Aspirations of a Newly-Elected
Department Chair of World Languages
Joan: a veteran Spanish teacher
I have to admit I am a bit nervous to begin this school year. Even though this is my twenty-first year of teaching Spanish, it is the first time I will serve as department chair. First, as I think about the teachers in our department, Marta, Ramon, and I teach Spanish, Roger and Giselle are the French teachers, and Carol teaches German. We are all veteran teachers with more than ten years of teaching experience. Second, we know each other pretty well. We have worked together on several textbook adoptions, curriculum revisions, and have participated together in a number of professional development activities.
Even though I am looking forward to my new role as department chair, I am a bit apprehensive, too. I wonder how my colleagues will react to me as their new chair. Our main goal this year is to revise our curriculum, a process which, I know, most of my colleagues dread. In the past, two or three teachers would volunteer to draft a revision of the curriculum which they then presented to the whole department for a vote. After the Board of Education would vote to adopt our curriculum, we would put several printed copies in the office. If the truth be told, the curriculum document usually just sat there collecting dust. Most of us feel that the entire process is a waste of time.
Three years ago I took a year-long sabbatical to begin a Ph.D. program in Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development at our local university. I learned about curriculum theory, studied the methods of qualitative research, and investigated social issues related to school design and instruction. After my sabbatical year, I returned to teaching part-time which allowed me to begin work on my dissertation. I am now in the fourth year of my Ph.D. program and have returned to full-time teaching and my new role as department chair.
My classes at the university have inspired me to take a fresh look at curriculum. I am eager to talk to our teachers about trying a different approach to our curriculum-revision process. Our national organization, The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), has recently revised their guidelines for language proficiency. The Guidelines describe what students are able to do at different levels of language proficiency. The levels range from “novice” to “intermediate,” to “advanced,” to “superior,” and finally to “distinguished.” Each level has three sub-levels: low, mid, and high.
What if we could base our curriculum on proficiency rather than on the number of years of study? How could I get my colleagues to embrace the notion of proficiency? What changes would we need to make if we required students to meet a certain proficiency level before they moved on to the next level? Would we need to change how students earned a credit? How would we assess students to determine their level of proficiency? Could we all agree to use the same assessments? How would we explain the changes to our administration and to the school board? These questions and more are whirling around in my head as I prepare for our first department meeting.