This week a respected language teaching friend of mine was attacked by another language teacher. Why? In a nut shell, differing teaching approaches. I have never seen anything like this in all of my teaching years. At best, this attack was completely unprofessional, at worst it was the worst case of professional bullying that I have ever been witness to. It is almost a week later and I still cannot wrap my mind around why one professional would write a blog post calling out another professional and completely humiliating them in writing, but it happened. The beautiful part of the story was how the world language teaching community online rallied behind the attacked teacher resulting in the blog post first being modified, then taken down. My question is this: WHAT PURPOSE DID THE POST SERVE? WHAT WERE YOUR MOTIVES, SIR?
As you notice, I have left the names out of this post. My purpose is not to drag a fellow teacher into the mud, but to draw a figurative line in the sand and challenge my beloved professional learning community to re-evaluate things.
There has been tension between two camps of language teachers for several years that raised its ugly head once the community became active and interactive via social media. Those two camps can best be defined by the "hybrid" proficiency based teachers and the TPRS teachers. Let me stop right this minute and say this. Not every teacher from either side has been a part of the problem. The truth is that the issues have been among smaller groups, or even instigated by individuals, but even this is not the point of my post. I am not here to throw gasoline on the problem. This paragraph is just to provide a little context. Now, maybe there are dynamics that I don't know about. I am okay with being naive or ignorant about things that have transpired in the past that I am not privy to. What I am not okay with is this divide separating us to such a degree that the tension between us becomes abusive as it did this week.
So, my point today is this: I think the labels are doing more harm than good, and it is time for world language teachers from all camps to rally together to put an end to the conflicts.
Just as I said before, the collective language community, including teachers from both camps, rallied behind the attacked teacher and put the attacker in his place, but there have been lots of educators who have suffered from this division within our community and in many different ways. It has gotten to the point that we cannot collaborate freely as much as we should without there being some negative consequence to some parties if not all. It is sometimes like being the boys in the bubbles. We can see each other, talk to each other, be in the same room together, but if we pass through the bubbles someone might get infected.
This fall I experienced this myself. The last day of ACTFL I was slotted in the next to last time slot to present on vocabulary instruction without the use of a vocabulary list. Being the time slot was so late in the conference, I really didn't expect too many people to show up. Boy, was I wrong! The room was full! When I looked up from the last minute adjustments and preparations I was making to my presentation I was further shocked to see so many TPRS teachers in the room. Now, get ready... here comes the really deep, dark confession. My first reaction was surprise laced with fear. While I was honored that so many famed educators were in the room, I was literally afraid that someone from that group was going to call me out in this room full of teachers and challenge my points or even embarrass me. To those of you who came that day, please bear with me as I finish this post. I have more to say to you.
What happened during that 60 minutes was rather magical as presentations go. I can say with some level of confidence that it is one of the presentations I am the most proud of, and no, nothing bad happened. In fact, those TPRS teachers... all of them... were amazing participants and even after stayed to congratulate me, to encourage me, and to dig deeper into what I shared with them. They were awesome! Days later, I was approached to collaborate on a project with some from the TPRS camp, but again due to all the issues in our community, I wasn't sure about how collaborate without consequences. This is my own fault and my own fear, and it was wrong of me. I am sorry for being weak and I hope those involved will forgive me for falling prey to the mob.
All of this has taught me a hard lesson. We have more in common than not.
It is time for us to focus on what we share in our "faith" rather than nit-pick each other based upon the differences. It is time for us find common ground and collaborate by giving each other permission to work out the finer details of our philosophies in our classrooms rather than outwardly online. It is time to stop labeling ourselves this type of teacher or that type of teacher based upon the methodology we use because if we lay those methodologies side by side, much of what we do would be similar. I don't think I am a TPRS teacher, but I use TPRS strategies in my teaching. If I understand AIM right, it is all based on comprehensible input. Moreover, there is no language proficiency program that can build student proficiency without teaching in the target language, and to do that the language teachers use MUST be comprehensible or the program cannot be effective!
So, what do we do now? I don't know... well, maybe one thing. We cannot allow for any more abuse, discrediting, or stick poking to continue. It is time for repentance and forgiveness from both sides. We are brothers and sisters in a family not two armies in a civil war. Our profession needs us to be united. We also need to be brave enough to approach those of our colleagues who have been out of line and hold them accountable for their actions. If we have relationships with divisive, abusive colleagues we need to check them. They are not only hurting their fellow language teachers, they are embarrassing themselves and damaging their own reputations.
Finally, to all of the TPRS teachers who came to my session that Sunday, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for being their, thank you for participating, thank you for staying after to talk with me. I appreciate you so much, and my attitude towards your community of language teachers hasn't always been positive. Please forgive me for not being all I should have been. Thank you for the offer to collaborate. I hope that we can find common ground to work together in the future. There are things I hope to learn from you, and I can only hope that I have something to offer you as well.
Happy Coaching to all my language teaching friends!