PD-Quick: Making time for personalized professional development

By Heather Giles

The start of a new school year is the ultimate reboot—new students, freshly waxed classrooms, revised instructional units, and a renewed sense of purpose. And, of course, there are also new state, district, or school-level initiatives with their accompanying professional development. While some of these are useful, many have limited relevance for world language teachers. We have all been in that “one-size-fits-all” workshop or training session that does not meet our needs or capture our interest. When it happens, it feels like mind-numbing drudgery that is simply to be endured.

But, consider this: What if we designed our own professional learning, rather than leaving it at the mercy of others? How might we make ourselves stronger and more versatile language teachers? By choosing our learning goals and experiences, we can cultivate and elevate our skills in meaningful ways that feel like adventures rather than chore lists. As you return from summer, refreshed and ready to reconnect with your students and colleagues, consider setting some personal goals for your own professional growth. Here are five easy ideas to jumpstart your personal PD in 30 minutes or less per week during this school year:

  • Reflect on your personal strengths and opportunities for growth.

A great tool for getting started is the Teacher Effectiveness for Language Learning (TELL) framework and self-assessments, found at www.tellproject.org. The self-assessments each take around 10 minutes to complete and can help you identify what you are doing well and potential areas for growth or improvement. After you identify an area in which you would like to improve, you can look for resources and strategies to support you in that area, such as…

  •  Seek out new collaborators for your Personal Learning Network (PLN).

Whether you join a professional organization like AATSP or ACTFL, follow an online blog or discussion, or simply chat with a colleague down the hall, you can gain a wealth of ideas from others. Taking part in #langchat on Twitter at least twice a month is one of my goals for this year and has already allowed me to connect and exchange ideas with other language teachers. The World Language Corner app and Global Education Conference http://www.globaleducationconference.com/ are groups with a wide range of members and interest groups for language educators. These professional conversations may prompt you to…

  •  Carve out time for professional reading.

Professional reading does not have to be dry and peppered with pedagogical jargon. Blogs, short articles, and non-education books can provide you with fresh perspectives in an easily digestible format. Sign up for the RSS feed for Edutopia, ACTFL briefs, or other publication to have a selection of articles delivered to your email. It’s easy to read one or two articles per week that catch your attention. Who knows? You may read something that leads you to…

  •  Learn a new skill.

Teaching for language proficiency is as much about HOW we teach as it is about WHAT we teach. Technique does make a difference! Whether you are experimenting with one-to-one technology, flipped instruction, TPRS, gamification, project-based learning, or other approaches, you are bound to acquire new skills. Consider observing or brainstorming with a non-language colleague as you develop and adapt new techniques for your classroom. Interdisciplinary projects between different content areas are wonderful opportunities for students to problem-solve and apply what they are learning in new ways. They also provide for valuable cross-pollination of ideas between teachers, which allows you to…

  •  Share what’s happening in your classroom.

This goal surfaced for me rather unexpectedly, while I was attending a conference this summer. I was talking with a couple of administrators from a career/technical high school about ways to keep learning relevant and authentic for students in our respective areas. One of them asked me, “How do you share what your students are learning and doing with administrators?”  After thinking for a moment, I realized that I don’t share much about our curriculum and instruction because I assume that everybody is already busy handling their own slice of the educational process.

Many of us studied (or perhaps I should say “survived”) language using the audio-lingual method long, long ago in a classroom far, far away. How will someone in a different content area know that today’s language instruction is less about translating sentences and memorizing dialogues and more about managing authentic texts and tasks for real life situations? We must share our craft and our practices. We must consider how the “world-class knowledge and skills” referenced in the recently-launched Profile of the South Carolina Graduate (http://ed.sc.gov/newsroom/profile-of-the-south-carolina-graduate/ ) are utilized and synthesized by all content areas.

In closing, I wish you many successes in the new school year and hope that you find ways to make your professional development manageable and rewarding.

Educational Interpreters: filling the gap and breaking bad habits

Maria Francisco Montesó

If you work at a school, how many times have you, or one of your colleagues, been asked to interpret for a non-English speaking family? Or, how many times have you seen a school kid or a kid’s family member interpreting for a teacher or other school staff? Perhaps you have seen it many times, or even you might have experienced it yourself. Probably, you (or someone else) were asked to “translate” in a specific situation when actually you should be asked to “interpret”. I am not referring to a non-English speaker that needs to find the bathroom or the library, or needs to find the children’s classroom. I am referring to parent-teacher conferences, a speech therapy meeting, general school meetings or talks, school announcements or changes; or even having to interpret school letters or notes to parents or family members.

