Teaching

Quote of the Day:

I am a part of all that I have met.” –Alfred Tennyson, Ulysses

My high school French teacher, Alice Hammond, retired this week after a twenty-eight year career. She alerted many of us via her Facebook status update. She also said that her greatest goal as an educator was to instill a sense of respect for different people, opinions and cultures. As many of you know, TB puts great stock in milestones and retirement is a big one. But I have been thinking about what Alice wrote for three days not only because I am fascinated with how one puts a career into perspective in a single sentence, but even more because I was struck by the depth, complexity and wisdom of her hopes of what she had accomplished.

To start with, how can a teacher know the impact she has had? Over the course of twenty-eight years, innumerable kids have been influenced to some degree by her. After a year, maybe two, a great diaspora occurs and she will never hear anything about most of them again. But seeing the results, I suppose, is not the point of teaching. The point is merely to equip the student so that results become more likely.

Alice is a foreign language specialist so in one way it seems natural that respect for cultures outside our own would be a focus for her. Her words though, seemed calculated to go beyond such a limited goal as having Americans appreciate the French. I cannot be certain this was her intent; it is my interpretation however that by instilling an appreciation for the French culture she was charged with teaching that a student must at the same time learn to look at a person, event, or idea from a different perspective than what the conformist and parochial culture we have been reared in usually demands.

Not being an educator, but having opinions nonetheless, I have long held that the two great deficiencies in American education have been our absolute failure to teach foreign language and a failure to teach critical reading and reasoning. I believe children should be instructed in a foreign language beginning in kindergarten and continuing through college. Why is it that kids in Europe, Asia, and Africa learn English in such great numbers but in America we….well, we barely learn English ourselves? It gives them a great advantage over us in the world marketplace. I think what Alice tried to do over her career goes back even one step further than what I have always wanted. If a child is taught to respect the ideas of someone from a culture different from his own, he will then be impelled to learn how to communicate with those people. To understand them he will be forced to extend his inquiries beyond clichés and stereotypes, buzz words and preconceived notions. And once this skill is learned, the former student will use it in every facet of his life. And maybe if a lot more teachers would adopt this ultimate career goal, and parents too, maybe we can get our own country communicating among ourselves again.

Bonus Quote of the Day:

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About travellinbaen

I'm a 40 year old lawyer living in Ridgeland, Mississippi. I'm several years and a couple hundred miles removed from most of my old running buddies so I started the blog to provide an outlet for many of the observations and ideas that used to be the subjects of our late night/happy hour/halftime conversations and arguments.
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21 Responses to Teaching

  1. Barista says:

    I totally agree. I’m lucky to be one of the few who speak another language fluently (Portuguese), but it obviously wasn’t the result of any American schooling, rather my own decision to go abroad in high school. I’ve always thought it was sad to hear my American friends/co-workers express their fascination with the fact that I’m bilingual…I’m more fascinated (read: disappointed) that more of them are not.

    Americans are a self-centered bunch, but hopefully more people like your French teacher will inspire young people to seek out what they can’t get from our sub-par school systems.

  2. jessica o says:

    It’s a complicated issue. I wonder why foreign language is not required from an early age. It seems only to further isolate us. However, I don’t think it’s an issue of arrogance. It’s more an issue of practicality. In many other countries, they have greater contact with nations with other languages simply because geographically it’s easier to travel from Spain through France to Italy. In the US, we can travel for days and never reach another nation. The day-to-day need just hasn’t been there for us historically. This is a fresh thought for me. So, if you’re going to argue, be gentle. 🙂

  3. Barista says:

    Jessica, that is a very interesting point…and I’d agree that historically that could have been a valid argument. But now – a little less so…especially because I do think it’s arrogant when we expect everyone who comes here to speak English and then we also expect people anywhere we go to speak English. Thing is, they do, so it’s lessened our need to learn even a little bit to get by on an international vacation and given us a reputation of being pretty arrogant.

    Obviously I use the “we” quite loosely here.

  4. jessica o says:

    Do Americans really expect everyone to speak English everywhere else or is it a reputation that has been perpetuated by the fact that people in other countries do learn and know English? I am not asking to be a smart-ass, I just get personally insulted by that stereotype. I try to use others’ languages and fail miserably most of the time, and I am truly grateful when someone speaks English if I am in a foreign country. As to demanding English here, I think using different languages on documents, signs, etc. is great, but I think it is standard to have a national language and not arrogant at all. I do agree that there are many arrogant and racist people who do not want to try to understand accents and who exhibit little tolerance for anyone different from themselves. But that’s not uniquely American.

