$177,000 Mainland Language Lab No Substitute for Good Teaching

By Seth Grossman, Political Columnist

Reprinted with permission from April 4, 2007 editions of the Current Newspapers of Atlantic County.

Josh (fictitious name–real Mainland Regional High School student) had a gift for foreign languages.??? He went to grade school in Europe and was fluent in French.? When his family moved back to Somers Point, he went to Mainland Regional High School and took four years of Spanish.??? He excelled in class, did his homework, and got all A’s in Spanish.? He won Mainland?s foreign language achievement award.
Josh went to an elite college.?? He was placed in an advanced Spanish literature course based on his high school record.?? But when he took the mandatory placement test, he was bounced back to the beginner level.
I do not have a gift for foreign languages.??? I can’t even remember the names of people I’m introduced to ten seconds later.? But I learned how to be conversational and literate in Spanish during the same four years Josh was getting nowhere at Mainland.? I did it by taking eight weeks of? instruction at a private language school two weeks in four summers.? At 20 hours a week, I got the same Spanish instruction time that Mainland high school students get in a single school year.??? How did I learn far more Spanish in one year than Josh learned in four?
1.?? My private language school hired teachers who grew up with the language they taught.? All Spanish teachers were born and raised in Spain or Latin America.?? From the first day, I learned exactly what the language sounded like, and? how to pronounce the words.? I also learned the humor, the shortcuts, and other nuances that only native speakers can teach.? When Josh went to Mainland, there were no native Spanish speakers.? Why not let legal Mexicans teach our kids Spanish,? instead of having illegal Mexicans take their summer jobs?
?2.?? The textbooks and methods of instruction at my private language school were ingenious.?? We mastered the verbs, the action words right away, and then we went to words and phrases we used every day.??? After 40 hours of class, I was having basic conversations in Spanish.? After 160 hours,? I was interviewing law office clients in Spanish, and being complimented on how well I spoke.
Meanwhile, Mainland Spanish students were memorizing lists of? useless nouns they never used after the test.?? They never did get around to mastering the verbs?which meant they could never hold serious conversations in Spanish.????? Why don’t public schools use the same books and methods as private language schools????? Follow the money!?? The big suppliers of textbooks make big donations to the NJEA and NEA teacher unions and other groups whose members decide what books to buy.??

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?3.?? My private language school tested and evaluated all students after each 20 hours of instruction.? Then they regrouped the students in classes according to our performance level.?? Beginning students moved up to Intermediate when they mastered the basics, and so on.? This motivated students to achieve and advance, and it let students? practice their skills with other students at the same level.?? At Mainland, the whole class progressed only as fast as the worst students.
?4.? In the private language schools, the teachers were young and underpaid.??? They did not see teaching as their lifetime career.??? They taught languages to make contacts, perfect people skills, and move on to better jobs elsewhere.??? Also, students evaluated their teachers.? Every two weeks, we got questionnaires asking us to grade our teachers.?? I agree that good teachers are not always popular, and that student evaluations must be taken with a grain of salt.? But nobody knows more about what goes on in a classroom than the students.?? In evaluating teachers, administrators should know what students think of their teachers.?? In my opinion, the Spanish language teachers at my private language school were far more effective than the ones that taught Josh at Mainland.
?On Tuesday, April 17, the voters of Northfield, Linwood, and Somers Point will be asked to spend? $176,000 for a “language lab” at Mainland High School.?? This lab will have 30 cubicles with computers playing recordings to 30 students.??? I know from experience (and my late high school German teacher,? Paula Giesecke of Linwood), that good native speaking language teachers don?t need language labs.?? And language labs can’t compensate for non-native speakers and bad lesson plans.?? That?s why I think every voter in Northfield, Linwood, and Somers Point should vote ‘no’ on a $176,000 language lab for Mainland Regional High School.??? By the way, to learn more about private language schools, visit? my old school, International House,? at? http://www.ihworld.com.
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For more information, visit www.libertyandprosperity.org or contact Seth Grossman, 609.927.7333.

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