Tuesday, August 11, 2009

CLAD or unCLAD? That is the Question

Three years ago, as a means of earning No Child Left Behind money, the district and the union, once again in bed together and with only money and efficiency in mind decided that all teachers needed a CLAD credential. I would love to let you in on what this particular acronym stands for, but I myself have no idea. I do know it has something to do with teaching students for whom English is not a first (or even second or third?) language. Though I had already been teaching for 20 years, though I had student-taught and then actually taught ESL (English as a Second Language) for several years--including night school--and my ESL students had been known to read and act out scenes from KING LEAR and weep at the end of Kurosawa's RAN, apparently, I was not actually qualified to be teaching the students I had been teaching and seemed to be teaching effectively.

The "coursework" for this "credential" (and, boy, do I use both terms loosely) was dauntingly mind-numbing and time-consuming, so I pushed to have someone come to our school to teach us veterans, who in the eyes of the district and union now needed this credential in order to be considered "qualified" enough to be in a classroom. Because I had left the district to prove my mettle in other schools and did not have a certain number of consecutive years in public school, and although I had pushed for this "convenient" CLAD class, it turned out that I was ineligible for it. So sadly, I got to watch my colleagues take this once-a-week FREE class on their way to CLAD proficiency, while I had to make other, more expensive arrangements after all.

I was relegated to an online course of study because none of the local universities offered CLAD courses separate from their credential programs. And I would have to pay $2500 of unreimbursed money for the pleasure. There were just no other options and the bureaucrats made it clear that they could use one's lack of a CLAD to move us around like chess pieces. So I fell in, signed up, bought the $80 book and began.

I wish I could remember the names of the four REDUNDANT and equally mind-numbing courses I took and their objectives, but I cannot. What the work amounted to was my recounting and describing everything I already do and have been doing in my classes--yes, I taught ESL with the same rigor I use in my regular classes, where the work comprises class reading, related outside reading, book journals that ask students to respond to specific elements of a text, reader responses designed to help them flesh out and organize their analytical responses to the literature, and culminating analytical essays. The good news is that unlike education classes I have taken in person, where I have to force myself not to snipe and bitch and roll my eyes at the cynical professors and simply students, I got to sit at a computer and. . . dare I say it, I got to act the part of the simpy teacher.

Oh, what an enthusiastic "sharer" I became. Often the first to post, restating the obvious with such faux élan I almost believed it myself, I would wait eagerly for my fellow classmates to join the discussion threads. As was required, I would respond to their posts with boundless enthusiasm about their skill and creativity and not make a single comment about their glaring subject/verb or pronoun/antecedent agreement mistakes (one instructor could barely negotiate the English language himself!). I would grin while wincing at their feeble sentence structure as I created the persona of the do-gooder in this profession, the teacher ready, willing and most of all able to make whipped cream out of horse manure. I would agree that BLESS ME, ULTIMA was the "absolute best book I had ever, ever read." But I would not go as far as to agree that Shakespeare's plays in their unabridged, NOT made simple entirety are not accessible to ALL students, especially if they are played aloud on a tape and discussed as the students read along; nor would I say that there are other writers besides Sandra Cisneros who are equally engaging for our ESL students. Those arguments I was not ready or willing to have.

Occasionally, I would sense the presence of a compatriot, whose contempt for all the patronizing self-satisfied posts was barely concealed beneath the "Wonderful, ideas, Robyn, but perhaps you should focus a bit on the actual reading of the literature instead of just on the videos and the acting." Or "Gee, I wish I had thought of that, Eugene. It's heartening to see someone so driven by the personal problems of all your students that you provide so many formerly downtrodden guest speakers for them to learn both life lessons and English. But what work are the students actually doing in your classes?"

I would never reveal myself. Only once, when the "professor" seemed to grade us completely arbitrarily in order to submit some bell curve at the end of the term to establish her own credibility since she never responded to our work and never clearly explained what she was asking of us, did I tip my hand a little. Though I almost threatened to out her as the fraud she was and was ready to give up on the entire sham in the process--now, get ready, here come the ed biz terms-- I reminded her of the ever important notion of "clear expectations" and asked her how we were to learn to explain our expectations clearly if she did not "model" this for us, her humble students. Oh yeah, she took the bait and spelled things out after that. Would that I had kept my mouth shut and settled for the lesser grade. Now the directions were so explicit, you couldn't help but see how stupid the work was: "Write a lesson plan where you get your students to talk about how important it is that multiple cultures coexist in your school, and use the format on page 72 of your book for this lesson plan. Then use this lesson plan in your own classroom and record its effectiveness." Uh. . . . nope. But I did go to my computer and talk about how "valuable" such a lesson was and how "clear expectations," "scaffolding," "noticing," and "prior knowledge" played into the students' success, yadda yadda yadda.

The nadir of this experience came when my dad took ill with terminal cancer, and I had to sit at the computer in his room, as he lay in the bed nearby, dwindling. I had to take time away from him to respond to all the meaningless drivel. Nonsense for nonsense while life and death were happening right next to me. It was excruciating, to say the least.

The good news, if there is a silver lining in such a grim tale, is that taking these abysmal classes marched me up the pay-scale. I had been a slow goer on that climb because over my career I have only taken real classes taught in real universities--"American Poetry: 1945 to the Present" kind of classes-- which take more time and energy than the "THE WHOLE WORLD DANCES--LET'S LEARN ABOUT CULTURES (Note: Bring comfortable shoes and be ready to dance!)" inservices offered by the District. Sure, I know there is a need for what they call salary-point classes, but not for me. Despite the salary scale bounce, the CLAD courses did teach me something: I will never get back the boat load of money I spent for this dehumanizing experience, and more important, I will never get back the time or the bits of my soul that I had to use to conjure up a self I hope NEVER to become.

1 comment:

  1. This is my very first blog comment! Thanks for bringing me into the 21st Century! There is one line in this post that really spoke to my experience as an educator and a doctoral student. You write, "...nor would I say that there are other writers besides Sandra Cisneros who are equally engaging for our ESL students." I,unfortunately, fall into the trap of arguing with people who espouse the importance of focusing on culturally "relevant" texts. Now, I want to be clear that I am not downplaying the importance of incorporating diversity and multiple cultures into the curriculum. However, I am insulted by the insinuation that minority children can only understand literature that comes from their respective background. Advocates of this methodology pretend they are trying to empower students by teaching them about their culture. However, it is really just an easy way out. When one focuses on how the literature is "unfair", it is easy not to address the fact that these students struggle with reading. I am not attempting to say that these texts don't have value. Yet, we cannot ignore the fact that all literature is not equal. There is a hierarchy and what you have read buys you power in various social circles and post-secondary education. Yet these educators are so willing to limit students to their own world, without regard for its impact on their future. The most frustrating aspect, is that at the end of these conversations I am always characterized as the bad person. I am the one who strips students of their culture and force them to assimilate. I am propagating white hegemony. Yet, these same people lament the fact that there are only three people of color in my doctoral cohort. They do not see the hypocrisy in supporting a method of education that isolates groups of students from educational access while craving diversity in post-graduate education.