  5. My basis for advocating the need to know languages–and I don’t–is all about how it benefits the individual with the knowledge. I think it would be helpful to understand what another country’s media is reporting first hand when trying to determine how to vote for a candidate with a given foreign policy, for instance. I also think it would be helpful in business, either obtaining clients who speak another language or a job that deals with foreign countries.

    As far as the theme of my essay, I believe learning another language is an essential tool in learning to analyze issues from more than one perspective. And that is a skill that we, collectively, are in dire need of nowadays. Once, just once I would like to hear some political talking head say “you know, Wolf, she makes a good point and I can see where she is coming from on that. I never really looked at that way before now, but I’d like to give it some thought.”

  6. jessica o says:

    (in obligatory tone) Barista makes a good point…
    😉
    I completely see both of your points and was typing while contemplating my perspective. I have no strong opinions on how to resolve the issue, but I agree we need to be more evolved.

    • Mimi says:

      I was brought up that sex was only right after mgriraae. After my parents split when I was 12 that was when I discovered that my late mom was so puritanical about sex. As I have gotten older I am not thinking about mgriraae. When i meet a woman and we get to know each other and want to have sex and feel the time is right than we will go for it.

  7. Barista says:

    Ok, I think that’s a fair point that Americans are just used to having people who speak English wherever they go…but I also know from my own experiences that even if I’m speaking someone else’s language like a bumbling idiot they really appreciate the effort.

    I guess I’m invalidating my argument since I’m over-generalizing and targeting the arrogant, sense-of-entitlement people that – I’m sure you won’t disagree – there are plenty of in this country. But there are also plenty of people who aren’t like that.

  8. Workinbaen says:

    Btw jesso I’m very happy to hear from you again! This discussion has me considering a part two featuring Huck Finn, which I just finished.

  9. jessica o says:

    Thanks, TB! Glad to be here.

    And Barista, I think we are generally on the same page. There are all types everywhere. Incidentally, I like sounding like a bumbling idiot.

  10. Jessie Lou says:

    I managed to somehow get out of high school without taking a foreign language class and PE, the FL I regret, the PE not so much.

    I do think that if you are going to live in the US you should know the language which is English. If I went to another country to live I would certainly think I needed to know the language beforehand to be able to manuever. The same with visiting – you are going to need a little bit to get around and at least try to communicate. How else would you be able to get the full enjoyment if you could not communicate?

    As for what Jessica O said about travel – when I lived in California many of the people I’d met had never traveled outside of the state because it was so large and so much to see – so I understand what you meant.

    I think it is cool that Barista knows Portugese!

  11. tkh says:

    One reason people in other countries learn English because it is considered the international business language.

  12. irvineredd says:

    I was really impressed by my Dutch friends while I was studying abroad, because they speak Dutch, German, French, and English. But of course that’s out of necessity.

    I took Spanish in high school and college, and I enjoyed it, but none of it ever stuck because I’ve never had to use it anywhere but in the classroom, except once while I was working for a debt collection agency and the person on the line clearly only spoke Spanish. It was interesting and the conversation didn’t last long, most likely because they thought I was speaking gibberish.

    I agree with TB on the “making students appreciate other cultures and learn to be a more flexible thinker” tip, which is sorely needed.

    On a similar vein to this topic, Mississippi House Bill 624 was brought to my attention yesterday by a friend of mine on facebook. Apparently they are talking about not starting school until after Labor Day, which would basically force every school that runs on the block schedule, like Pascagoula High School, to change back to a seven period a day schedule. Having been on the block schedule (for those unfamiliar with this sort of schedule, students take 8 classes a year, four per semester, and spend 90 minutes in each class a day, so a lot more intimate time spent with the subject and the teacher) I can tell you it is way more beneficial to the students and the teachers. And what a coincidence, this was put into that bill based off a study released by the Mississippi Gulf Coast Business Council which basically was all about the economic impact of moving when school would start and ignores people like students and teachers. I know Wayne Rodolfich, who is the Pascagoula School Superintendent, sent a letter to all the media outlets on the coast and there was a story on the WLOX website. No educators apparently find this to be a good idea and the bill has been held up for debate, and hopefully those in the state legislature choose to listen to the educators and not those simply concerned with the financial elements. We need to have students getting the optimal amount of face time and help with teachers like Ms. Hammond for the betterment of Mississippi’s long term economic future.

