Malcolm X Day is a public holiday in Berkeley, and there is much that could be said of that, but what it translates to most immediately is a three-day weekend for me. Or, rather, it should. Instead of enjoying the pure bliss of an extra day of respite, or at least a day to whatever it is that I want to do, I will be spending anywhere from four to eight hours sitting for the CTEL exam. Oh, and it cost me around US$300 for the privilege.
What is the CTEL, you ask? It is the California Teacher of English Learners Exam. As someone who started teaching before CLAD/BCLAD and then left the state to teach in Nevada for nearly a decade before going overseas to teach English Learners (see what I did just there?) I am absent a specific “credential” that is required for me to teach in the state of California. Basically, I need to prove that I have the skills and knowledge to teach non-native English-speaking students.
Did I already mention the part where I taught in Asia for more than five years? Or that I started teaching in the SFUSD, a district with some 60 languages in their EL program? Or that I taught in schools that were hugely Latino for years on the other side of the Sierra?
I assume you can glean my irritation with this situation. [To be fair, my HR people really tried to find a way to grandfather me into this, but the State of California is not having it. Apparently five years of teaching English in foreign countries does not really make one qualified to teach English in America.]
In terms of practical knowledge, the test is quite easy, especially as I have been teaching ELs for well over a decade. The answers are logical, and I am well-practiced in the strategies and pedagogy that the CTEL promotes. But, passing this test will be another animal all together. It is not about practical knowledge or pedagogical expertise. It is about the language of three sets of “standards” that are meant to be incorporated into our teaching: One must be able to cite the ELA (English Language Arts) standards, as well as the supplemental RLA (Reading Language Arts framework) and the ELD (English Language Development instructional program) by name and number. Oh, and there are also the CTEL standards….
In a nutshell, all students are meant to make AYP (that would be Annual Yearly Progress) and meet the benchmarks in the ELA standards that indicate grade level proficiency. The ELD standards serve as “a guide to instructional intervention” designed to move those ELs not meeting grade level proficiency towards said grade level proficiency. And the RLA? Well that is a blueprint for how to implement that ELA standards. The CTEL standards are there to measure the standards and quality of teacher effectiveness.
Frankly, it is all a lot of BS that makes me want to SMH and IMHO is a total waste of time.
I am not convinced that knowing who is behind the different theories of language acquisition and development is going to make me a more effective teacher in the field. In any way. Further, I am unclear on how spending all this time trying to remember their names and their theories (Krashen and the imitation and learning hypothesis, Skinner and his behaviorist theory, Chomsky’s innateness theory with its LAD and CPT, Piaget’s cognitive theory, Bruner’s interactionist theory) when I could be cogitating on effective pedagogy (and my own lesson planning for my real, non-theoretical, students with whom I have only a few weeks left to get through more curriculum than is possible…)
And, while these guys all have interesting things to say about how and why people learn language with more, or less, success, it all comes down to the same stuff - always.
- Younger is better because young learners learn in more authentic ways
- The more time and support and validity you give to people’s native cultures and languages, the more comfortable they are trying to learn a new one and the better their attitudes are
- When people are around other people who speak a language they are trying to learn, they learn more
- When you help people understand how words work in a new language and how they are connected to their own, they learn faster
- And, as my graduate advisors always said, repetition is the heart of education
Anyone who has done any teaching, particularly with non-native English speakers (or in several instances that I can name, NON-English speakers) knows these things instinctively. Create a comfortable and fun and positive environment and people are willing to try harder (duh), answer questions, provide raw materials for learners to experiment with be it new words or pictures or movies or comics, or whatever. Talk. Talk to each other. Ask questions. Listen. Clarify. Engage.
It is basically an instruction list for any teacher, or any human really, who wants to engage with others.
So, there you go, now you do not have to buy any review books. [But you better get a hold of those standards - the four sets combined are more than 250 pages of 8.5 x 11 paper.] I did buy a book however. And my goodness, what a huge waste of my money and the paper used to print it. It was about ten pages in, into a book that is supposed to be about how to teach English, that I started to notice the typos. Forget basic editing errors of tense, subject-verb agreement and spelling, this book called Noam Chomsky “Chromsky”, confused “self-confidence” and “self-doubt”, juxtaposed letters in acronyms and mislabeled diagrams. To be fair, it was called the Monkey’s Guide, perhaps I should not have relied on my native speaker’s tendency to assume an idiom there and really understood that more literally.
No offense to the simians and their old world relatives.
So while many of my colleagues, and all of my students, are enjoying a day doing little to do with school, I will be trying to tick off that last little box for the CCTC. And all I can do is sit here and wonder, what would Malcolm X do??