Thursday, October 9, 2008

English Teachers

Those two words conjure up concepts that would make us all shudder. Musty stacks of books, ungraded papers, debating the meaning of onomatapoeia (or some word none of us have ever heard or care to know about), this is what I think when I say the word English Teachers. But, unfortunately, I am one of them.

Now, my title as ESL teacher (when I flash those words, rarely does the listener know what it means, so I'll explain right now, it means English as a Second Language) by definition means that I'm not in the high lofty realm of the medieval literature teacher, or the Russian novel as metaphor for life teacher. I'm teaching about sentences.... "capital letters start sentences, periods at the end, sentences are not one page long" type of teacher. And I should talk about run-on sentences, as I just broke up a long run on in the previous two sentences in this blog!

Well, when a bunch of English teachers get together to co-author a document, things can get right ugly. Add a couple of liberal arts deans to the mix, and we have more brain cells in one room than should ever be put together without something deadly happening. That is where I have found myself in the past few months. I've been working with some people to craft a document to present to the VP of the college, who will decide on changing a placement test for our ESL students.

The words were flying yesterday. We spent a long time on one word! Discussing the nuances of the meaning, the message the word presented, did we want to give that impression? The word was "admit". Did someone admit to have an opinion that was counter to the prevailing opinion? This generated a flurry of emails, lots of suggestions, and finally, the sentence that contained the offending word was thrown out of the document completely.

The poor dean who was in charge of this melee kept her cool. She is a former Air Force Colonel. She told me one day that each day as she dresses, she dons her flak jacket (figuratively, I hope!), so she can take it. She doesn't bark orders, but listens attentively and tries to work toward consensus. She has done a remarkable job chairing this task force while corraling so many brain cells, all swirling around in the room trying to outdo each other.

So perhaps after about 20-30 hours of meetings, 100's of emails, and some odd action research (did we ever think we would have to take 2 placement tests pretending we were students who didn't know a shred of English?), we may be finished with our task force project. If our intrepid dean can somehow synthesize all those wonderful clear???? ideas that were generated in our last meeting, and we can all agree on it, then we are finished with our task. Then the report will be given to the VP, hopefully not to be filed in the circular file, and the appropriate action taken.

This is how a publically funded college is run. Lots of paper, lots of task forces, lots of meetings, e-mails flying back and forth, passing recommendations to the VP and Pres, and hopefully some type of positive action as a result. Only time will tell whether the work will bring some kind of move, and we will get our new placement test.

1 comment:

NV said...

English teachers are wonderful human beings. I owe them a debt of gratitude for both fostering the love of words I was clearly born with and for putting it on a path to the next level that got me to gainful employment. :-)