Kafi Payne, a high school Spanish teacher in Oakland and
San Francisco, recently engaged in a spirited exchange about
the essence of good language teaching on the FLTEACH listserv.
He agreed to share one of his comments with the readers of ESL
MiniConference Online in the following article.
Good teaching=Student success. It is a difficult concept to internalize
and almost anti-intuitive but it is true. I have been through the process.
I thought I was a good teacher. I was staying late every night, getting to
work at the crack of dawn. All of my weekends were gone. I was stressed out
doing lesson plans, calling parents, visiting homes . . .
You could not tell me that I was not a good teacher. I was working too hard
not to be a good teacher! I was not happy though because only my "good" students
were actually learning the material--everyone else was just going through
the motions and learning less and less Spanish.
I thought to myself, this is not working. After one particularly rough week,
where I had decided that my students were just ungrateful of my hard work,
I decided I needed a change (or else I'm leaving the profession). I rented
Stand and Deliver and I was glued to the screen, looking for the magic that
Jaime Escalante used to make his students (who were not supposed to perform
due to "genetics, home environment, diet, recent events in the students' life,
daily changes in hormones and metabolism, experiences before entering the class
on a particular day, dreams s/he had last night, etc." as you suggest).
I didn't find the magic potion as I was hoping. I was disturbed by the scene
where he has the stroke (please don't let that be me one day!) Over time, I
got a clue. After seeing Jaime Escalante (of Stand and Deliver), Carrie Secret
(who teaches in West Oakland), reading the works of Dr. Asa Hilliard and others,
participating in FLTEACH and more tprs listserves, talking to other teachers
who aren't busy making excuses, being more self-reflective about what makes
me happy in the classroom and how the classroom can be structured for student
success, and brainwashing my students to believe that they were all put in this
classroom together because of their brilliance and phenomenal ability to learn
a second langugage, I see that difference and it is beautiful and it is rewarding.
I'm not a good teacher yet--based on my own definition. I need to master the
subject matter more, I need to incorporate culture more into everyday classroom
rituals. I would like to create a more loving, nurturing environment in the
classroom. I need to practice TPRS more. I would like my students to have more
leadership roles in the class. There are a lot of things that I need to do be a
good teacher but I know that when I become a good teacher and my students take
the national Spanish exam next year and the A.P. exam in a couple of years,
their scores are going to be amazing and there are going to be those that say,
"but your students aren't supposed to score like that. They're Black, poor,
ghetto, violent, retarded, they don't eat well at home, their parents are on
drugs, they had inadequate schooling, they can't read, they score low on
standardized tests, they're teenagers, they're abused, etc." and I'll just smile . . .
When my students do well, I ask them "Who's your teacher?" (it's a joke that we have)
By Kafi Payne
High School Spanish teacher
2002 ESL MiniConference Online