Well, let’s start from the beginning. In case you don’t know there is a difference between translating and interpreting. “The term translation is used in two different ways. First, it refers to the general process of converting a message from one language to another (Bathgate, 1985), and second, it refers to the written form of that process” (González, Vásquez and Mikkelson, 2012). The term interpreting or interpretation means to convert a spoken message from one language to another, so you are also translating when you interpret, but the way to deliver the translation is verbal. “Translators have time to reflect and craft their output, whereas interpreters must instantaneously arrive at a target language equivalent, while at the same time searching for further input” (González, Vásquez and Mikkelson, 2012). When you are asked to verbally translate a written document into another language is called sight translation, and it is considered to be an interpreting modality since you deliver the message verbally.

Having clarified this, it is utterly unfair and unethical that a teacher, children, or a family member is asked to interpret in schools setting just for being declared as bilingual. Bilingual people are not interpreters nor translators.

Let me give you several reasons why I believe this in unfair and unethical: these bilingual people are doing someone else’s job, they are not being remunerated for their effort (and believe me, it is an enormous brain effort), they are placed in a stressful and uncomfortable situation and, most importantly, they are not qualified to do this job. More professionally, this is called a natural or ad hoc interpreter, an untrained person pulled away from other duties to interpret. Since these individuals are not trained or certified interpreters and lack professional experience, they originate consequences: a deterioration of the language and underestimation of the interpreting profession. Also, their mental health might be seriously affected due to the pressure they have to face and, unconsciously, they are condemning the art of interpreting as mere “it’s just a talk”. They do not need and should not cope with such an arduous task. For a bilingual person, doing the job of a professional interpreter can truly become a hideous duty.

Interpreting not only requires being proficiency in two or more languages, it also involves a domain of specific terminology depending on the setting and the use of linguistic and paralinguistic elements. Interpreters need to possess quick reflexes and mental agility, stamina, memory and retention, good cultural awareness, analytical skills, and professionalism among other skills. These abilities take years to develop and master.

Conversely, the fact of not understanding a language is a disability; it is the incapacity of communicating and being understood, it is the condition of being disabled. We can compare it with a deaf or hard of hearing individual, to which the administration provides qualified interpreters in schools or other setting to meet their needs by law. Why can’t we see the same scenario for a non-English speaker in a school setting? Because “it’s just a kid” or “it’s just a family”? Or because it happens at a school, not at a hospital or court. It is not my intention to start an immigration discussion, but if those children go to school here, they and their families deserve the same treatment and rights as those with any other type of disability.

I believe it is time to show some respect for these citizens and for the interpreting profession. Maybe it is time to say “no”. Say “no” when you (or someone else) is asked to interpret for a family member or a teacher, and say that you are not a certified interpreter and some skilled professional should do it instead. These type of situations should be reported to the state department of education, and the state board of education should provide one or more skilled interpreters to schools, especially to those schools with higher numbers of non-English speakers’ enrollments.

Here, however, is where the real problem arises. South Carolina’s demography and population are changing, and there is a huge demand of interpreters, but there are no institutions offering a respected and comprehensive training for educational interpreters to fill this gap in our society. There is quite a lot of existing training for court and medical interpreting but, unfortunately, not much has been done for educational settings. These other professionals could definitely do the job at schools; however, the ideal situation would be to have an interpreter trained specifically for educational settings. School settings would fall under the category of community interpreting.

Since this is our reality, I am committed to provide a solution and transform this situation. I am in the process of obtaining my PhD on educational interpreting, and my dissertation is centered in the lack of educational interpreters and the growing demand in schools. That’s why I am thrilled to share that part of my dissertation involves developing a certification course to train bilinguals interested in the subject matter and in becoming skilled interpreters. I am putting all my effort and endeavors into finishing this process and, therefore, assist schools and LEP individuals in need of an educational interpreter.

Hopefully one day the ad hoc interpreter will vanish in schools settings and will be part of the past. Hopefully one day qualified educational interpreters are as visible and recognized as medical or legal interpreters.

Maria Francisco Montesó

Spanish Instructor at USC Upstate

Certified Translator and Interpreter English<>Spanish