brush up on my international bilingual ed understanding, though!

Gracias por leer!

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