Professional Autonomy in the B.C. Language Classroom

I got another good question from Kristin A. recently:

Q: “What sort of freedom do we have in terms of choosing the program that we will teach in our districts/in our classrooms? It seems to me that I read in the IRP that we technically are supposed to be using a government approved (or perhaps district approved) program.”

A: In British Columbia, teachers have professional autonomy regarding how they deliver the curriculum.

The curriculum is determined by the Province’s Ministry of Education. Districts and school departments are free to decide which resources– texts, videos, etc– they use to deliver that curriculum. Districts have a list of learning resources from which teachers and schools choose their materials. Many Districts colaborate on assessment/approval of resources. E.g. E.R.A.C. looks at novels etc for English and Humanaties classes.

Regarding modern languages in B.C., a teacher has total control over what s/he does in her/his classroom. Your job– as an autonomous professional, and clearly defined in the School Act– is to deliver the Provincial curriculum. You decide instructional strategies, assessment and evaluation, materials, student activities, etc. You do not have to follow District or departmental policies regarding curriculum, assessment, materials, etc. (If you are a B.C. teacher and your department head, admin etc is telling you how to run your class, please contact your local Union office for advice.)

Here is some language from the B.C Core French I.R.P.

“Evaluation, reporting, and student placement with respect to these outcomes depend on the professional judgment of teachers, guided by provincial policy.”

Read that? Professional judgement of teachers, and not of administrators, department Headz, textbook companies, etc.

Here’s more:

“Teachers are free to adapt the suggested instructional strategies or substitute others that will enable their students to achieve the prescribed learning outcomes.”

Again, teachers decide how languages should be taught. If you don’t like communicative teaching– or TPRS– but your department or department head does, that’s fine. You decide what happens in your class.

If your Department decides that, say, Tests A, B, and C are going to be delivered on, say, Nov 1, Feb 1 and May 1, you do not have to admnister these tests. If your department has a policy that ________ verbs and ____ nouns are taught in Level ___ French/Spanish/Punjabi/Chinese etc, that’s nice– you do not have to teach ___ and ___ at the time, to that grade.

If your Language department says “well we always teach the present tense in first year and we do the imparfait in 4th year,” you can either say “I do that” or “I don’t do that.”

B.C. comprehensible-input teachers are in a good position regarding languages teaching. We know that many administrators don’t know the research behind language acquisition. Even some department heads have no idea what the current research is (or, worse, know the research and know about C.I. but can’t be bothered to update their legacy-method practice). We know most textbooks teach boring stuff–and present it in the wrong way, out of the natural order of acquisition. So, fortunately, we can say “well, we know that grammar drills, output, low-frequency vocab, metacognition, portfolios, meaning ambiguity etc don’t work” and we can’t be forced to do unproductive work in the language classroom.

People who want to improve their practice are free: we need not be tied to others, or outmoded, ways of doing things.

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