  13. Jessie Lou says:

    Maybe I am to dull to catch on but I thought that students had to attend a certain number of days per year – 180 is the number I recall. You might get to go in later after Labor Day but you will be staying later after June 1st. It is a ‘pay me now or pay me later’ thing if you ask me. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

  14. irvineredd says:

    That is true, but the problem is best described by what Rodolfich says here:

    “You only have X number of days under the current testing contract to get your seat time in for tests that are administered at the high school level. And you have to maximize that time,” said Rodolfich. “This bill can force people into the seven period a day schedules.”

    And with the way No Child Left Behind is set up, funding is based on test scores. You want the best test scores possible because that is better for your district and the state as far as federal funding goes.

    On top of that, if you look at the AP program at PHS, it’s set up to make sure you have the best chance at getting college credit via the AP exams, and if you change that schedule all that time disappears. Look at it this way, because of the block schedule I was able to take 4 semesters worth of AP English and AP US History, in the span of 2 semesters, so I was much more prepared for those AP Exams than kids who were in the seven period a day set up and that paid off because I had good scores. And that works the same for the other major AP tests. Even if you aren’t in those programs, the block schedule is still better because those kids still get ample time to learn and be taught.

    So while yes, you have to go for a certain number of days, that doesn’t change when you have to take standardized tests, so by moving the start date of school a month later you are seriously damaging students ability to do well on those tests.

  15. Jessie Lou says:

    I see what you mean. Not to mention I was the child left behind in the math classes. I’d still be there if I had to take area testing to get out. Nor did we have the FLE to take either.

  16. Greeg says:

    I like your thoughts on that bill IR.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought that the 180 days has to be from when school started, either August 10th or whatever or Spetember 1, to the end of May. So no going into June which would mean cutting out holidays, i.e Christmas.

  17. Jessie Lou says:

    Yes Greeg, that means cutting the holidays and rearranging some things. It has to come somewhere. When I started school in 1969 we went in before Labor Day I believe; however, we had just had Hurricane Camille so it is a bit of blur. School always seemed to start on August 13th as far back as I can recall – I was in 4th grade when Beach Elem got the air conditioners because of the heat and going in before the holiday. It was a huge deal getting the AC and not having to open the windows and use big fans.

  18. MDM says:

    I too can look back on my educational days and thank those teachers who made an impact on my life. Now, as an educator/coach for the past 17 yrs., it makes me more appreciative of the expectations/responsibilities of an educator. One thing I have learned is that the “buisness of education” can be a vicious cycle of money, methods, and materials in order to educate the young minds of our public school systems. Today a student has every access to succeed and develop as a student. Every resource is available. Students are subjected to more educational resources and financial assistance from state/federal government than ever before in our history, but yet we still see the system failing. Unfortunately(are fortunately depending on how one looks at it), educators are now being ask by the “upper elites” to be a 24/7 educator in order to “get the job done”. Continuous pressure and demands from the media, state/federal requirements, school board, superintendents, and principals, has slowly driven away individuals to pursue a once proud profession, as each year school districts across the state lose teachers who chose to leave for another profession. There are no more “ONE HORSE” teachers in education anymore as the actual duty of “teaching” by the individual is at times minimal when compared to the other demands/duties that are placed on the educator throughout the school year…..disciplinary action, behavior specialist, tutorial service, individual & group lesson plans, counseling services, peer mediation, dropout preventor, psychologist, and the many other duties that fall under the title “comes with the job”….and we wonder why we have teacher burnout? The days of the educator just teaching and getting paid to teach, while the student’s responsibility is to come to school and learn is all but gone. Those educators who stay in the buisness for 20-30 years are the true heros of the buisness because most likely they have been subjected to every situation society has to offer. I respect anyone who gives of their time, energy, and knowledge to help those to learn in such enviroment . The first year educator immediately “inherits” any and all problems of a students home/personal life, every “disorder”, etc., asking to have multi-tasking ability, and to be prepared to take all the blame when a student fails or struggles, and give praise when they succeed….many times being asked to dedicate one’s time/energy to other peoples children moreso than their very own…..One major issue in this buisness of education that seems to be missing is the “LACK OF RESPONSIBILITY PLACED ON THE PARENTS”….Until the homelife is secure and students are taught at home to respect people in positions of power(educators), their peers(students), and their priority(school), education will continue to falter in many areas….There are many great areas in education for the public school student, but the “buisness of education” needs a major adjustment….All the money in the world can’t make an educational system “better”, if there is not respect and responsibility placed on the students and parents before their child arrives on the first day of school to begin his/her long journey of a free education.

  19. tinyd says:

    Amen MDM – from a fellow educator

  20. Jessie Lou says:

    Very well said MDM.

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