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Friday, February 13, 2009

None so blind as he who will not see

Lyrics to a song that seems to paraphrase Biblical verses

they also describe the situation where I was teaching English - Eagle College in Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Last week I resigned after being told I could not make any photocopies to use in my classroom. Supposedly some parents were complaining because I was using photocopied material to teach their children and not the textbooks they had purchased. Half-truths?

If it is a half-truth is it not a full untruth? Half-truths have been used for eons to deceive by those who wanted to be able to claim "but I didn't say anything untrue". It has been used by politicians, lawyers, and others who sought to avoid accountability while misleading others. I have no doubt some parents were complaining. The school had required them to buy the books after all. Here is the situation.

The school began last year as a "bi-lingual" Christian elementary school. The school had the parents purchase U.S. textbooks by A Beka and then attempted to use these books in classes based on a child's age and not ability. When I went there to teach in January of 2008, what I found was students whose conversational ability was at best U.S. second grade trying to do academic work in U.S. Third and Fourth Grade books. Some of the children are very intelligent and could spell any word I gave them by memorizing its spelling. They had no idea what the word meant. Glancing at the work they had completed before I arrived, I thought they had enough English to function. What I did not know was they had just copied the answers into the books. They were not actually learning anything.

The majority of the students did not even know the pronouns I, you, he, she, it, we, or they. They were lost and frustrated. I began a process to teach them basic English vocabulary beginning with Dolch Words and the words most frequently used in English. They began to learn English. I had parents and Aunts thanking me. Their child or niece or nephew was finally learning English. But I wasn't doing the books. That frustrated the administration who cared only about justifying selling the parents the books. By years' end (July, 2008), my Third and Fourth Graders had improved their English a lot but were still far below the level they needed to be at equivalent U.S. levels.

One parent asked me to please return at the graduation (6th grade) dinner. So I did. I knew that in returning I would be facing the same problems. Students placed in English classes not based on their English ability but based on their class in Spanish. Even students who failed English the year before were advanced. Many new students were enrolled who had never had any English. Once again, the school ordered the A Beka books. I had explained the year before that the students could not do the work in those books. They needed books that taught English as a foreign or second language. They didn't listen but rather persisted in the same way.

So I once again started teaching using word lists and material for learners at levels below their assigned grade but within their ability. The administration grumbled. I kept teaching and the kids kept learning against the odds. Finally last week the "Director" asked me through a translator if the kids were going to use the books the next year. Obviously they had not listened to anything I had told them. The A Beka books are not what the school needs at this time. In 5 or 6 years it may be possible to transition to an American based curriculum but not until the school had children at appropriate levels of English. I told her I doubted it.

I did not know until later that the school was having parents pay for next year's textbooks. Last Wednesday I was ordered to only teach using the textbooks and the board. I was not to use any more copies in class. So I resigned. Clearly my message was not getting through to the Administration who have shown a complete lack of understanding on how to teach a foreign language. Their restrictions in effect prevented me from teaching the kids what they need to know - basic English - apparently just to justify having the parents buy books that the kids can't use again.

I am posting the 500 Most Frequent Words lists we were using before I was forced to leave on my ESL page. I left the url with the kids, and told them I would have it all posted. I cannot pretend to teach them as the school demands so I could not stay. But I will do what I can from afar to help them. They deserve better than what they are getting, but I fear they will never get it with the current administration. The sad part is the Administration acknowledge the kids would probably learn more English my way. But apparently the best education isn't the top priority. Saving face is more important. So I do what I can from here.

I make my prediction here. If the school does not hire someone to take over as Administrator who understands teaching a foreign language, the school will fail within 2 years. The kids know the truth as to why I left and so do many of the parents. In the interim, the kids suffer. There is none so blind as he who will not see; none so deaf as he who will not hear.

If you are trying to learn English or Spanish, visit my ESL site. The Most Frequent Word List (in English and Spanish) is only one tool you will find there.

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