EuroCALL 2002, Aug. 14-17

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Want to Feel Better About Low-Achieving Students?
You'll Find No Excuses Here, Says Kafi Payne

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
Oakland, California

2002 ESL MiniConference Online