If you look really closely you will see every person that has ever invested in me as a teacher over the past 25 years. From those at the very beginning like my student teaching mentor teacher, Deb Roy, Grace Leavitt, Barbara Connell, Don Reutershan and Marty Brooks, to those later in my career like Alice Yates, Michelle Fournier, Anne Matava, Ben Slavic, Susie Gross, Blaine Ray, Laurie Clarcq, my TCI colleagues, my wonderful peer coaching group and many, many others who helped me become the not only the educator, but even the person, I am today.
I also want to thank Cari Medd, my principal who started the whole process by nominating me for Maine Teacher of the Year. She is unable to be with us today and I am grateful to our Co-curricular coordinator, Don King for representing her and for enabling our students to share this day with me.
My wife Beth and my son Gabe are here today. They both share my passion for providing and pursuing professional development and support and encourage all my endeavors. I am also blessed to have the students of my Roundtable here today. As an advisory group, we have met a half hour a day, every day for four years. They are graduating in June and will leave me with a huge void, wonderful memories and the hope of a future filled with their visits, reports on their success and least one future colleague! A shout out to Taylor who is unable to be here because of surgery she had on Tuesday.
It all started with my senior English teacher who, in my last year of high school, took a victim of tracking, stuck in the C and D levels, invited me into his Honors English class with all the smart kids, and convinced me to ignore the labels that had been given me. He insisted that I could be or do anything I wanted to. It is because of him that I aspire to do the same for students today.
The closer to the end of my career I get, the more passionate I am about doing everything possible to help end monolingualism in our communities. We have generations of WL language students who have little more to say than “I took 2 years of French, Spanish or any other language but I can't speak it.” The competition for education dollars is becoming greater and greater too are the signs that we are losing ground. From French being cut at USM to stories of WL staffs shrinking from 9 teachers to 3, I am petrified that if we are not able to show greater success in our efforts at language acquisition, the situation will only get worse and WL less relevant.
I would like each of you to close your eyes. Now, think about the ideal foreign language student. Perhaps an actual student will come to mind. What characteristics are you seeing? Perhaps this student is highly motivated. Perhaps you see self confidence or a willingness to take risks. Perhaps you see combinations of all of these. Now I would like you to think of the other 9. What do you see?
We must consider methods and strategies that enable the masses and not just the “4%ers (which most in this room are) to find success at language acquisition. Moms have 100% success rate at creating language speakers. Language programs have tended to send the message that languages are hard or inaccessible and something only the really good students can attain. Let us ask ourselves as educators what role we have in realizing the conditions needed to achieve proficiency in high school like starting language education earlier. How might we use our voice to lead such changes?
As we face the proficiency based report card it is more imperative than ever that we see more success in helping students not only gain proficiency in language but confidence and even enjoyment. You see, I was one of the “other nine.” School had convinced me that I was limited at best and dumb at worst. The stigma of being in the D track scars me to this day. As a result of being the other 9, I know that the other 9 in our classes are not interested in learning the mechanics of the language. When language becomes the vehicle through which we talk ABOUT our students or other topics that are compelling to them, students become more interested, walls between the teacher and them are torn down, community is developed and acquisition occurs.
Please consider the ACTFL recommendation that 90% of all instruction consist of CI. We know that languages are acquired through comprehensible input. For that comprehensible input to be effective it must be 100% comprehensible, repetitive, personalized and compelling.
Each year I start classes by having students fill out a card like this one. On the front, depending on the level, students draw something they do, or that they are afraid of, or what they would do if they had a million dollars. On the back I put an information sheet where they share what is important to them and all of their favorites. Carol Gaab encourages teachers to make their students their curriculum. Each card that hangs prominently in my room for the year loudly proclaims that EACH and every student represented is more important than the language.
I am convinced that teaching with comprehensible input and the personalization that it allows, is responsible for failure rates at Poland Regional High School that has gone from 40-50 a year to fewer than 4 or 5. Enrollment in upper levels have gone from 4-5 to 30 to 40.
We must allow ALL students to achieve success in second language acquisition. Our future depends on it. The other 9 deserve it.