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50 Years Ago

50 Years Ago - Previous Revision

It has been almost 50 years since I first started out on a career as a beginning teacher of English for students in grade 10 at Castlemont High School in Oakland, California. I began that year (1959) as the first African American male to teach the discipline at the high school level in that city.
 In 1965, following the passage of Title 1 federal program, I was assigned as a demonstration teacher at a high school in the district that had a large African American student body.  My lack of knowledge about how language is learned caused a bit of embarrassment for me.  Worse, it was an affront to a group of male students whom I encountered in an eleventh-grade English class. I began by introducing myself and launched into a spiel about never using slang or nonstandard American English. I was immediately "schooled" by those males, who told me that if they were to talk as I was then demonstrating, they would not survive very long on the streets in their neighborhood.
That was then, and after having participated in many workshops on the dialects of American English, along with courses in sociolinguistics, I learned how to be helpful to students who came to the school speaking a nonstandard variety of American English. This resulted in my improved ability to teach with understanding and pragmatism, two qualities that I now know are important to help students to grow in their communicative skills.

    Jesse A. Perry, Retired
    49 years of teaching

Related Resources..

Language Diversity in the Classroom: From Intention to Practice
Editor(s):
Geneva Smitherman, Victor Villanueva

It’s no secret that, in most American classrooms, students are expected to master standardized American English and the conventions of Edited American English if they wish to succeed. Language Diversity in the Classroom: From Intention to Practice works to realign these conceptions through a series of provocative yet evenhanded essays that explore the ways we have enacted and continue to enact our beliefs in the integrity of the many languages and Englishes that arise both in the classroom and in professional communities.

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