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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 26, 2009

Dr. Mike tells foreign language teachers
“Our students want to know we care”

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Vickie Mike, who has taught Spanish to high school kids for three decades, had a message for ninety teachers who gathered Saturday morning for a conference called “Language Education: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.”

Mike, who was named Teacher of the Year for New York State in 2009, began by projecting pictures of dated equipment — a typewriter, a ditto machine, a filmstrip projector.

Some teachers in the Farnsworth Middle School cafetorium struggled to identify the objects. For other veteran teachers, they were old hat.

“It doesn’t matter about the technology; it doesn’t matter about the textbook,” said Mike, who teaches at Horseheads High School in central New York, a school she graduated from in 1971. She went on to earn an associate’s degree from Corning Community College, then a bachelor’s degree from Brockport State, a master’s degree from the University of Buffalo, and finally a doctorate in education from Binghamton University.

“The one constant that will stay the same,” Mike told the foreign-language teachers, “is the relationships we establish with our students....Our students want to know that we care.”

Mike went on to say, “In foreign-language education, we have always gotten to know our students.”

She asked, with punchy sarcasm, “Aren’t we fluff? We’re the elective.” Before state mandates, she said, it was the relationships teachers developed with their students that kept them in foreign-language classes.

“Tools to build bridges”

Mike was the keynote speaker for a conference jointly sponsored by the New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers and by the Capital Organization of Language Teachers.

Mike Mitchell, president of COLT, said that 93 teachers had pre-registered for the conference, a record. The Guilderland superintendent said later that 175 teachers had attended.

Eight hour-long workshops were offered in topics ranging from incorporating technology to teaching Chinese.  In the former, Ken Hughes from Greenwich promised to empower teachers to take their lessons “to the next level.” In the latter, Cynthia Cramsie from the Schenectady City Schools volunteered to answer questions like, “What are tones and how can English speakers possibly learn them?” or, “Does Chinese really have no grammar?”

Many of the teachers used the acronym LOTE to describe their work, meaning they are teachers of Languages Other Than English, as opposed to describing themselves as foreign-language teachers.

Guilderland’s superintendent, John McGuire, opened the conference by greeting the participants in four different languages. He went on to say that Guilderland places a very high value on language instruction.

“You deal in the tools to build bridges among people,” McGuire told the teachers, “and hold out the hope of a more peaceful world for our children.”

The cafetorium was decorated with colorful posters made by Farnsworth Middle School students, displayed under a row of mosaic flags of countries from around the world.

One poster, illustrated with a picture of a leprechaun, said, “Tir ganteanga tir gananam,” which was translated as, “A country without a language is a country without a soul.”

Another said, “Sweet language brings much” in Armenian — “Limba dultsi mutu adutsi.”

A third, written in Maori — “Toku neo toko onono” — was translated as, “My language, my awakening.”

A fourth featured a picture of the Eiffel Tower and said, “Study a foreign language. It’s KOOL!”

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